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Vintage James Harden: How the Mamba Mentality Drives an MVP Winemaker

Last Updated: August 25, 2023
The NBA star sits down with Boardroom to discuss what he’s learned in the wine game since launching his brand, the business blueprint laid out by Kobe, and much more.

Only a year in, James Harden is already hyped about the momentum and excitement that his eponymous wine label has been able to create around the globe.

“As you’ve probably seen on TikTok and across social media, I’m literally doing cartwheels over the response we’ve seen for J-Harden Wines,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what we accomplish in Year 2.”

His J-Harden Wines company — now available in three types including a California cabernet sauvignon, California red blend, and prosecco — has expanded its distribution from the United States to Canada, China, Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

He recently hosted a series of events on behalf of J-Harden Wines while in China, ranging from traditional press tours to even hosting a tasting celebration on a fully branded yacht. That all led to selling more than 10,000 bottles in under 10 seconds during the aforementioned cartwheel-inducing live stream. The full China allocation of 16,000 bottles sold out in minutes.

“As a Black-owned business owner, I want to make wine more available to all communities,” adds Harden. “I want people to know they can enjoy some of the finer things in life and do it at an affordable price.”

Already, Harden has been incorporating his wine label, created in a partnership with Accolade Wines, into his larger business orbit. The promotional events through Asia were done alongside his Adidas tour throughout the region, marking the first time in four years that Harden had returned to China since the pandemic.

J-Harden Wines was on hand throughout his Thirteen Restaurant in Houston recently, where Harden’s restaurant played host to a Women’s Empowerment Brunch last weekend. Female minority-owned businesses were presented with business grants to help accelerate their companies. There are additional plans to integrate the wine into fundraising efforts for his Impact 13 Foundation. 

Back stateside, Harden is set to host another wine launch event later on Thursday, Aug. 24, at Houston’s Total Wine & More. The marketing grind doesn’t stop for The Beard.

“James has brought an elevated energy and enthusiasm to the wine industry through the launch of J-Harden Wines and its success over the last year,” said Enrique Morgan, Accolade Wines’ Managing Director of the Americas. “We’ve accomplished so much together in a short period of time, and the response from his fans and our consumers has been incredible.

To hear all about the potential opportunity for growth and just how lucrative he’s hoping his entry into the wine and spirits business can become, Boardroom recently caught up with James Harden to learn more about J-Harden Wines.

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Nick DePaula: What sparked the idea to launch your own wine? 

James Harden: Honestly, the opportunity that came to me from my team. They were like, “How do you feel about doing your own wine brand?” I was like, “Let’s do it!

This entire process of finding the right fruits, the right blend, and tasting wines, we [wanted to also] create a bottle that really stands out. If you look at the wine business, it’s really black and white. If you look at a wine shelf and you look at 10 bottles, give or take, they’re all pretty much the same. We wanted to create some excitement around the wine business. 

I feel like a year in, we’re definitely doing that. We’re excited and we’ve got a long way to go obviously, but the marketing plan and the marketing strategy that we’re putting together is the vision that we had from the start. We’ve got a red blend, cab, and we’re launching a prosecco now. I’m excited, and we’re bringing something to the wine game that I don’t think has been done.

NDP: What did you know about the business of wine when you started out, and what kind of business do you think this can become?

JH: I didn’t really know a lot about it. I was drinking more tequila, and I would dibble dab with like, some Caymus. But if we do it right, this business can become a couple billion dollar business. There’s a lane for it, and we’re just getting started with our marketing strategy, matched with the vision of where we’re going in China, other countries, and here in the US. We got plans to do more, and we want to do a rosé as well. Eventually, we want to get to a tequila. We’ve got a great vision for this brand. 

James Harden Wine
Photo courtesy of J-Harden Wines

NDP: How would you describe developing the brand name and the logo? 

JH: We would take four bottles of wine, and then put our bottle next to it, and it was like, boom, we stand out right away. When we’re in a store and next to our competitors, we’re going to stand out right away. Then, you look at our price point [of less than $20 per bottle,] and our price will be the same or better. Then, once you taste it, boom, we got you and you’ll fall in love with us. That’s been the mindset. We want to be affordable to everyone because we understand the market and what’s going on. Once you have that, then the game’s over.

NDP: How would you describe your wine journey over the years?

JH: I’m in that phase right now. I created a brand, and if you’re really genuinely passionate about your brand and what you create, then you’re going to invest in it and be a part of it. [I’ll drink] tequila here and there, every once in a while. And, if you want me to be honest, I’m getting older basketball-wise, so it’s not as easy as it was when you have a late night with tequila and you have to wake up and go to practice in the morning. If you have a couple of glasses of wine, you’ll still be functional the next morning. That was a huge part of it as well. 

NDP: During the season, obviously, you’re traveling all over the country, and in the offseason, you’re all over the world. What are some of your favorite places or settings that come to mind when you think of enjoying wine?

JH: Basically, everywhere. I just got a huge 12-bottle suitcase, so it’s going to be everywhere with me. Every road trip. In the US, I’d say everywhere. I was just in London, I was just in Amsterdam, and I was in Barcelona and Mykonos. You’ve also got Paris. Wine is so global and is everywhere. It’s a real process, and there’s real work that needs to be put into it, and I’m here for it, cause I truly believe in it. 

NDP: A year in, what have you learned about the wine business now, that you didn’t know going into it?  

JH: When your face is on something and you’re all in, [you realize] how much work is required. Basketball is different. I’ve been playing since I was a kid. Creating a wine and creating a brand, it takes a lot of hard work — a lot of hours, a lot of dedication, a lot of focus, and finding out how I can be different from other competitors without trying too hard. 

All of those variables go into pushing a brand. That’s probably the hardest part. So far, I think we’re doing a pretty good job, and now, it’s about how can we take it to another level, and keep elevating and evolving it, so that ten years down the road, we’ve got something special.

NDP: For the three different types of wines you’ve got, what foods do you like pairing with each one?

JH: With the red blend, I’ll probably go with a steak or lamb chops. With the white wine, most people would drink it with seafood or lighter meals. But for me, hey, it’s mine, so I’m going to drink it with whatever. [laughs] Whether it’s Italian, pasta and whatnot. I feel like there’s no rule to it, and it’s about how you feel in the moment, and just doing what makes you happy and what makes you feel good. 

James Harden Wine
Photo courtesy of J-Harden Wines

NDP: From a big-picture business sense, how would you describe some of your biggest business wins during your time in the league?

JH: I’ve had some solid ones, and some really good ones. I’m trying to transition into putting myself into some even bigger ones. Obviously, this is my baby. From an investment aspect, [my approach is] I’m trying to understand a brand, believing in a brand, seeing what their vision is and where they’re trying to go. Then, I can put my time, effort, and money into it. 

So far, the BodyArmor [investment] was really good for me. I was an early investor in that. I’m continuing to try and find the right ones — not just anything. There’s a lot of opportunities that come my way, but it’s like, is it something that I really believe in? Is it something that I can stand behind, and organically say, I love being a part of this? That’s where I am at this stage of my career. 

I’m also on the board of Saks. I’m a very fashionable guy, and I invested in Saks. That’s another thing that makes sense, as far as James Harden and who I am. That’s something that I can give to the culture, and for the younger generation of guys that are coming into the league, I can give them opportunities. We obviously know how huge fashion is, and not just in basketball or the culture, but in general. That’s another aspect where I can give back and still be a part of the investment side.

Once this basketball thing is over with, that’s where I’m focusing. If I gotta spend my time on something, then I gotta believe in it. I’m definitely in a transition phase, and honestly, it’s a good thing.

Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE via Getty Images

NDP: What’s the best endorsement deal you’ve done?

JH: The best endorsement I got was Adidas, off the top. But, I’ve had some really good investments, where if you look five and 10 years down the line, they’re going to be up. I learned from Kobe. We had conversations, and he talked to me about his transition. 

Once he said he was done with basketball, he was done with basketball. There was no playing in pickup leagues. It was like, “I’m done, and I’m transitioning. This is what I’m doing next because I’ve already worked on it and I’ve already been planning for it.” That’s kind of the stage that I’m on now. Which, by the way, it’s crazy and it went really fast. Year 15 to me — I just felt like I was a rookie last year. I guess it’s called life.

NDP: You still have a long runway here though. 

JH: Life happens fast though!

NDP: Is there a company or a dream deal that you’re looking to still partner with down the road? 

JH: There’s a few of ’em that we’re working on right now. I’m really trying to figure out this transition, what’s very important, and what’s not as much as important as it used to be. That’s what I’m figuring out right now. I can honestly say it’s one of the most exciting times of my life. 

Because, for so long, your focus is just basketball, basketball, basketball, all year round. Obviously, you’re still focused on basketball, but things have to switch in gear a little bit. This switch and this growth in my life is very important right now. I’m trying to just categorize everything into one box and then just attack it with as much time as I can.

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About The Author
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula covers the footwear industry and endorsement deals surrounding the sporting landscape, with an emphasis on athlete and executive interviews. The Sacramento, California, native has been based in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company headquarters. He’ll often argue that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually an underrated movie, largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.