Channing Frye’s wine business partnership with Kevin Love opens new doors


When Channing Frye retired from the NBA in 2019 after 14 seasons, he faced uncertainty for the first time. Basketball had taken up much of his life; it had drawn him in when he was a 6-foot-2 sixth grader, and he dipped in to make a career out of it.

But now that it was gone, he had to figure out his new life. It was a daunting task. His wife Lauren wanted to know what would wake him up every morning.

Frye asked himself a similar question: What could he be obsessing over every day?

He had an idea he’d been harboring for a few years and waited until it felt right. He wanted to get into the wine industry, but wanted to go his own way.

Frye had become a wine lover over the past decade. Sure, he’d developed a taste for it, but it had also become an emotional language. It connected him with friends and served as a reminder of various experiences. It helped bring the 7-footer closer to his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates — a bond forged through both tough times and a 2016 championship, all shared over many glasses of wine.

In 2020 he launched Chosen Family Wines and then partnered with Kevin Love, his former teammate and close friend, and two others. The pandemic brought time and opportunity, and the group decided to implement a plan that had been brewing for a while. In the first year, Chosen Family sold 850 cases; 5,600 are expected to move this year.

The business is more than just a heart project for Frye. These are hours of his day, the investment of his capital and a chance to share his infatuation with others.

“As a human it was like coal for my fire, for my train,” he said. “Being able to talk to my friends, to be able to hang up the phone, to really enjoy each other’s conversations… the thing about wine is that it’s the most talkative drink of all.” You and I can sit down and talk about it, and “that” can lead to 100 different conversations, how does it taste, how does it look, where did you get it, what does that remind you of?

“I call it liquid memory because when you drink a bottle, especially if it’s a really good one or a really bad one, you’re going to have a visceral memory of it.”

Frye wasn’t always a wine connoisseur, let alone a label owner. When he moved to Portland in 2007 after a trade took him to the Trail Blazers, he had never been to a winery. Growing up in Arizona, he said he was always a beer and tequila guy at heart. But Oregon has a vibrant grape scene, and Frye was starting to make the rounds.

It triggered a change in him. He started trying different styles and terroirs. He began to recognize tastes and learn his preferred palate.

When he joined the Cavaliers, he brought his Pinot Noirs from Oregon and saw that he had joined a like-minded community. The players brought their own bottles, shared them with the team and explained why they chose them. Wine became the link.

The fall of 2016 was particularly painful for Frye. His mother died of cancer in October. His father died a month later on Thanksgiving. Frye was in pain and he was mourning.

“That year the guys knew I was hurt…broken,” he said. “And again we went back to the things that made me happy. I had a good dinner, laughed, joked, drank a glass of wine, so they became even more my chosen family. My friends became my family. The people you share your table with, the people you can hold accountable, the people you hold accountable, the people you joke with, could laugh, cry, they became your family. So it’s not just about blood. It’s about people you spend time with.”

The label’s name comes from the friends he made on those Cavaliers teams. They stay close and often talk over a group text. But the company itself grew out of a conversation between Love and Frye on a team plane ride later in Frye’s career.

Frye was nearing retirement when he and Love shared a glass of wine and discussed their own wine label. Love started writing names and ideas in a notebook. Frye retired in 2019; the company came a year later.

Chosen Family does not yet have its own winery. The company began and continues to collaborate with fellow wineries, sourcing grapes from other winemakers, passing through their casks, conducting a blind tasting and then collaborating with them to create a unique bottle of their own. Currently, Frye said, Chosen Family has partnerships with five companies and puts that company’s logo on each bottle.

“Allow me and Kevin to use our platform to tell not only our story, but yours as well,” Frye said. “Because #1, we love you as a person. They make delicious juice and this is a beautiful area to feature. People thought we were crazy for thinking, well, you’re promoting this other thing. But I’m like, ‘Yeah, but isn’t that the wine part?’ It’s not a competition. Nobody drinks the same wine every night.”

(Courtesy of Amir Shafii Photography)

Frye has thrown himself into the business and it has become a lifeline for him. When he retired, it was the first time in his adult life — even since sixth grade, he said — that he hadn’t had a set schedule. Basketball used to be his daily planner, but now he decided where and when he could be. The NBA had planned his days for him, but now he had to figure it out for himself.

Frye saw a therapist. He had to figure out how to deal with it.

“When I left the NBA I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to do anything today,’ and nothing changes. It’s not liberating,” he said. “Imagine you’re in a[cave]and you’re very happy in your cave and all of a sudden you go out into the free world and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s too much’ and you try to go back. For me, it was really important to set a schedule where television gets the best of Channing, my family gets the best of Channing, and then Chosen gets the attention it needs.”

Chosen family takes up a lot of his time. He visits vineyards. He controls the finances of the company. He spends hours on the phone thinking about his future. He has found a happy balance between his business, his television work and his family.

The company has no employees other than those who founded it. Love, now with the Miami Heat, plays when he can. The company has not made any outside investments. It has grown to seven varietals and Frye is eagerly awaiting his 2021 vintage.

Channing Frye (left) and Kevin Love were once teammates with the Cavaliers. Now they are partners in the wine industry. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Not only has Chosen Family created another business owner career for Frye that gives him purpose beyond his media appearances that talk about basketball, but also propels him into a new realm. The wine industry is not only exclusive; it is almost entirely white.

In Oregon, where Frye lives and where Chosen Family is based, there are only three black-owned wine companies. According to the Association of African American Vintners, blacks own less than 1 percent of wineries in the United States.

But Frye is at the forefront of those progressively transforming the industry. Current and former NBA players have not only shown their appreciation for wine, they’ve also bought into it. Dwyane Wade and CJ McCollum have their own labels. Others have helped make wine drinking a common thing among players in the league.

Last month, Frye helped them band together during Black History Month to support The Roots Fund and raise money for the organization dedicated to creating a place for BIPOC in the wine industry. Chosen Family and Wade’s and McCollum’s Labels have all pledged to donate 10 percent of their February sales; others such as Carmelo Anthony, Klay Thompson and LeBron James have donated memorabilia.

“There’s two things about the wine industry that’s interesting, and it’s a catch-22,” Frye said. “People of color don’t necessarily have an education (above) or grow up with wine in their home. It’s not just an ordinary thing. It’s a luxury item sometimes. And then people in the wine industry live on the outskirts of Oregon and they don’t know how to communicate to get people of color into the industry. So there is a separation.

“The bridge is being built, but stone by stone. For me, I’m slowly bridging that gap because I understand wine jargon, but I understand that we can also talk about tyres. We can talk about different things that communicate differently. My demographic is different – ​​who listens to me, who trusts me?”

Frye is aware of making wine a less pompous drink. Chosen Family has a bottle that retails for $35 that Frye hopes will be a more affordable choice given its cost.

Most of the time, he just wants to share something that has brought him a lot of joy. Frye wants to scale his business. He wants to make wine less snooty. He wants to build on his new purpose. He wants to share it with his family and take his kids to the vineyard to pick grapes and bottle memories.

It has put him in a new place than a few years ago, free from basketball for the first time in decades.

“The biggest thing was that Channing would be a freshman in life,” he said. “You’re going to be a newbie in life, so give yourself a break. Work out a schedule, figure out what works for Channing. Take care of Channing. I’m very philanthropist and the biggest thing is to find out if I’m happy I do a better job in all my jobs. But finding out what sometimes makes me happy isn’t just drinking wine. Sometimes it’s like getting your butt at the gym. Go for a stroll. eat healthy you know Take a nap. Get off Instagram.”

Then he added, “It was fun growing in this way and using this as a vessel to grow a part of me that I didn’t know existed.”

(Top photo courtesy of Amir Shafii Photography)

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