Luke Donald: Renaissance Man





Some of the world’s finest golfers have long augmented their iron work with the wine business but few have done so with as much vigour and success as Luke Donald. Joining an impressive number of golf-and-grape connoisseurs – most notably Ernie Els, Greg Norman, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus - the supremely elegant Luke Donald Collection, which includes a beautifully handcrafted Bordeaux blend made in Napa Valley’s most prestigious vineyards, has its origins in a longstanding friendship between the former world number one and Bill Terlato, President and CEO of Terlato Wines International.

Since meeting on the fairways of Northwestern University, Donald and Terlato’s respective careers have followed a similarly upward trajectory. Immensely popular with fans and players alike, Donald’s diffident demeanour belies his relentless pursuit of excellence. He holds the notable distinction of being the only European to have been on the winning side in his first four Ryder Cups. Donald’s only absence since his debut nine years ago was due to a wrist injury at Valhalla in 2008. That year the USA team, led by Paul Azinger, beat the Europeans 16½ - 11½ and Sir Nick Faldo, then European captain, is still prone to lamenting the absence of the Herefordshire born right-hander.

In 2011, the laconic megastar became the first player to win both money lists on the US PGA and European Tours in the same season, a feat that saw him displace Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as the world’s top ranked golfer. A few months later, and in the same year Donald was garlanded with an MBE, Bill Terlato was named The Italian American Chamber of Commerce's Businessman of the Year, a nod to his leading role in furthering a global wine dynasty that was founded in Chicago by his grandparents in 1955.

The Terlato Family are one of the largest, most respected premium wine marketers, importers and winery owners in the business, noted for having more wines under their stewardship in the 90 plus points category than any other company in the world, and as Donald puts it “it’s amazing to have such a great friend who is also one of the world’s foremost experts on wine.”

Together, and in between rounds in Florida with their neighbour, the basketball demigod Michael Jordan, they have harnessed their collective, steely-eyed, determination to produce a superlatively graceful range which mirrors the main protagonist’s effortless finesse and artistry on the golf course.

Intriguingly, and contrary to the vast majority of celebrity endorsed projects, the 14 times tour winner, has played a central role during the development of the LDC range. The 36-year-old’s fastidious attention to detail for every facet of the process, including the sculpting of the modern wine labels which adorn the stylishly handsome bottles, to the sourcing of the grapes within some of California’s most preeminent wine regions, epitomises his efforts to create a wine range that reflects his personality.

At the time of writing, and despite an indifferent season which may result in him relying on a wildcard selection for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles – this quintessential English gentleman still found time to speak exclusively with CellarVie Wines about the origins of the Luke Donald Collection, his friendship with Bill Terlato and his Ryder Cup memories…
 
 
Where did your passion for wine come from and when did you first start appreciating wine?
 
I grew up in England, near London, and wine was always a part of the meal. My parents always enjoyed wine with dinner and when I was of age, I started understanding how wine complements food and vice versa. Of course, I drank my fair share of beer in college, but now wine is really my drink of choice, especially with a great meal.
 
 
Where did you meet Bill Terlato and how did this partnership come about?
 
Bill and I met at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, just North of Chicago. He was taking golf lessons from Pat Goss, my golf coach at Northwestern. We started talking and then hitting some balls and pretty soon a great friendship evolved; around shared passions for golf as well as great food and wine, and entertaining. We live near each other and we get together for golf whenever we can – and great meals with great wines as well.
 
 
You must have had a number of options in regards to wineries to work with from around the world, aside from your friendship with the Terlato Family, why did you settle on California?
 
While talking to Bill about the world of winemaking, I became really passionate about creating an Old World style of wine, with New World fruit. It reflects my own life, growing up in Britain and now living in the U.S. and the Terlatos own some of the best vineyards in all of California, in Stags Leap District, Rutherford and down in the Santa Rita Hills North of Santa Barbara. It made perfect sense.
 

Have you tried many of your golf colleagues’ wines and how do they stand up to the Luke Donald Collection? Your neighbour Ernie Els’ wines have an excellent reputation.
 
I am in great company at Terlato, which also has Jack Nicklaus’ wines and Ernie Els’ wines in their portfolio - both of which are exceptional. I’m proud to stand alongside them and I think my wines stand up against theirs nicely too! Each wine is unique to the individual behind it.
 
 
Your hands-on approach has helped create a European-style wine made using some of California’s finest grapes. How pleased are you with the wines and did they meet your expectations?
 
I’m extremely pleased with them! The Terlatos are known for exceptional quality in everything they do, and I saw that principle come to life at the blending session. I serve my wines to friends and family at my own home and I’d recommend them to anyone at a restaurant.
 
 
 
Bill Terlato and Luke Donald 
 
 
In an age in which power hitters dominate the American and European circuits, your game is largely based around finesse. Would you suggest this trait is reflected in the elegance and refinement of the Luke Donald Collection?
 
Since the wines reflect my own style, I guess you could say they are more refined and subtle. They’re not overpowering or over-extracted wines. They are delicious on their own and with food.
 

Given the endless stream of high-profile endorsements between sportsmen and various products, people might be surprised to learn that you had a very hands-on approach during the process of launching the Luke Donald Collection. Could you explain why this was the case and the part you played?
 
It’s part of who I am. I don’t believe in getting involved in anything that I don’t have a personal passion and belief in. When we decided to do this, I went to Napa with Bill and we were in the vineyards with the winemakers and we were barrel-tasting and blending with the winemakers to determine the proper style and the exact balance for each wine.
 
 
Could you briefly describe the wines to us and do you have a favourite?
 
The Luke Donald Collection Red is a Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend with a bit of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot added for balance and roundness. The Chardonnay is 100% Chardonnay from Carneros, at the Southern end of Napa Valley. It’s aged for nine months in 20% new French Oak, which lends it subtle notes of vanilla and even caramel, on top of delicate citrus notes. The Viognier [currently unavailable in the UK] is brand new and made in the famous Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. It’s a favourite varietal of mine, and is an excellent expression of the grape – some nice bright fruit, a whiff of honeysuckle and jasmine – it’s really delightful.
 
 
What kind of reception has the wines received from your fellow colleagues on Tour?
 
I must say that on the Tour, my colleagues and I are concentrating on and talking about our game more than wine! But the guys that have had my wine are always very complimentary.
 
 
You have your own quite substantial wine collection housed in a state-of-the-art wine cellar. What’s the setup like and what’s in the Donald wine cellar? What kind of steer has Bill Terlato given you on this?
 
Bill is the one who got me started collecting wines – it’s amazing to have such a great friend who is also one of the world’s foremost experts on wines from all over the globe! He still makes great suggestions, as I grow my collection and he definitely inspired me to build a proper cellar, with controlled temperature and humidity, to keep the wines in top shape.
 
 
Are any of the bottles in your cellar from golfers?
 
Well I have some of Ernie’s, Jack Nicklaus’ and Retief Goosen’s. I’ve tried Mike Weir’s wine before, as well as Greg Norman’s and Arnold Palmer’s. All of them do a good job.
 
 
What will you and Bill open when you win your first Major?
 
It would have to be something very special, perhaps a 1st growth such as Château Haut-Brion or Château Cheval Blanc. I’ve been lucky enough to try both of these and they are amazing wines.
 
 
Obviously the Terlato-Donald friendship is put on hold during the Ryder Cup; what are your fondest memories of this truly unique sporting event?
 
A lot of my best memories on the golf course have come from playing in the Ryder Cup. Fortunately I’ve played in four and been on the winning side each time. Each win has been special to me because we celebrate together as a team.
 
 
What it’s like to play in the Ryder Cup and how does the atmosphere of this tournament differ from any other?
 
It’s like no other event we play in, the pressure is so much more intense as you are playing for your team and don’t want to let them down. Every match has an energy and vibe like no other; it’s such an adrenaline rush.
 
 
What are your first memories of the Ryder Cup? Did you watch it growing up?
  
Yes, my first real memory was when Europe first won on US soil at Muirfield Village. Watching Jose Maria Olazabal doing his celebratory dance, to Bernhard Langer missing his putt at Kiawah Island, and most recently to Martin Kaymer jumping in Sergio Garcia’s arms after our comeback at Medinah – there are so many great memories and moments that make the Ryder Cup one of the best sporting events in the world.
 
 
Where does Medinah sit in your career to date and at what point did you think the Europeans might be able to win the Ryder Cup?
 
Medinah had such extreme lows and unbelievable highs. It didn’t look good for most of that Ryder Cup. I remember following Sergio’s singles match after beating Bubba Watson and when he turned his match around, winning against Jim Furyk, it was only at that point I thought we might actually create history with one of the best comebacks in sport.
 
 
 


Where is the best place you have ever eaten on your travels? Do you have a favourite restaurant you return to in the world?
 
My wife and I honeymooned in Sardinia at Cala di Volpe and to this day it’s the best lunch I have ever had. Fresh grilled fish, salads, meats and gelato - so simple but so delicious.
 

As one of the world’s greatest golfers, you get to travel all over the world, is there a particular place you always look forward to returning to, from a wine or food perspective?
 
In the US, Los Angeles and New York always have plenty of choice when it comes to great restaurants with great wine, but as someone who loves his European wines, I always look forward to going to France, Spain or Italy as there is such a great choice of restaurants over there.
 

What is your Desert Island wine and who, dead or alive, would you share it with?
 
I’m guessing it’s hot on this desert island, so how about sharing a nice glass of cold Bollinger Champagne with my wife Diane. Ahhhh…how sweet I hear you all say!!
 
 


 
The Luke Donald Collection:
 
Luke Donald Collection Chardonnay 2011 £19.99
United States | Carneros


The tempering breeze and chilly fog of the Carneros region, where San Francisco Bay meets the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, is noted for producing some of the finest cool-climate wines in America, and this skillfully fashioned and supremely elegant Chardonnay is one of the region’s luminaries. As beautifully balanced as Donald’s metronomic backswing this deliciously restrained, Burgundian style Chardonnay exudes subtle aromas of caramel and apple. The sprightly acidity is suggestive rather than overbearing and the palate has inviting notes of vanilla and honey, on a lengthy and ethereal finish. The lingering yet elegantly refined finish provides a perfect platform for food pairing with this exceptional example of New World winemaking.
 
 
Luke Donald Collection Red Blend 2010 £29.99
United States | Napa Valley


A beautifully handcrafted Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, made from fruit sourced in the prestigious Rutherford and Stags Leap District appellations of Californian’s iconic Napa Valley. Like the Ryder Cup this brings together the best of both the Old and New Worlds, combining traditional and innovative winemaking techniques in the vineyard, to produce a deep ruby red wine, armed with concentrated aromas of blackberry and plums and a complexity of flavours that lingers long after the first taste. The opulent texture and voluptuous tannins create an enveloping and persistent finish more akin to the finest French Clarets; this is Napa Valley winemaking at its gratifying best.
 
 

 
Article first appeared in Under the Skin Magazine, Autumn Edition 2014. CellarVie Wines' quarterly print publication accompanies all orders on www.cellarviewines.com
 

      
 
 

Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 

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