When someone’s luggage is lost during flight travel, it cannot be easy to find replacement clothes for a 7-foot, 6-inch tall man. Fortunately, for Yao Ming, a newly inducted member of the NBA Hall of Fame, it was only a momentary inconvenience before it eventually arrived on a recent trip to Napa for the opening of his first winery in the Napa Valley.

“Hey if it’s the first time my luggage was lost while traveling in the 30-plus years I’ve been flying then I’m doing alright,” said the 36-year old six-time NBA all-star who played eight seasons with the Houston Rockets.
During Ming’s visit to his winery in St. Helena, I had a chance to sit down (luckily, we both were sitting!) and discuss his entree into the wine business and the lifestyle he has lead that is allowing him to start this latest chapter in his life.

How do you feel about your new venture opening a winery in the Napa Valley after all your career accomplishments?
“It’s a symbol on standard for me to maintain experience, reputation and quality of wine. We’re fortunate to have a place like this.”

What made you choose the Napa Valley?
“It’s about the style of life not only the views not only the land but also the people here. You can meet cellar workers, winemakers, all kinds of people that work to make the wine and they’re all so passionate about all of it.”

Did you grow up thinking you could accomplish all that you have in your life so far?
“When we grow up we learn experience and learn the reality we have to live with it and sometimes the dream goes away with it.”

 What kept you believing in your dreams?
“When I was little it didn’t matter if I could play basketball. I was trying to be a scientist. Scientists are always helping society trying to make a contribution to our country and to our people. I’m a fan of scientists but I scored so low in science and really it was always geography and history that are my strengths. Although I wanted to be a famous scientist growing up as a kid, that famous part came true but in a different area.”

Who or what was it that helped motivate you to accomplish your dreams?
I can’t deny I had a secondary goal to play basketball because my parents were basketball players back in the 70s. Kids were always proud of what their parents were doing so it’s a big part of me. I saw pictures of how they would play. I also heard stories from my old neighborhood about how they played, how they were personally and how their spirit was. It left me with a very deep impression that pushed me to be like that.”

What do you think it is that has led you to get into the wines business?
“After planting the seeds all you can do is take care of the vines but there’s no guarantee every grape is going to make good juice for the wine. It’s similar to life but you can only do what you can and leave the rest to the Gods but you must at least try, otherwise, God may give up on you.”

Is there a motivational quote that has helped guide you?
“When I was 17-years old, I had a basketball tournament in Taipei and on the wall of the training facility was handwriting that said ‘there’s no guarantee of success if you give 100% effort but there’s 100% failure if you don’t try.’ It speaks the truth and I like the way it tells you the consequences.”   NVL

Yao Ming is the Executive Director of the Yao Ming Foundation, and a Wild Aid ambassador and the star of a new documentary, “The End of the Wild”, a film depicting the tragic poaching crises decimating elephant and rhino populations in Africa. Ming’s wines can be sampled at the Yao Family Wines tasting room located at 929 Main St., St. Helena.