Ward, Gleason blend intensity of hockey, tranquility of wine

Posted June 12

Cam Ward, Tim Gleason, Jason Earnest pick grapes for Vineyard 36.

— The intensity of hockey can only be combated by the tranquility of a fine glass of wine. It’s a contrast of brut and beauty that plays out over the course of a season, from city to city, at a steak dinner with teammates and opponents alike.

“People think of hockey players as tough, beer drinking guys – and they are,” said Jason Earnest. “But they are just regular guys, they like fine wines.”

Earnest is an East Carolina graduate and the business brain behind Vineyard 36. And it was at a steak dinner at Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Raleigh where Earnest got Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward and former defenseman Tim Gleason on board to start a winery.

Earnest had the knowledge and business savvy already as he previously owned Tobacco Road Winery. Ward and Gleason brought an untapped market.

“I kind of jumped on board,” said Gleason, who was first introduced to the delicacy of a good dinner wine by former teammate Ray Whitney. “At first it started out as more of a hobby. As players we would be on the road, trying to find new restaurants.”

And so it clicked. And then they picked.

Gleason, Ward and Earnest literally pick their own grapes, on-site in California, ensuring the perfection of their product.

They use Andy Beckstoffer’s vineyards in Napa to produce predominately Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Beckstoffer himself was a football player at Virginia Tech in the 1960s before joining the Army. Earnest calls him “the Michael Jordan of grapes.”

“It’s an awesome situation being able to pick your own fruit,” Gleason said. “We flew six hours across the country, got all the grapes to the belt and sorted them for the Cabs and Merlots.”

It is that care and attention that has transformed Vineyard 36 – a duality of Ward’s No. 30 and Gleason’s No. 6 – that has attracted the best of the best to buy.

“People gravitate to us because of the product. There are catchy, gimmicky wines, but when people open our wine, they understand the quality,” said Earnest. “You take pride in knowing you made something really good. You always want to open those bottles and share them with your friends.”

Among the top clients of Vineyard 36 – The Staal brothers and recent Stanley Cup champion Ron Hainsey.

In fact, Hainsey is a good candidate to extend an NHL streak. Each of the last three Stanley Cups has seen sips of Vineyard 36 wine.

In 2014, Alec Martinez of the Los Angeles Kings tipped the Cup with the wine inside. In 2015, Canadian defenseman and good friend of Gleason, Brent Seabrook followed suit. After the 2016 Cup, a pair of Pittsburgh Penguins enjoyed the grapes as Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr drank from the iconic trophy.

“It would be a cool deal to get another year of the Stanley Cup,” said Gleason, who never played in the Cup Finals during a 13-year NHL career.

A post shared by Vineyard 36 (@36wine) on


The Ward-Gleason-Earnest friendship really accelerated after Earnest moved to New York. The trio were already well-established friends, but when the Canes played in the northeast, dinner became all but assumed. And accompanying the dinner – a nice selection of wine.

“We have to have good wine around,” Earnest said of the still-to-date dinners.

In the 2013-14 season, Gleason was traded to Toronto for John-Michael Liles in a D-for-D swap. The personnel move on the NHL level led to the eventual growth of the Vineyard 36 brand.

Jordan Staal, a native of Thunder Bay in Ontario, became interested. As did a handful of other players in the Toronto market.

“The Canadian market is tough on the dollar,” said Earnest. “Fortunately, we make enough wine that it doesn’t hurt us.”

Still, the selection in Canada is not at all like that of the United States when it comes to wine. It is not uncommon for teams playing in Toronto to cross the border on off days to get a fine meal with a beverage. It is also not uncommon for players to slide a bottle of wine into team equipment bags.

Thanks to @trevorcarrick & @zachboychuk for the support! #V36 #Vineyard36 #WineandHockey #36Customers

A post shared by Vineyard 36 (@36wine) on


While Ward’s name is attached to the venture, he is careful to keep his day job the priority. Gleason and Earnest head to Napa Valley multiple times each year to ensure product quality, Ward makes one trip per year – before camp starts just before harvest.

“We all have our day jobs first,” said Gleason, who currently runs a training gym in North Raleigh where he works with youth hockey players. “Cam is still in the game. Once I got out of the game, I had more time to travel and find more places to grow.”

Ward was able to make a recent trip to Texas with the group as the brand has expanded to the Lone Star State. Vineyard 36 wines can now be found in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Texas and two Canadian provinces (Manitoba and Alberta).


“When you get a good tasting bottle, you get a satisfaction,” Gleason said. “Especially on the road. It’s amazing what comes out of a glass of wine. It’s a great conversation piece.”

Ranging from $36 to $85 a bottle, and getting the approval of the finest of palettes, Vineyard 36 definitely fits the bill of a good bottle. And with names like “UnMask” and “Cross Check” – aptly named for Ward and Gleason – the conversation is definitely easy to come by.

“It’s a small community of guys, but real collectors of fine wine are our customers,” Earnest said.

Those customers can look for the next batch soon, some of which has been aging since 2015.

“When you open a bottle of wine, it takes you back to what was going on at the vineyard at that time,” Earnest said. “We just want to make the best wines we can make.”


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • HighSchoolOT Live: Kickoff special

    Tomorrow at 7:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • Football Friday

    Tomorrow at 11:35 pm on WRAL-TV

  • Premier League Soccer: Stoke City vs. Arsenal

    Saturday at 12:30 pm on WRAL-TV

  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series #3: Bristol

    Saturday at 7:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • P&G Gymnastics Championships

    Sunday at 1:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • AVP Pro Beach Volleyball: Manhattan Beach

    Sunday at 2:30 pm on WRAL-TV

  • Golf: Solheim Cup

    Sunday at 4:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • Premier League Soccer : Manchester United vs. Leicester

    Saturday, Aug. 26 at 12:30 pm on WRAL-TV

  • NFL Football Carolina Panthers at Tennessee Titans

    Saturday at 2:00 pm on 99.9 The Fan

  • NFL Football Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys

    Saturday at 7:30 pm on 99.9 The Fan

Minor League Baseball
International League
Rochester 9:05 PT10:05 MT11:05 CT12:05 ET5:05 GMT
Lehigh Valley 9:05 PT10:05 MT11:05 CT12:05 ET5:05 GMT
Indianapolis 10:05 PT11:05 MT12:05 CT1:05 ET6:05 GMT
Durham 3:35 PT4:35 MT5:35 CT6:35 ET11:35 GMT
Gwinnett 4:05 PT5:05 MT6:05 CT7:05 ET12:05 GMT
Toledo 4:05 PT5:05 MT6:05 CT7:05 ET12:05 GMT
Pawtucket 4:05 PT5:05 MT6:05 CT7:05 ET12:05 GMT
Womens British (LPGA)
1I. Kim-18F
2J. Ewart Shadoff-16F
3tG. Hall-13F
3tC. Masson-13F
3tM. Wie-13F
6J. Shin-12F
7tS. Feng-11F
7tH. Kim-11F
7tS. Lewis-11F
7tA. Nordqvist-11F
View Full Leaderboard
Paul Lawrie (EURO)
Leader in BOLD/CAPS
Im v BJERREGAARD141 and 4
FISHER v Fritsch151 up
JAMIESON v Paisley143 up
Morrison v KIMSEY132 up
WALL v Broberg122 up
Havret v Porteous12AS
OTAEGUI v Stal115 up
Hanson v BERTASIO81 up
Drysdale v JACQUELIN82 up
Rock v Warren7AS
Colsaerts v WU81 up
KARLBERG v Wallace71 up
Campillo v Aguilar5AS
Peterson v DONALDSON62 up
Molinari v Karlsson4AS
CHESTERS v Gouveia31 up
Detry v De La Riva00 and 18
Elvira v Walters00 and 18
Bland v Canizares00 and 18
Hanson v Lawrie00 and 18
Bourdy v Fraser00 and 18
Kieffer v Carlsson00 and 18
Jensen v Knappe00 and 18
Dredge v Dubuisson00 and 18
Pavon v Ilonen00 and 18
Quesne v Siem00 and 18
Dunne v Holman00 and 18
Fahrbring v Edfors00 and 18
Southgate v Wattel00 and 18
Carlsson v Brooks00 and 18
Ramsay v Lewis00 and 18
Lombard v Gros00 and 18
View Full Leaderboard
Fiji Intl (EURO)
1D. Pearce-618
2tB. Campbell-518
2tD. Valente-518
4tA. Bland-418
4tG. Green-418
4tD. McKenzie-418
4tP. Wilson-418
8tD. Brandt-Richards-318
8tA. Connelly-318
8tR. Gangjee-318
View Full Leaderboard
3M Championship (CHMP)
1P. Goydos - z-20F
2G. Sauers - y-20F
3tB. Jobe-18F
3tS. Stricker-18F
3tK. Sutherland-18F
6S. Verplank-17F
7tM. Dawson-16F
7tK. Perry-16F
7tW. Short, Jr.-16F
7tD. Waldorf-16F
View Full Leaderboard
z = Won in Playoff   y = Lost in Playoff
ATP Scoreboard
Wednesday, Aug. 16
Western & Southern Open (ATP/WTA)
Second Round
(7) G. Dimitrov77 6    
F. Lopez65 4    
Y. Sugita3 77 6   
J. Sousa6 65 1   
D. Ferrer6 65 6   
J. Tipsarevic4 77 1   
M. Krueger4 4    
J. Del Potro6 6    
N. Kyrgios6 78    
A. Dolgopolov3 66    
K. Khachanov6 6    
T. Fabbiano2 2    
(11) P. Carreno Bu6 77    
M. Zverev3 62    
R. Ramanathan4 6 4   
J. Donaldson6 2 6   
(4) A. Zverev6 3 4   
F. Tiafoe4 6 6   
C. Harrison3 3    
N. Basilashvi6 6    
(16) G. Muller7 4 4   
A. Ramos-Vino5 6 6   
(15) S. Querrey2 64    
A. Mannarino6 77    
(1) R. Nadal6 6    
R. Gasquet3 4    
WTA Scoreboard
Wednesday, Aug. 16
Western & Southern Open (ATP/WTA)
Second Round
C. Giorgi77 5 6   
D. Gavrilova61 7 3   
(16) M. Keys6 6    
D. Kasatkina2 1    
(8) S. Kuznetsova6 6    
Y. Putintseva3 4    
(15) A. Sevastova6 7    
R. Vinci2 5    
F. Abanda4 4    
J. Goerges6 6    
(9) V. Williams3 6 2   
A. Barty6 2 6   
A. Krunic2 2    
C. Suarez Nav6 6    
(3) A. Kerber4 6 611   
E. Makarova6 1 713   
(11) D. Cibulkova6 6    
A. Cornet1 4    
(6) C. Wozniacki6 6    
E. Vesnina2 4    
(14) P. Kvitova2 3    
S. Stephens6 6    
(5) E. Svitolina6 6    
L. Tsurenko1 4    
(1) K. Pliskova6 6    
N. Vikhlyants2 3