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George has created a Classic vintage

Tuesday, 12.30.2008 / 9:00 AM / Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009

By Adam Schwartz - NHL.com Staff Writer

"When the Winter Classic came along we thought that maybe this would be a good opportunity to produce a wine and I thought it was a great idea.  So we took the ball and ran with it and now we've got the product."
-- Wine connoisseur Bert George

While most fans at the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 will be drinking beer, or perhaps something warmer, wine connoisseur Bert George has come up with an alternative, a limited edition bottle of wine that honors the Red Wings and the Blackhawks' historic New Year's Day game at Wrigley Field (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM Radio).

George, a third-generation liquor distributor, has become the NHL's unofficial wine expert and thought making a wine for the Winter Classic was a natural endeavor.

"When the Winter Classic came along we thought that maybe this would be a good opportunity to produce a wine and I thought it was a great idea," George said. "So we took the ball and ran with it and now we've got the product."

Each bottle of the commemorative 2006 Napa Valley red wine features the Winter Classic logo and is individually numbered. 

"We don't mess with the NHL's logos and the Winter Classic logo is just classic. I love it, no pun intended," George said. "It's an awesome red, white and blue. I've been to Wrigley Field in the past and I just love the tradition there and I like how they took the scoreboard at Wrigley Field and used that in the logo and the red, white and blue looks great. All of the bottles are individually numbered and that makes for a nice little collectible. We only made like 224 cases total."

Unlike many commemorative wines, George, in conjunction with Miner Family Vineyards, has produced a quality product that can be enjoyed to the fullest extent.

"I don't knock other people, but a lot of times what other people will do with collectible wines is that they will use cheap wine to get rid of stuff because they know people aren't buying the wine to drink it," George said. "They put a fancy label on it and call it a commemorative wine and let it go. This wine, however, is 100 percent Napa Valley, and just saying Napa Valley is huge because grape prices can be 10 times what they are in other parts of California. The wine is a very high quality. Minard Family Wines, who is our partner in this one, have an incredible reputation for quality. The NHL gives me a standard and we like to hit that standard."

With Chicago's brisk New Year's Day conditions, a full-bodied red wine was a natural choice. 

"This wine would absolutely be a good wine for a cold day," George said. "Most red wines are consumed during colder winter weather and that's just a fact. From November to May the most red-wine sales take place because you're indoors and you're huddled around, having a stew and eating heavier meat and things like that. You tend to eat heavier meals because you are hunkered down inside; it's almost like winter hibernation and red wine is perfect for that."

George, born and raised in San Jose, Calif., isn't used to the cold weather and didn't get into hockey until later in life. Once George was introduced to the sport, however, he couldn't turn back.

"We have been in the liquor, wine and beer business since 1940," George said of his family. "I'm the third generation. I was born and raised here in San Jose, so I had no experience with hockey until the early '80s when we took on this small Canadian beer called Molson and we were their distributor in this area during the early '80s. They kind of welcomed us into the fold by taking me to the (Montreal) Forum and I saw a Montreal-Bruins playoff game back in the early '80s. So I got to see a game in the old Montreal Forum, which really turned me on and I loved it, but I really had no access to hockey until the Sharks came to San Jose. I've been a season-ticket holder since 1993 and I have four tickets and I go to 80 or 90 percent of the games. When you start to get to know the guys and you get to see them play and get to see them on (TV), it's just a very cool thing."

Contact Adam Schwartz at aschwartz@nhl.com.