Napa Valley and mixed martial arts.
Traditionally those two things don’t really seem to go hand in hand. One is an area of California where some of the finest wines are made and the other is a combat sport where two fighters compete to best each other inside a cage.
Recently however they did come together for a special project involving UFC middleweight Jared Hamman and a new wine named after his fighting nickname, ‘The Messenger’.
It all started back at UFC 111 when Hamman was in New Jersey getting ready for his fight with Rodney Wallace. One of his teammates was wandering around the hotel they were staying at, and a chance encounter happened that eventually led to Hamman having his own wine.
“It was UFC 111 and Vladimir Matyushenko was down in the lobby area of the hotel having some food and he started talking to this woman named Noelle, and they started talking about what she was doing and what we were doing at the hotel,” Hamman told MMAWeekly.com. “Vlad ends up finding out she works for Hill Family Estates Winery, and she was telling him what Ryan, the owner’s son does. He creates all these staining projects, and she explains to him how they stained a professional surfer’s surfboard and then they made a wine after that.
“Then they stained these Fender Stratocaster guitars and made a wine after that. So Vlad goes ‘hey you should stain Jared’s shorts’ and bam, it just kind of took off from there.”
Hill Family Estate is a winery in the Napa Valley, California and a few years ago Ryan Hill decided to branch his family’s business out into a new venture. The winery got in business with Fender guitars and used their product to stain 100 limited edition 60th anniversary Fender Stratocaster guitars.
The wine was used to stain the body of the guitar, and they were eventually sold for between $10,000 and $12,000 each, with every guitar coming with a six-pack of wine made specially by the Hill Family for Fender.
From there Ryan’s staining projects started to take off. He ended up staining professional surfer Kyle Knox’s surfboard, as well as baseball bats for several major league baseball players including Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
Hamman explains that once Matyushenko told him about the winery and the staining projects he was hooked. See Hamman has a very specific type of short he likes to wear, because he collects them when his fights are over, they are left the battle scars and battle wounds from the war he just went through.
“I always wear white shorts, and Vlad knew that. It’s like a football jersey, you always keep it because of the blood, sweat and tears and everything, so you always keep it the way it is. So I always wear white shorts because there’s almost always blood, cause I’m just one of those weird guys that always keeps my shorts,” Hamman explained.
Once Hamman met with the Hill Family, it was an instant connection. Ryan Hill from Hill Family Estate admits he wasn’t an avid MMA fan when he met Hamman, but he had definitely watched the sport and was connected immediately.
He also saw MMA as a new area for business opportunities.
“I was just always in awe of whoever would do that, and how intriguing it was to me that I’d rather watch that then boxing or any other kind of martial art,” Hill said. “So for me, it was one of those things like the UFC, when you think of drinks you think of beer, vodka, and maybe Monster energy drinks. I thought this could be a segment that hasn’t been touched by the wine industry.”
After Hamman and the Hill Family met, they decided to move forward with a staining project as well as a wine named after the fighter. Hill stained Hamman’s shorts to look very much like they would after one of his fights, and created ‘The Messenger’ wine to coordinate with the staining.
The wine debuted last weekend and Hamman was very excited to see the world of MMA and wine country come together. He also couldn’t help but be happy to see a wine named after himself, because well that sort of thing just doesn’t happen everyday.
“This is mixing wine country with MMA, so it’s a very, very interesting dynamic. We went up there for the wine release and I’m talking to people from Napa Valley about mixed martial arts, and it’s such a cool crossover,” said Hamman.
“It’s the closest I’ll ever come to being on a Wheaties box. It’s like the modern day Wheaties box for me. When they first came up to me with this idea I was like this is so rad. It’s such a cool honor.”
Much like the UFC owners who knew when they bought the promotion several years ago that the sport hadn’t even tapped into the majority of people who would eventually grow to love it, the makers of the wine at Hill Family Estate looked at the fan base around MMA as something new to help grow their business.
Fine wines are not uncommon, but they are rarely mentioned when talking about any professional sport, much less MMA.
“The way I look at it, these staining projects serve as what I call a USP. What a USP is, is a unique selling point,” Hill explained. “Here in the valley, everybody’s making wine, and there’s not a lot of bad wine, so what we have to do is to come up with something that allows us to differentiate our product and leaves a lasting impression on guests that visit the valley.”
The crossover has started and if you spot Hamman at your local event, he might be sporting a wine glass, and reciting some of the film ‘Sideways’ to make sure that ‘The Messenger’ wine is appreciated in just the right way.