The Chosen Family founder sat down with Boardroom to discuss demystifying vino, the best hangover cure, and much more.
Being early has always been a calling card for Channing Frye.
Back in 2010, the 7-foot forward was attempting more threes a night than dunks. Even in the mid-00s when most ball players were ordering Malibu and Coke at dinner or Incredible Hulks at the club, Channing was ahead of the curve, chatting with CEOs over Cabernet Sauvignons.
Today, he’s taking the time to pour into Boardroom, arriving 10 minutes before the suggested start time.
“When you look at wine? It all stems from basketball players being able to be in rooms that they hadn’t been in before,” Frye said. “Going to VC funds, doing all these things in business. We’re talking the same language, not just basketball and money. There’s levels and layers to each person.”
From Franzia to Scarecrow, the Old Testament to the New Media, wine has provided the collective canvas to share stories of joy and journey, laughter and tears. Wine is the through-line for Frye when considering his longest-lasting friendships and his second career.
For Frye, a father of four, 2016 NBA champion, and Chosen Family Wines owner, the hooper-turned-entrepreneur has always operated in good taste and good fun.
Working with The Roots Fund to open opportunities for people of color in a vino industry long looked at as gate-kept, Frye chopped it up with Boardroom to discuss his entrance into the vino space and why he wants to take you with him.
IAN STONEBROOK: Walk me through your wine journey from where it began during your playing days to where you’re at now with Chosen Family.
CHANNING FRYE: I think it was me being in New York and then coming out to Portland. When I would do business meetings, somebody starts with a Manhattan or a Martini, and then the conversation went to wine. The older guys were discussing the wine and that turned into business deals. Like, ‘Next time you go to Napa, let me know. I’ll introduce you to this or I’ll do that.’ So it became a bridge way.
As I got to Portland? This is wine country. I met my wife and she was like, ‘Channing, I want you to go wine tasting.’ I’m like, ‘What’s wine tasting?’ I had the greatest time and got hooked.
Then it became going every summer. You go from, ‘I’m just here to have a good time and get drunk,’ to, ‘I’m going to specific places for the people, the view, the juice, or the experience.’
That’s when it starts to go to level like 5, 6, or 7. Then you dive into books like Hugh Johnson’s Pop-up Wine Book, The Complete Wine Course, or The World Atlas of Wine.
During all this, I’m going team to team. It was something I could share that I really found important. Being able to go wine country, you’re outside, usually your phone doesn’t work, you have to talk, it’s engaging.
When I got traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, that’s when [it] turned into a big give-and-take between players, coaches, and friends. I was on an older team so wine tastes were all over the place — but everyone loved it.
So, bringing wine on a plane? What are we drinking at dinner? What’s a special bottle? That was important and I saw how much that connected us. A team being around each other for 15 or 16 hours a day? You get bored. You get tired. There’s nothing you could talk about that nobody already doesn’t know, right?
Sharing a glass of wine with somebody and watching film, you can ask, ‘Have you been to Bordeaux? Have you been to Burgundy? Have you been to Australia?’ Seeing these things, you get to learn more about somebody.
IS: As an active player, wine turned a corner for your relationships with business partners and teammates. As an entrepreneur and a media member, how has it continued to open up new and existing relationships?
CF: I’m a bit more old school where I like shaking hands and meeting people in person. I think that’s the right way to do business, to really get a feel. When we started Chosen Family, we didn’t want it to be about ourselves — that’s why we started with collaboration wines. Those are about our journey as a group in places that have had a profound effect on why we love wine.
We have wines from Syrah, from Walla Walla, we have Napa Valley Cab coming next year, we have Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Chardonnay. We have bubbles, then we have our Chosen Family but with our Willamette Valley label that’s $40 and under.
It’s about being unselfish. It’s about saying, ‘My greatest gift I can give to somebody is a bottle of wine that they’ll enjoy.’ Whether it’s $20 or $2000, just the thought of being able to share that moment with that person. A good bottle of wine becomes not just a centerpiece of a great conversation or a great night, but it becomes a liquid memory.
Being well thought out — whether that’s wine, food, or whatever it is — is just being empathetic towards a person across from you.
Whether you’re starting at Level 0 or Level 50, what we’re saying at Chosen is none of that matters. If you don’t know, just ask! My friends and family send me pictures of menus. I’ll say, ‘What are you looking for? Do they have another menu? What are you eating? How are you feeling today? Have you been to any of these places?’ Those are questions that you should be asking, not stuff like, ‘What’s the most expensive? What did the label look like?’
Wine is extremely connective because it’s thoughtful. It’s the most thoughtful alcohol drink in the world. It’s been this way forever. More than whiskey, beer, vodka, or tequila. This is something that constantly is evolving, growing, and changing.
Each year does something different. You and I can both have a 2020 or a 2021, and they could be completely different. So again, that’s like, ‘What do you taste? What do I taste? Do you like it or do you love it? What is it about it that you do?’ You have to be quiet when somebody else is talking and actually listen!
IS: How has your wine journey as an enjoyer and an entrepreneur grown the culture and community?
CF: It’s fun just handing it out and sharing it. As a person of color, a Black man in America, I didn’t grow up around wine. Why wouldn’t I want to share this? We want more people of color to be in the industry, but we don’t talk to them in a way that they understand. The Hispanic community and the Black community in America is huge! It’s huge in any beverage industry, but it is so minuscule in the wine industry because nobody talks to them.
But now there’s wine in Mexico and there’s a winery in every single state in America. For me being in the wine industry, I have to communicate with people who are on Level 0 or Level 1 and show them that wine is fun! It’s not a stuffy, elitist thing. It’s a learning journey that you can drink when you’re watching a game, when you’re reading a book, or when you want to share something at a picnic. It can be on your table or on the grass in a bucket of ice.
If somebody goes, ‘Oh, what is this? Where’d you get it? Why’d you get it? Did you like the label? Where’d you get it from?’ Even Franzia! ‘What is this, Chillable Red? Oh, I like mine with oranges and pineapples. Let me chop these up! Oh, put this on ice and add some Prosecco!’ Right? It’s engaging, it’s a friendly thing. It’s not just, ‘Here’s a beer, open it.’ Most people have questions about the thing.
IS: Tell me about your work with The Roots Fund.
CF: I know Carlton McCoy, who is huge in the wine industry in Napa, and then Ikimi Dubose, who’s like a sister to me. We met doing a panel and she inspired me to make sure that I’m constantly trying to encourage people of color to come into this industry. Not only come into it, but be prepared and be successful in it.
For instance, if I have a business, which I do, and I’m going to hire somebody, not by color or anything, but just looking at a resume, somebody who is from Chicago or Indiana is not gonna have the same resume as somebody who’s grown up in Newberg, OR wine country. It’s just a fact.
What I appreciate about The Roots Fund is that they take people who may not have grown up in a certain area and give the scholars an opportunity to grow, build their resume, and figure out where they’re gonna be best at how they can help this industry. The bringing together of different cultures is what makes America amazing. What I wanted to do is not so much talk about history, but talk about our future and bring Black athletes of color together who are in the wine industry.
We have Charles Woodson with Intercept Wines, Klay Thompson with Diamonds & Keys, myself at Chosen Family Wines, we have Wade Cellars, LeBron is also gonna donate. We have Josh Hart helping out where he can., we have Carmelo with Vii(N) The Seventh Estate, CJ McCollum with Heritage 91.
I got all those guys and was like, ‘Let’s come together and do something. Let’s be the tide that rises all boats.’ This is not a competition — this is about showcasing each other. This is about lifting each other up and showing solidarity.
We’re just trying to all be successful. I want to use my platform and their platforms to promote each other and let people know, ‘Hey, you like Carmelo? Try his wine. You like Klay Thompson? Try his wine. You like D Wade? Try his wine. Oh, you didn’t know CJ has a wine?’ Coming together and doing that, especially for a good cause, made it even easier.
IS: In 2023, fashion has owned the NBA conversation from a pre-game standpoint. In the future, do you see wine owning the post-game conversation?
CF: You know what? No, because we look at the demographic of kids that are watching it. But I do think that the NBA is going to promote their individual players better than any other league. What the NBA does the best is they say, ‘Channing, you’re into investments, you’re into video games, you’re into wine, you’re into Portland. Let’s put you in that bucket. And until that bucket overflows, we’re gonna help make the best of it and you tell us what we can help you with.’
As players, we’re not one dimensional anymore. Rarely do you ever see a player that just plays basketball. It doesn’t happen like that, especially with media going to personal sponsorships rather than big campaigns. When you look at wine, it all stems from basketball players being able to open up doors or be in rooms that they hadn’t been in before, because they are more dynamic.
Going to VC funds, doing all these things that are putting them in rooms with businessmen, they’re acting more like businessmen than dumb jocks. So again, a businessman might be like, ‘Oh, do you want this Meursault White Burgundy?’ And it’s, ‘Oh, absolutely I would! What years do you like?’ Now we’re talking the same language, it’s not just talking about basketball or how much money am I getting. There’s levels and layers to each person.
IS: For hoopers, or really anyone conscious of their health, how does drinking wine differ compared from other alcoholic beverages?
CF: I think drinking heavy liquors is a bit harsh. Some of them are a little bit cleaner — like straight tequila is pretty clean depending on how it’s made, but when you get a wine bottle that’s $200 to $600, you’re not drinking eight or nine of those. You’re not drinking six of those. You might drink two of those and you only get four glasses per bottle that you’re gonna savor that.
You’re gonna talk about that, right? You’re gonna enjoy that with a meal. For the most part, people aren’t hard chugging or binge drinking an expensive Bordeaux or Burgundy. There’s an engagement to it. Because there’s conversation about the thing that you’re drinking, it gives it more value.
I used to be into whiskey. If somebody gives you a Pappy Van Winkle 23-year, you’re not putting it in a Coke. You’re sipping this thing because it’s rare. You want to get all of it. You want to digest all this. That’s where wine is great in a sense of an alcoholic drink if you do drink. You can separate yourself from, ‘Oh, I’m drinking and get drunk,’ to, ‘I’m enjoying this glass of something that is special, that has history, that has a backstory.’
IS: So am I right in thinking that the best hangover cure is to nip it in the bud beforehand and get something so good that you sip slow and enjoy?
CF: 1,000%. Overindulging anything just ruins that thing, right? You can play basketball for two hours and be perfectly fine but playing basketball for seven hours straight? You’re hurting yourself. Anytime you’re consuming an alcoholic drink, you want to do it with responsibility. Now, if you’re in the league? You even more want to do that when you have to do something with your body.
You have to have some self-discipline about certain things. And if you are? You’re going to want something special. No offense to twist-off wines, but you’re not gonna want a twist-off. You’re gonna want a nice bottle of wine with your nice steak and your veggies. You’re eating healthy, you’re enjoying your night, and then you kind of chill out and go to bed. Right? You’re not looking for the buzz. You’re enjoying that little slice of liquid history.
IS: Looking ahead, what can readers at Boardroom expect from Channing Frye in regard to wine and media?
CF: I’ll talk wine first. If you’re interested in wine or just learning about it, come on this journey with us. We try to be as authentic as possible and make it relatable and approachable, whether that’s the price, understanding where it comes from, or what you like or don’t like about it.
We try to show the backstory. It’s not, ‘Here’s this bottle of wine, buy it!’ We’re like, ‘Here’s the story of why we made it the way we made it. Why it’s priced the way it’s priced. Why I love it, why I drink it, and why I would want you guys to drink it and to share it.’ At Chosen, we’re just trying to be at your dinner table or at your picnic. Something that you share with friends.
I think a lot of these things get lost in the hustle and bustle of going to a grocery store and buying something just because of the label. Buy something because you know somebody is extremely authentic about it, they love it, and are passionate about it.
And then TV? Man, it’s basketball. Come listen to me. Sometimes I’m gonna exaggerate just to argue, but most of the time I’m trying to help you learn so that we can all watch the game and understand that the great players are doing amazing things. I’m less about hating unless you’re just BS. I’m 90% about showcasing players that are doing amazing things and talking great about ’em.
IS: Once the season ends, what’s the summer wine trip?
CF: You know what? I turn 40 this year, so I think I’m gonna go back to Napa. I’ve been to Napa twice and I think I’m gonna go back. Sometimes it gets lost with all these big expensive wines, but there are so many other small places like Healdsburg that I wanna visit.
I really wanna dive into that community. It’s the oldest one in America so why not learn? Why not grow, eat good, drink good, and get some good weather?
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