When he was a rookie, Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Chris Iannetta and his teammates would often go out to enjoy steak dinners that included premium bottles of wine.
The experience awoke a passion for wine within Iannetta, and it led to the creation of JACK Winery, a business he and former Los Angeles Angels teammate Vernon Wells founded five years ago.
"When you start having some finer wines, some nicer wines, your pallet kind of changes and you appreciate it," said Iannetta, who is in his 12th major league season and his first with the D-backs.
"I don’t like to drink just to drink; I truly enjoy the evolution in the glass and the different nuances of the wine. For me, it’s more of an adventure every time I take a sip or have a glass a wine, so I’ve become a little bit of a wine snob."
Did you know D-backs catcher Chris Iannetta owns a winery?
— ABC15 Sports (@abc15sports) July 13, 2017
JACK Winery, which got its name from the initials of Iannetta's and Wells' children, has received invitations to some of the nation's premier food and wine festivals, including last month's F&W Classic in Aspen, Colorado. It received a Critics Challenge gold medal for its 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon and a silver medal for its 2015 Sauvignon Blanc.
But JACK Winery's path to financial success in an ultra-competitive industry hasn't come easy.
Like most Major League Baseball players, Chris Iannetta spent years in the minor leagues before finally breaking through to the big time. It's fair to say the patience and perseverance he learned along the way has adequately prepared him for the wine business.
"It’s not something where you’re going to make a ton of money and just be the Insignias and the Robert Mondavis of the world overnight. Very few people actually get there. It’s probably the same percentage of people who make it to the major leagues," he said.
"But for us, it’s a passion project. If we keep having fun with it and keep making a little bit of money, it’d be great. We just want to grow it into something special and share our passion for wine and family with everyone else."
Iannetta believes quality wine shouldn't be consumed alone; it should be enjoyed with those you're closest to, and as a conversation starter with those you're still getting to know.
"For me, wine should be shared with friends and family. I think you have some of your best conversations over a really good bottle of wine. I think it’s kind of an icebreaker," he said. "You start talking about how great the wine is and how you feel about it, and from there you dive into life and relationships and everything else. It’s a lot of fun."
Branching out from baseball has allowed Iannetta to flex his creative muscles and help him share his passion for wine with the rest of the world. Much like trying to hit a 98-mph fastball, the wine business has been a challenging but exciting experience.
"It’s been good. It’s been an adventure," he said. "It’s fun to use your brain away from the field, kind of dive into the business world and try to figure out how the marketing goes. It’s just about getting the word out there."