Illustration by Becki Kozel
On December 11, 2020, the two seemingly disparate worlds of wine and professional wrestling slammed together at the ThunderDome in St. Petersburg, Florida. That night, the pro wrestler Carmella debuted her valet and personal sommelier, Reginald, on World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) SmackDown as a pawn in the wrestler’s feud with then-titleholder Sasha Banks.
Carmella grew suspicious that her new sommelier was colluding with Banks, and fired Reginald less than three months later. But, for a while, more than two million SmackDown viewers listened to Reginald expound on letting wine breathe, proper serving temperatures and which bottles might pair best with Banks’ defeat.
It was the highest of lowbrow dramas, and while wrestling outsiders may dismiss it as fake, that misses the point. Twenty years ago, Stone Cold Steve Austin was opening up cans of beer and whoop ass in the ring. In 2020, WWE, one of the largest sports franchises in the world, built a storyline around a sommelier.
The changing worlds of wrestling and wine
Anyone shocked by this storytelling turn hasn’t paid much attention to the seismic shifts occurring in professional wrestling—or wine.
Wine first appeared in wrestling mythology with French import André Roussimoff, better known as Andre the Giant. During his heyday in the 1980s, Roussimoff was rumored to regularly have consumed six bottles of wine before matches. The wrestler, who was 7-foot-4 and weighed more than 500 pounds due to a pituitary disorder, also played fairy tale giant Fezzik in The Princess Bride. In a 2018 documentary about his life, director Rob Reiner recalls André polishing off 20 bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau in a single day on set. Roussimoff’s drinking was legendary, if effectively an unhealthy way to manage pain from injuries and his rare disorder.
Wine and wrestling have other, subtler connections. Kevin Nash, a six-time world champion wrestler, is a known collector, who favors McLaren Vale Shiraz, Napa and Sonoma Cabs and the occasional red Bordeaux. Brandi Rhodes, a wrestler and former chief brand officer for All Elite Wrestling (AEW), says wine is part of everyday locker room talk.
“You spend so much time on the road, traveling with all these women,” says Rhodes. “We talk about everything: wine, wineries, restaurants to try. That’s what sparked my interest. And when we tour internationally, a lot of times at the end of the night, you get back to a hotel in Italy or France and enjoy a glass of wine.”
In recent years, wrestlers have started partnering with wineries to create their own labels. In 2017, Nikki and Brie Bella, a former WWE tag team known as The Bella Twins, worked with Hill Family Estate in Napa to launch Belle Radici wines, a project that has now morphed into Bonita Bonita. The same year, Cody Rhodes, who’s married to Brandi and once served as AEW’s executive vice president, announced his first bottles with Walla Walla-based Nocking Point Wines.
In 2019, Carmella (née Leah Van Dale) released a California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon under her “boss bitch” label, Capa Cagna, and Chris Jericho celebrated his win as AEW’s first-ever world heavyweight champion with “a little bit of the bubbly.” Those six words quickly morphed into a meme, and shortly after, an actual bottle of sparkling wine made in partnership with Nocking Point.
“We’ve now sold $1 million worth of bubbly and had two iterations of it,” says Stephen Amell, co-owner of Nocking Point, wrestling superfan and actor best known for his role in The CW’s Arrow. Not shabby, considering just 20% of Americans claim to be wrestling fans, according to a 2021 Gallup poll.