PARIS — Add Tony Parker to the list of celebrities who own a wine estate in Provence.
The retired NBA player held an intimate event in Paris on Thursday night to celebrate the announcement of his acquisition of Château Saint Laurent near Avignon in the South of France, an estate that combines 40 hectares of vineyards with a historic castle that dates back to the 14th century.
The entrepreneur, who owns French basketball team ASVEL and has invested in ventures including wellness drink brand Smart Good Things, joins celebrities including Brad Pitt, Kylie Minogue, George Lucas, Ridley Scott and John Malkovich, who all produce wines in the region.
Parker is something of a connoisseur and already has a foothold in the industry, having unveiled a partnership earlier this year with entrepreneur Michel Reybier, with whom he runs the Château La Mascaronne estate in Provence and Champagne brands Jeeper and Michel Reybier.
“I always knew that it’s something that I want to do after I was done playing,” the six-time All-Star told WWD at the cocktail event, held at the plush Le Salon des Manufactures Alain Ducasse.
Over the course of his 17-year career with the San Antonio Spurs, he saw many of his fellow NBA players acquire a taste for wine and fine dining. “It’s nice to see the evolution of the NBA. When I first arrived in 2001, where it was not really popular, they were drinking more like the hard alcohol,” recalled Parker, who is partial to a fine Bordeaux.
“They’re very knowledgeable now about wine. You can see a lot of NBA guys investing in wine: Stephen Curry, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, they’ve all got their own wine, you can see LeBron doing stories online, what bottle, what year did he drink and all that kind of stuff. So for me, it was nice to see, because me, I grew up with it, always enjoying wine,” he added.
“Every summer, I would go to a vineyard and visit those incredible families and how they make wine. During when I was playing, once a month, I would invite a castle, do a dinner at my house, and then the next day, invite them to a Spurs game. So I developed a lot of great relationships with all those people,” Parker continued.
Among the prestigious vineyards he hosted were Château Cheval Blanc, Château Palmer and Château Pétrus, in addition to Champagne-makers like Dom Pérignon. That led to his introduction to Reybier, whose group owns a chain of prestige hotels, including La Réserve in Paris, and Swiss cosmeceuticals brand Nescens.
“I felt very blessed because it’s very hard to invest in a good product, in good vineyards, because it’s either a family that has owned it generation after generation, or the big corporations like LVMH, you know, they’re buying a lot of stuff in Provence, or Pernod Ricard. It’s tough to invest in wine, the value is very high. So I got very lucky to build a great relationship with Mr. Reybier and invest in those properties,” Parker said.
He’s going it alone with Château Saint Laurent, which Parker plans to grow slowly. Only 3,000 bottles will be produced for 2022, his first vintage. They will be distributed via 500 NFTs that will give buyers access to six bottles of the initial wines, to be released in November 2023, in addition to guaranteeing an allocation of six bottles from every future vintage.
Set to go on sale in December in partnership with Club Dvin, an NFT wine club, the tokens will also entitle owners to attend an annual “Pickup Party” with Parker at the estate, harvest events including overnight stays at the château, and other exclusive moments, including virtual tastings with Parker.
“A lot of people, they consume wine in different ways and the NFT is something that is part of our world now, so I thought it’d be pretty cool to do something different,” he said.
He’s brought on board a new technical director, winemaker and manager for the vineyards, which are planted with Grenache, Cinsault, Viognier and Roussanne grapes. Parker plans to produce both blended and single variety wines.
“Right now, I don’t want to promote it too much,” he said. “We need to go to work, we need to get the quality very high because obviously with my affiliation with Mr. Reybier, I want to make sure we keep that high level, high quality of the product. So right now I’m keeping it a little bit under the radar, and then when it becomes real good, we’ll talk more about it.”
The 21,500-square-foot château will be open for private parties, weddings and conferences from June 1. It features 22 rooms, a panoramic terrace and an underground passageway that stretches more than six miles to the Palais des Papes, or Palace of the Popes, in the center of Avignon. Parker plans to make regular appearances.
“I’m not going to be there every day, obviously, but when we do events like this and an event like tonight, I’d love to come and talk with people and talk with our future clients, future fans of the castle,” he said.
He’s also on the lookout for additional ventures. “I’m investing a lot focused on three areas: sports, education and art de vivre. Those are the three things that I’m focused on with my group, and slowly but surely, we’re getting different opportunities and we’ll see how we grow,” he said.
Among his existing projects is the Tony Parker Adéquat Academy, which offers athletes education and training, and helps them find jobs. Earlier this year, Parker helped LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton kick off a recruitment drive in France for hundreds of apprenticeships, internships and jobs in a variety of luxury métiers.
He did not rule out further collaborations with the luxury conglomerate headed by Bernard Arnault.
“Everything is possible. You know, we’ve been very close with IME, l’Institut des Métiers d’Excellence, and it’s been working very well. I became the ambassador of that and we have a big event coming up in two weeks with Mr. Arnault,” he said.
“And we are working very closely right now with my academy, as part of the education side that I’m doing, because I’m very animated about giving back, and then in the future we’ll see if I can do more things,” Parker said.