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Detroit Free Press

Ex-Wolverine Woodson creates wine, but NFL prevents his touting it

BY MARK SNYDER • FREE PRES SPORTS WRITER • July 19, 2008

The Oakland Raiders' training camp has a long history of being one of the NFL's most grueling because of the summer heat in Napa Valley, outside the San Francisco Bay Area.

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For former Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, it was his good fortune to play for the Raiders.

That was on display Friday evening at the Chop House in Ann Arbor as Woodson's new wine, 24 by Charles Woodson, was premiered with its release and tasting, with a portion of reservation cost going to benefit Mott Children's Hospital.

Yet, despite his name and signature all over the brochures and labels of the merlot and cabernet, Woodson, now with the Green Bay Packers, had to keep a relatively low profile.

After he did an interview about his passion for wine recently, and as news of Friday's event spread, the NFL contacted his representatives this week to remind him of the league's alcohol policy, specifically that any interviews supporting alcohol would be seen as an endorsement and "may have a detrimental effect on the great number of young fans who follow our game."

Yet Woodson began this venture years before that policy was enacted with commissioner Roger Goodell's tenure.

So, on Friday, Woodson's cellar master, Rick Ruiz, spoke for him, pointing out he was impressed with Woodson's palate from the moment they met in Napa in 2001.

Ruiz was working for Robert Mondavi Winery at the time and took Woodson on a personal tour. That was enough to hook Woodson -- who stayed for four hours on his first visit, educating himself -- and the NFL star began renting a portion of a vineyard and will debut his wine publicly Sept. 1, selling it through his Web site,

charleswoodsonwines.com.

Woodson and Ruiz have a cabernet and a cabernet franc, and they are discussing making a white wine. Already restaurants in seven states -- places Woodson frequents -- have ordered cases.

"We're still trying to find ourselves," Ruiz said, adding that Woodson is partial to red wine.

"We know what we like, and we're going to keep making what we like."

For Woodson's longtime friends, the first time they heard about his wine attraction, they weren't sure.

"This was about seven years ago he said he was getting into it, and I was laughing, 'You, getting into wine?' " said former U-M teammate DiAllo Johnson, who attended Friday. "It was crazy, but he's real serious about it."

Though Woodson's wine interest puts him in the minority as NFL players go, it sounds as if it may become a post-football career.

Ruiz is scouting vineyards for the wine, which will remain a boutique, with less than 1,000 cases bottled per year.

Contact MARK SNYDER at 313-223-3210 or msnyder@freepress.com.

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