GREEN BAY, Wis. – Charles Woodson changed football during a Pro Football Hall of Fame career. Now, he’s attempting to change the wine industry with his Intercept Wines.
“That’s what it’s all about, man,” the legendary former Green Bay Packers defender said on Tuesday. “It’s about trying to build your legend. It’s all about the journey and being unique and being an innovator and doing things differently than what people would think you would do. That’s how you build your legend is by thinking outside the box.”
Woodson is back in Green Bay on Thursday for a wine dinner at Thornberry Creek golf course. The four-course dinner will be paired with each of Woodson’s Intercept wines – chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet and red blend.
“We’re going to eat good, drink good and be merry,” Woodson said.
Watch any NFL game, and it’s clear that beer is the sport’s official drink. Instead, Woodson fell in love with the wine scene.
“I was lucky enough to be drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1998 and even luckier that their training camp was in Napa Valley,” Woodson said. “It was because of that proximity that I’m involved with wine because every year for three-and-a-half, four weeks, I was in Napa Valley for training camp. That’s when I started drinking wine with my dinner and just watching everyone out there always having wine at the table and being the center of attention.”
On road trips, Woodson and teammates would “break bread” and drink wine. With a growing fascination, Woodson became friends with a winemaker at Robert Mondavi. A couple years into his NFL career, he made a single barrel of merlot “that kind of started” Woodson on his future second career. When he started his first wine label, TwentyFour, players weren’t allowed to endorse alcoholic beverages. Having retired following the 2018 season, he launched Intercept at his old college stomping grounds, Michigan Stadium, in August 2019.
The wine, which on Intercept Wines’ Web site he calls an affordable “thank you to my fans,” has been incredibly well-received. The cabernet, for instance, received a score of 89 from Wine Spectator.
The success means everything to Woodson because it’s not just Woodson’s name on the bottle. It’s his new passion inside the battle. He said he’s “very hands on” working alongside head winemaker Amanda Gorter in crafting each year’s vintage.
“A lot of times, you have an athlete or a celebrity put their name on something. A lot of people are immediately turned off by it. ‘Here’s another celebrity who thinks he can sell me wine and make money and get a payout and get out of it,’” Woodson said. “That’s not what I’m doing. I’ve got a great winemaker who makes sure we’re going to have premium wine every year.
“So now, once you put the name on the bottle, it gets you in the door, but the juice in the bottle is going to keep you there. We’ve been able to get past the name on the battle and more to the quality of the wine to where people may drink my wine, have a bottle of it and not really think about the name on the label. ‘Oh, man, this is a great wine.’ And then, all of a sudden, work backward and say, ‘Wait a minute, is that the former NFL player?’ That’s where you want to be. You want people to be interested in the wine and not the name on the bottle. If both of those things work together, then I think you have a winner. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
Woodson was a winner on the field as one of the great defensive backs in NFL history. He ranks fifth with 65 interceptions and second with 11 interceptions returned for touchdowns. A nine-time Pro Bowler and member of the NFL’s all-2000s team, he was an easy first-ballot selection to the Hall of Fame.
The Class of 2021 will be enshrined on Aug. 8. He said his speech would focus on family.
“That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about family,” he said.
While it was apparent Woodson was on a Hall of Fame trajectory during his superlative seven seasons with the Packers, Woodson said he never thought about it at the time.
“People would ask you during interviews, ‘Hey, do you think you’re a Hall of Famer,’” Woodson recalled. “One of my stock answers was, ‘I don’t know. If I’m not, what do you think I need to do to be that?’ I kind of brushed it off because I wasn’t really thinking about that. My main concern as a player was winning a championship. That’s really all I cared about. I didn’t really think about the Hall of Fame until I was done playing. Then, that clock [the Hall of Fame’s five-year rule] starts winding down. Warren Sapp is the guy who I’d see over the years and he’d be like, ‘How long you been out now?’ I’d tell him and he’d say, ‘All right, two more years’ or whatever. He was always the guy who reminded me where I was at in terms of the Hall of Fame.”
Woodson got that elusive NFL championship during the Packers’ unexpected run to the Super Bowl in 2010. When he tells his future grandkids about his time in Green Bay, that season will be the focus of his stories. It was a season in which Woodson had only two interceptions but set a career high with five forced fumbles.
“I’ll tell them that the 2009 team was really our best team and we got into a shootout with Arizona in the playoffs but that’s another story,” Woodson said. “We came off that season and we knew we were good enough. We just had to put a season together and we’d be fine. It just so happens that we had 16 players on IR and we needed to win the last two games against the Giants and Bears to get into the playoffs. And then, boom, we were the wild card team, the No. 6 seed and we had to work our way to the Super Bowl going on the road each week.
Woodson spent his first eight seasons with Oakland before joining the Packers in free agency in 2006. The next seven seasons changed his career. Woodson piled up 38 interceptions, including league-high totals of nine in 2009 and seven in 2011. He set a franchise record with nine pick-sixes. He added 11.5 sacks and 15 forced fumbles en route to four Pro Bowls and being named Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.
How did he dominate to such an extent? At age 35, most cornerbacks are washed up. In 2011, Woodson was selected to his fourth All-Pro team.
“First and foremost, there’s no substitute for hard work,” Woodson said. “I put the time in to be the best player on the field and I put the time in as far as conditioning, being able to do multiple things on the football field to where I wasn’t getting worn down and tired during the games. I might be on the best receiver, I might move inside to nickel, I might be at Sam linebacker. You never knew but I just always wanted to be ready.
“I think having a great understanding of the game – experience is always the greatest teacher. I had seen just about everything, so I was able to go out and really dissect plays before they would happen.”
Former Packers coach Mike McCarthy liked to say that a player’s greatest ability is availability. Woodson brought both to the field. Part of that was Woodson heeding the advice of the legendary Jerry Rice, who once suggested to Woodson that, starting with Year 10 in the NFL, he report to training camp 1 pound lighter than the previous season. That helped keep him “fresh and ready to go.” With the exception of the 2012 season, in which he missed half the year with a broken collarbone, Woodson missed just three games during the other nine seasons played past his 30th birthday.
“I had some things that set me back a little bit but I was able to go out there and perform at a high level each and every week,” Woodson said. “Coach McCarthy really took care of me as far as the coach-player relationship and understanding who I was as a player and understanding that I would always be ready come gametime. He didn’t have me beating myself up during the week, knowing that he was going to get 1,000 percent out of me on Sunday and I would know my responsibilities. Those things together allowed me to continue playing at a high level each week.”
Woodson played in the NFL for 18 seasons, a journey that set the stage for his upcoming induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Where does he imagine Intercept in 18 years?
“We’re continuing to grow. We have national distribution,” he said. “You know what? I played sports all of my life. I played in many NFL stadiums, I’ve been to some basketball stadiums, baseball stadiums and hockey stadiums. I would love Intercept to be offered in some capacity, whether it's all four, three, two or one, in every stadium out there. I don’t think that’s too ambitious. I think that’s within reach and that’s where I would like it to be.”
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