From Super Bowl Champ to Certified Sommelier: Will Blackmon Is The Wine MVP

By Gabrielle Pharms | April 14, 2022

After being drafted out of Boston College, Will Blackmon played 12 seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants – with whom he won a Super Bowl Championship in Super Bowl 46 – Jacksonville Jaguars, and finished his career with the Washington Commanders.

So, how does someone go from being an NFL defensive back and Super Bowl champ to becoming a certified sommelier? It was only a matter of time – and the right bottle of wine.

After being drafted to the Green Bay Packers in 2006, Blackmon saw himself as a lone wolf enjoying wine amid a beer-loving town in Wisconsin. “It was funny because I felt the narrative of wine was intimidating, and people looked at you like you're snobby because you drink wine,” Blackmon tells EDITION. “For me, because I was playing football, such a masculine sport, and I'm over here drinking wine, and people call me crazy like, ‘Look at this dude, bougie, and fancy.’”

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He didn’t know many guys who imbibed wine at the time, but that changed when the Packers signed Charles Woodson. Blackmon adds, “Not only was he an athlete drinking wine, but he was someone I admired watching when I was younger, and he is African American. Then, to really top it all off, I find out he has his own wine.” When the team hit the road, Woodson would take the defensive backs out to dinner, where he’d purchase distinctive wines. These outings kicked off Blackmon’s first experience pairing foods with wine.

“Being a pro athlete, you get invited to a lot of corporate events, and Milwaukee was the nearest city to Green Bay. That was a more metropolitan area. I remember all these executives drinking wine and swirling the wine around and talking about the pretty legs,” Blackmon recalls. “Come to find out, the legs just mean alcohol residual sugar – it doesn't mean a damn thing in terms of quality, which is funny. So, instead of feeling less than, I thought it was interesting.”

Much like entering the football league, there’s a particular learning curve when one enters the world of wine. For example, Blackmon once attended a private dinner and saw a gentleman beaming with enthusiasm about Burgundy – one of France’s leading wine-producing regions. “I think my a-ha moment was when I went to this one restaurant, and I was like, ‘I’m going to find this Burgundy.’ Meanwhile, I'm thinking Burgundy is a brand. I really had no idea it was a region at all,” Blackmon says. “I picked one of the wines, and when the sommelier brought the glass over, I looked at him like, ’This is not burgundy. It's white!’ That's when he explained Burgundy, the region.” That funny and fateful experience compelled Blackmon to begin studying and reading more about wine. Also, he would hang out at wine shops to soak in as much information as possible, including downloading wine apps. “I was all over the place, but what really did it for me was I saw SOMM, the documentary. Those guys are like wizards in the way they can evaluate the wine and just pinpoint that region and vintage. Immediately after watching that, I went on my computer and was like, ‘I need to find a class like that. I think that would help me the best,’” Blackmon states.

Further motivated by what he was learning, in 2016, Blackmon found a school operated by Master Sommelier Peter Neptune, which offered The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) program. Without realizing it, Blackmon bypassed level one and signed up for level two – which he passed with Merit. He then continued his education by receiving a Certificate in Wine Business Management from Sonoma State University School of Business and Economics.

Blackmon is now a certified somm and strives to share his experience with other like-minded wine lovers. “It's a journey because it's ever-changing. It’s almost like a doctor. There’s new medicine every time, and you're not going to be an expert on everything. You don't know everything,” Blackmon says. “Even when I get asked to host or curate experiences, they look at me as the expert. So, it’s like, I know probably more than the average, but let's go on this journey together.”

Blackmon initially set out to follow the trend of celebrities and athletes creating their own wines. However, with his love of networking, Blackmon launched a VIP wine concierge business called The Wine MVP to educate and make wine more approachable. He adds, “I love giving people access to resources. You can really be the MVP of anything. Anyone can be a pro as long as you work at it. That’s how The Wine MVP was born.” Blackmon began reaching out to friends such as fellow athletes Matt Ryan and Reggie Bush, who appreciate wine. So, Blackmon started a wine subscription club and helped people with their private cellars. In addition to his wine concierge, Blackmon also works with InVintory, an incredible app for wine collectors to keep track of their cellars. Next year, Blackmon plans to host a large-scale black-tie soiree for Black History Month, paying homage to Black chefs and Black beverage owners.

Outside of being well-versed in wine culture, Blackmon leads by example in being a mentor. Though he’s not one to use his platform with a megaphone, Blackmon chooses to empower wine enthusiasts one-on-one. “When I played football, I was never the one giving the speeches to get us going or getting the whole locker room fired up. I would go to people individually and help them out with whatever they needed,” he says. “So, even now, I'm behind the scenes. I reach out to a lot of young Black somms in the game like, ‘Hey, use me as a resource. What do you need help with?’ I'm not big in terms of being loud when it comes to political things – I try just to be all action as much as possible.”

One of many of the standout qualities Blackmon embodies is selflessness. In the sports world and that of wine, where bloated egos reign supreme, he is a humble expert who seeks to share his knowledge with others. “I'm in this game with no ego. I've been fortunate to play 12 years, and you don't play 12 years and be on winning teams constantly having ego show. I feel when you make everything about yourself; there's no progress. I like seeing the wine community grow,” Blackmon says. “I think that's what's pretty cool is how much a bottle or glass of wine can connect people. That's the one language everyone can speak. If you don't have the same language, you can speak wine.”

Photography by: InVintory