When Channing Frye retired from the NBA in 2019 after 14 seasons, he faced uncertainty for the first time. Basketball had taken up a large part of his life; had called to him when he was a 6-foot-2 sixth grader, and he dove to make a career out of it.
But now that he was gone, he had to figure out his new life. It was a difficult task. His wife, Lauren, wanted to know what would wake him up every morning.
Frye asked himself a similar question: What could he obsess over every day?
There was an idea he had been hatching for several years, biding his time until it felt right. He wanted to get into the wine industry, but do it his way.
Fry had become an oenophile in the past decade. He had developed a taste for it, of course, but it had also become an emotional language. It connected him with friends and served as a memory of various experiences. It helped bond the 7-footer with his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates, a bond forged by both tough times and a 2016 championship shared over many glasses of wine.
In 2020, he launched Chosen Family Wines and then partnered with Kevin Love, his former teammate and close friend, along with two others. The pandemic brought time and opportunity, and the group decided to execute a plan that had been brewing for some time. In the first year, Chosen Family sold 850 cases; this year it plans to move 5,600.
The business is more than a passion project for Fry. These are hours of his day, an investment of his capital and a chance to share his passion with others.
“As a person, it was like coal for my fire, for my train,” he said. “Being able to talk to my friends, being able to put the phone down, really enjoying my conversations… the thing about wine is that of all the other drinks, it’s the most conversational. You and I can sit down and talk about it, and “it” can lead to 100 different conversations, between what does it taste like, what does it look like, where did you get it, what does it remind you of?
“I call it liquid memory because when you drink a bottle, especially when it’s really good or really bad, you’ll have an intuitive memory of it.”
Fry wasn’t always a wine connoisseur, let alone a label owner. In 2007, when he moved to Portland after a trade brought him to the Trail Blazers, he had never been to a vineyard. He grew up in Arizona and said he’s always been a beer and tequila guy at heart. But Oregon has a vibrant grape scene, and Frye started making the rounds.
This caused a transformation in him. He began to try different styles and terroirs. He begins to distinguish flavors and study his favorite palate.
When he joined the Cavaliers, he brought his pinot noir from Oregon and found himself joining a like-minded community. The players brought their own bottles, shared them with the team and explained why they chose it. Wine became a unifying agent.
The fall of 2016 was particularly painful for Fry. His mother died of cancer in October. His father died a month later on Thanksgiving Day. Fry was in pain and grieving.
“This year the guys knew I was hurt … broken,” he said. “And we went back to the things that made me happy again. I had a good dinner, laughed, joked, drank a glass of wine, so they became even more my chosen family. My friends became my family. The people you share your table with, the people you can hold accountable, the people who hold you accountable, the people you can joke with, laugh with, cry with, they have become your family. So it’s not just about blood. It’s about the people you spend your time with.”
The name of the label comes from the friends he made on those Cavaliers teams. They remain close, often speaking in a group text. But the company itself emerged from a chat between Love and Frye on a team plane trip later in Frye’s career.
Frye was close to retirement when he and Love had a glass of wine and discussed their own wine label. Love began to write down names and ideas in a notebook. Fry retired in 2019; the company came a year later.
The selected family does not yet have its own vineyard. The company began collaborating with friendly wineries and continues to do so by sourcing grapes from other winemakers, going through their barrels, doing a blind tasting, and then working with them to create a unique bottle of their own. Right now, Fry said, Chosen Family partners with five companies and puts their logo on each bottle.
“Let me and Kevin use our platform to tell not only our story, but yours,” Fry said. “Because No. 1 we love you as a person. You make delicious juice and it’s a beautiful area we want to showcase. People thought we were crazy because they thought you were promoting this other thing. But I’m like, “Yeah, but isn’t that part of the wine?” It’s not a competition. No one drinks the same wine every night.”
Fry threw himself into the business, and it became a lifeline for him. When he retired, it was the first time in his life — even since sixth grade, he said — that he didn’t have a set schedule. Basketball used to be his planner, but now he chose where to be and when. The NBA had defined his days for him, but now he had to figure it out for himself.
Fry sought out a therapist. He had to figure out how to handle it.
“When I left the NBA, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to do anything today,’ and nothing changes.” It is not liberating,” he said. “Imagine you’re in (a cave) and you’re very happy in your cave and all of a sudden you go out into the free world and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is too much’ and you try to get back.” For me, it was really creating a schedule where television gets the best of Channing, my family gets the best of Channing, and then Chosen gets the attention it needs.”
The chosen family takes up a lot of his time. He visits vineyards. He monitors the company’s finances. He has hours of conversations and ponders his future. He has found a happy balance between his business, his television work and his family.
The company has no employees other than those who founded it. Love, now with the Miami Heat, figures when he can. The company has not taken outside investment. It has grown to seven types of wine, and Frye is looking forward to his 2021 vintage.
The chosen family not only created another career for Fry as a business owner, giving him a purpose beyond his media appearances talking about basketball, but it also put him in a new space. The wine industry is not only exceptional; it is almost exclusively white.
In Oregon, where Frye lives and Chosen Family is based, he said there are only three black-owned wine companies. Less than 1 percent of wineries in the United States are owned by blacks, according to the Association of African American Winemakers.
But Frye is at the forefront of those who are changing the industry bit by bit. Current and former NBA players have not only shown their appreciation for the wine, they’ve also bought it. Dwyane Wade and CJ McCollum have their own labels. Others have helped make drinking wine commonplace among league players.
Last month, Frye helped them unite during Black History Month to benefit The Roots Fund and raise money for the organization, which is dedicated to making a place for BIPOC in the wine industry. The Chosen Family and Wade and McCollum’s labels have pledged to donate 10 percent of their February sales; others like Carmelo Anthony, Klay Thompson and LeBron James have donated memorabilia.
“There are two things in the wine industry that are interesting, and that’s the catch 22,” Fry said. “People of color are not necessarily educated (about) or growing up with wine in their house. This is not just commonplace. Sometimes it’s a luxury item. And then people in the wine industry live on the outskirts of Oregon and don’t know how to communicate to get people of color into the industry. So there is a disconnect.
“The bridge is being built, but brick by brick. As for me, I’m slowly getting over that gap because I understand wine lingo, but I understand that we can also talk about hoops. We can talk about different things that communicate in different ways. My demographics are different – who listens to me, who believes me.”
Fry is aware that it makes wine less of a premium drink. Chosen Family has a bottle that retails for $35, which Frye hopes will be a more affordable selection based on its price.
Mostly, he just wants to share something that has brought him a lot of joy. Fry wants to expand his business. He wants to make the wine less bloated. He wants to build on his new target. He wants to share it with his family and bring his children to the vineyard to pick grapes and bottle memories.
It put him in a new place than he was a few years ago, free from basketball for the first time in decades.
“The biggest thing was that Channing was going to be a rookie in life,” he said. “You’re going to be a rookie in life, so give yourself a break. Figuring out a schedule, figuring out what works for Channing. Take care of Channing. I like people very much and the most important thing is to understand when I am happy, I do a better job in everything I do. But figuring out what makes me happy sometimes isn’t just about drinking wine. Sometimes it’s like kicking your ass at the gym. I am going for a walk. Eat healthy, you know? To take a nap. Log out of Instagram.
He then added, “It’s been fun growing up like that and using that as a vessel to grow a part of me that I didn’t know existed.”
(Top photo courtesy of Amir Shafii Photography)