The Professional Golfer
Life on the PGA tour keeps things interesting for this dedicated wine collector
Jeff Sluman is a familiar face on the PGA circuit, having gone pro in 1980. He is currently on the PGA Champions Tour, which takes him next to the U.K. for The Senior Open Championship, July 22 - 25, 2010 in Berkshire, England. A longtime Chicago resident, Sluman is a Bulls Fan (and season ticket holder), active in charity programs and an avid fan of fine wine. We caught up with this Shafer collector in between tour stops to learn more about what makes wine collecting a part of an already full life.
Did you grow up with wine in your background?
No, not at all. I grew up in a suburb of Rochester in a house where my parents really didn’t drink anything. They were basically teetotalers. In college, I usually drank beer. One time I had a two-dollar bottle of red wine that was really terrible. And that’s what I thought wine was.
When did that change?
I can tell you exactly where. I was having dinner with [professional golfer] Billy Andrade at the Capitol Grill in Providence, RI, probably 1994. We were ordering steaks and Billy wanted to get a bottle of red wine and I said I didn’t want to. Wine was awful. Finally he talked me into it and we got a bottle of Far Niente and it was like magic. I mean the steak and the wine, it was all just spectacular when you put them together.
How did collecting start for you?
After that I started thinking that collecting wine would be a pretty interesting hobby. I started reading a lot of literature and started visiting wine shops. We’re lucky in Chicago to have some great ones. I started asking for wine recommendations. At the time my wife and I were living in a house that had a small wine storage area, which I started using. It’s been fun. I travel so much — I’m in California a lot, in Santa Barbara, Monterey, the Bay Area. Or when I’m in Italy, places like that, I started visiting wineries.
What did you start buying?
I started with what I knew and what was recommended — mainly California reds: Silver Oak, Montelena. That’s about the time the whole allocation list thing was really taking off. Some I was able to get on, others I missed. I finally got on the Hillside Select list in 2004.
Has your collection changed over time?
It did when I discovered I really love Spanish wines. El Nido and Clos Erasmus are great producers. Monastrell [the Spanish term for Mourvedre] is a varietal that’s amazing. These days my cellar holds about 2,500 bottles and I’d say that 60 percent is California reds, 20 percent Spanish wines and 20 percent is a mix, lots of different things.
What’re the oldest wines in your collection?
I have a 1957 Château Margaux, which is by far the oldest because I tend to drink in that six to 10-year-old window. The Margaux is a birth year bottle given to me by some friends; it’s a pristine bottle and I’ll never drink it.
While 1957 was a great year for me, apparently it wasn’t such a great year for Margaux. So I’d rather hold on to it than open it up.
Do you remember the oldest bottle you’ve tasted?
Sure. The oldest bottle I’ve ever had was an 1890 Lafite [Château Lafite-Rothchild]. It wasn’t mine, it was a friend’s. And it wasn’t very good. It had been re-corked twice, but it was very cool to drink something that was more than a century old.
It seems like there’s been a lot of wine interest among golfers in the past 10 or 15 years. Is that new?
Sure. When I first started playing professionally in 1980, you didn’t really see it. But now players and their wives will get together for dinner and maybe one night I’ll bring six or eight bottles of something I’m into. Then a few nights later another guy will bring some bottles that he’s really into. It’s interesting to see what other people are buying. It’s a lot of fun.
The PGA Champions Tour continues through November 2010. For upcoming dates on Sluman’s tour schedule visit: http://www.pgatour.com/s/schedule/