From Coaching To Wine, Vintage Vermeil

A confession: for five years, I hosted the Dick Vermeil Show every Monday night, sometimes Tuesday nights, after Chiefs games. That would be 81 shows.

For 80 of those shows, which were done in the broadcast booth at Arrowhead Stadium, we had a bottle of wine on site. Almost always it was a red wine, because that was my preference; Vermeil’s too. There were usually five to six people there as part of the show, so the bottle would go quickly

The Coach would have about half a glass. He had been at work since 5 a.m. and was planning to be working until about midnight; Mondays are always a very busy day in the NFL. Anything more than a swallow or two would have Vermeil nodding off in his meeting with the coaches.

After his last game as the Chiefs head coach, the last Dick Vermeil Show featured a wine that he brought: one of his own Jean Vermeil Cabernet Sauvignons. As the show went on, the Coach talked about getting more involved in the wine business, going back to his roots.

Vermeil has done that with the creation of the Vermeil Wines Group. Along with a group of partners that includes Carl Peterson and a pair of his former quarterbacks in Trent Green and Todd Collins, Vermeil Wines opened a tasting room in Calistoga, California this summer and production of wines under Vermeil’s name has grown and will get bigger in the future.

Calistoga is where Vermeil was born and where he grew up. It’s smack in the middle of the Napa Valley and the business of wine has fueled the area economy for years. As the off-spring of a family with Italian blood on one side and French blood on the other, wine was always part of Vermeil’s life. They didn’t put it in his baby bottle, but he wasn’t but eight or nine before the milk at the dinner table was replaced by a watered down glass of vino.

“Growing up, even as a child we would have wine at the dinner table,” Vermeil said.

“My father used to like to tell the story of how he got sent home from elementary school because he had wine in his thermos. My grandfather was deeply offended because wine was a very big part of our culture.”

“I think I started having a glass of wine at dinner regularly when I was 12 years old. Wine was a part of virtually every meal. You would always be tasting different vintages, even if it was a bit watered down for us.”

Vermeil’s great grandfather on his mother’s side came to San Francisco from Lucca, a town in Tuscany, Italy. Garibaldi Iaccheri was a successful businessman and bought a plot of land in Calistoga because it looked like his homeland. His daughter married Albert Vermeil, the coach’s grandfather, who made wine as a hobby.

“My brother and I would help our grandfather with some of the more manual labor,” said Vermeil. “We’d lift the crates of grapes out of the truck and sometimes I would even get to twist the handle and press the grapes.”

Many years later, Vermeil is involved in making wine like his grandfather. He hooked up years ago with winemaker Paul Smith, who spent 17 years working with the famed Robert Mondavi Winery and is now a partner in Vermeil Wines.

“I told Paul, ‘You make the wine, we’ll get the grapes and we’ll make 200-300 cases a year’,” Vermeil said. “‘I’ll pay the expenses and maybe l can help with the marketing,’ because by that time my name was known in coaching.”

Smith’s On the Edge Winery began producing 175 cases of the Jean Louis Vermeil Cabernet in 1999. A few years ago, the Jean Vermeil Cabernet started getting noticed by wine big shots. A long-time wine critic and publisher of the Wine Advocate Robert Parker gave the cab a score of 93 for the 2002 version. Any wine graded higher than 90 is considered a top-flight wine.

“This is the personal wine project of the Super Bowl-winning, renowned NFL head coach, Dick Vermeil,” wrote Parker. “His initial dive into the wine world is impressive. It goes against the rule-of-thumb that celebrities rarely achieve anything special in the world of wine.”

Vermeil’s retirement from coaching and the success of the wine has led to expanded production and the creation of the Vermeil Wine Group. They hope to expand production to 10,000 cases, and if the wine starts to sell, there may one day be a Vermeil winery for production. As of now, the tasting room opened this summer right in Calistoga and has been a big hit.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Vermeil said. “I don’t claim to really know much about making wine, other than I know it’s hard work. I’m involved with some very talented people. It’s not unlike being a head coach and having a great staff of assistants.”

In fact, he’s dubbed the winery’s GM and Director of Sales Tom Ward his offensive coordinator, as they try to increase the distribution of Vermeil Wines around the country.

Vermeil held a wine dinner several weeks ago in Kansas City, and many of his former players were there, including the likes of limited partner Trent Green, Priest Holmes and even Larry Johnson. Among the wines served was the Vermeil Library Selection 2003 Zinfandel which was very good. If you like a red wine with a big, hardy taste, this peppery Zin is a classic. A major thumbs up from this taster on that vino.

The other wines offered at this dinner – Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon – were also good wines, especially paired with the right foods. Three-cheese ravioli with a morel mushroom sauce was very good with the Vermeil Cabernet Franc.

These are solid wines, better than most and in some cases very good. As the project goes forward, the wines should only get better. The price range is $20 to $50 which is on the high side, but that is fairly common with small output wineries. Again, hopefully more production will bring some lower prices, but Vermeil Wines is getting its grapes from money of the most prestigious vineyards in the Napa Valley (Frediani) and that’s not inexpensive.

There are some retail outlets in the Kansas City area that have Vermeil Wines. They are distributed in Missouri by Major Brands and in Kansas by Standard Beverage. Wine can also be ordered from the winery, although that’s prohibited in some states, in this case particularly Kansas.

For more information here’s a link for the Vermeil Wines website.

7 Responses to “From Coaching To Wine, Vintage Vermeil”

  • November 1, 2009  - ThunderChief says:

    DV brought some class, stability and player harmony with him during his 5 year stint. He is missed today.

  • November 1, 2009  - Bitter says:

    ThunderChief says:
    DV brought some class, stability and player harmony with him during his 5 year stint.

    As well as hiring an ex donkey as the DC to destroy our best chance at a Superbowl since `97. Thanks DV, your the man.

  • November 1, 2009  - el cid says:

    Just a comment on real football. The Ravens just had their 3rd round pick return the 2nd half kick off for a TD. Man, Pioli was sharp to pick Magee, 4th stringer, over a kick returner. When you are executive of the year 4 times, you can really pick players.

  • November 1, 2009  - David Henderson says:

    ALL YOU GUYS THAT SUPPORT THE lj DECISION S MY BALLS. Thats a very sweaty and stinky mouthful you P.O.S apes!!!!!! Who cares about arbitration and that bullcrap this is about right and wrong, LJ sucks and is not right for the team. Go ahead and keep supporting him when you have enough money for tickets I dont. I guess my opinion doesnt matter, no money. Time to take up arms, just like current [political situation]

  • November 2, 2009  - Mark says:

    Screw DV. Had no clue how to build a D, was FAR too loyal to an incompetent in Greg Robinson, wouldn’t let Gunther coach D the way Gunther wanted to, when he finally let Robinson go 2 years 2 late, and turned KC fans against LJ from day one because he didn’t want him, and continuosly insulted him, including the diaper comment. Enjoy you’re retirement DV, and your contribution to set this franchise back, in which your buddy Herm finished the job. The one thing I’ll give you credit for is hiring Al Saunders and letting him have free reign over the most exciting offense of the first half of the decade. Thank you for that. Unfortunately Herm stopped that in it’s tracks, and wanted to.

  • November 3, 2009  - larry says:

    I will have to try some of his grape juice. Not much of a connoisseur, but I sure love a good red wine with my steak.

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