Jim Nantz is on a mission. He is determined to get me one of his bottles of wine.
Even though he is running late, the veteran voice of CBS is scurrying through the lobby to find a box of his wine that has been dropped off at the Palmer House in Chicago. He asks at the front desk, but they haven’t seen it. He checks the bell desk. Nope.
I say, “Don’t worry about it.”
“No,” Nantz said. “I want you to have a bottle.”
Finally, we go down an escalator and find another bell desk that has the elusive box. He cuts it open and proudly pulls out a bottle.
“A lot of work went into this,” Nantz said.
If being the play-by-play man for CBS on the NFL, golf and the NCAA tournament is priority No. 1 for Nantz, making wine has vaulted to No. 2.
Nantz and industry entrepreneur Peter Deutsch have combined on The Calling, a label that currently features four wines on the market.
“We want to create the next great premium American wine brand,” Nantz said.
Indeed, this isn’t a hobby for Nantz. He is totally immersed in the business. Nantz and his wife, Courtney, moved out to California so they can be closer to the vineyard that produces the wine. He says they literally get their hands in the dirt while working on the property.
Considering Nantz’s jammed broadcast schedule, where does he find the time?
“Well, you find the time,” Nantz said. “This is something I love.”
Courtney handles much of the day-to-day business operation of the label, while Nantz grinds on the promotion end. He made several appearances for the wine while in Chicago for the Big Ten tournament. When he’s on the road to call an event, he tries to find a restaurant that carries The Calling. If Jim Nantz walks in, it’s a show of support for the brand, he said.
Yet Nantz’s biggest commitment might be in the name. Early on, Deutsch asked Nantz, “Does your name need to be on the bottle?”
“No,” Nantz said. “He said, ‘Good, let’s keep talking.'”
Nantz said the success rate for “celebrity” (“A word I hate,” he said) wine is extremely low. With few exceptions, people don’t take those wines seriously.
Hence, The Calling. Obviously, it plays on Nantz being on the call for sporting events. However, the biggest message, he says, “is about finding your calling in life.”
Not to get too sappy, but Nantz believes he has a calling to make wine (OK, I got sappy). He has a high interest in fermented grapes, and it is something that he has wanted to do more than decade.
“I am a spokesman for a lot of companies, but I don’t own anything,” Nantz said. “This is something I own. It is so rewarding. It’s a thrill to go into a restaurant, open the menu, and see The Calling is available.”
The Calling is in 3,000 restaurants, and the reviews have been highly favorable. Nantz gave me a bottle of the Russian River Chardonnay.
While I am more of a Guinness guy, in a tribute to Roger Ebert, I’d give The Calling an enthusiastic thumbs up.