Chris Iannetta never tasted the “garage wine” his grandparents made when he was growing up in Providence, R.I. He was too young.
But he remembers watching his grandfather sample grapes at the local farmer’s market and then set up the press and barrels in the garage. He’d sit and listen, a young boy entranced, as his grandfather, an Italian immigrant, told stories about his life and his affinity for wine.
In 2007, Iannetta’s rookie season with the Colorado Rockies, his grandfather died of cancer. At dinner with teammates, when his glass was filled with a red or white, Iannetta would think of his grandfather and “re-connect.”
“That’s where my love of wine was kind of entrenched,” he said.
These days, Iannetta, who’s part of the Diamondbacks’ catching triumvirate along with Jeff Mathis and Chris Herrmann, is more than just a wine connoisseur. He and former Angels teammate Vernon Wells own the Jack winery label, the name a combination of the first initials of their respective children, Jayce, Ashlyn, Christian and Kylie.
They’ve released a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Sauvignon Blanc and soon a Bordeaux. They’ve been written up in Wine Spectator magazine and recently they purchased 12 acres of land on Atlas Peak in Napa, Calif., with the goal of expanding their business into a full-time enterprise.
“It’s a passion project now but we’re gaining a lot of traction and hopefully we’ll get a lot bigger,” Iannetta said.
The partnership began in 2012 when both players were on the disabled list. They spent hours together in the trainer’s room and started talking about “what would be cool business ideas.” They discovered they each had a love of wine and all things Napa, and over dinner together one night, decided to get into the wine-making business. A mutual friend introduced them to winemaker Grant Long Jr., and the Jack label was born.
“Everyone that has tried it has loved it,” Iannetta said.
Iannetta has become something of a wine savant to his teammates. His advice is simple: Just drink what you like.
“What I try to tell people is that a good wine doesn’t mean everybody else thinks it’s good or it’s highly priced,” Iannetta said. “If you enjoy it, it’s the best wine on the planet. It could be three dollars or one thousand dollars. It’s what you enjoy drinking and if it resonates with you in some capacity then that’s the best.”
Iannetta hasn’t had as much time to delve into the wine-making process as he might like because his baseball career still takes priority. He signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Diamondbacks in the offseason and is expected to share time behind the plate with Mathis and Herrmann.
Iannetta will turn 34 in April and is coming off a 2016 season in which he hit .210 with just seven homers in 295 at-bats with the Seattle Mariners. He’s at the stage of his career where playing time and personal goals are secondary. He talks instead about he and Mathis forming the “best catching tandem in baseball.”
“I know Jeff and I just both want to win,” he said. “We want to be part of a winning team and whatever we can do facilitate winning we’ll do. I don’t think the blend of playing time matters to us much. We just want to help the staff.”
The Diamondbacks will drink a glass to that.