A child of Argentina’s high desert Andes mountain foothills, winemaker Juan Munoz Oca never envisioned one of his biggest future blends would meld whites, reds and … professional ice hockey.
Yet, the first thing Kraken fans will see upon entering Climate Pledge Arena’s main gates this fall will be a concessions area containing some of Munoz Oca’s creations. As chief winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, Munoz Oca oversees production of wines to be sold — in cans, nonetheless — at a main level 14 Hands Marketplace and in a fancier wine lounge with actual glassware, The Chateau, accessible to club-level season-ticket holders.
In a sport intrinsically linked to beer throughout its history — the Stanley Cup finalist Montreal Canadiens are even owned by the Molson beer-making family — the idea of having wine positioned so prominently at an arena’s entrance isn’t exactly commonplace. But this is Seattle, after all, and some of the corporate executives and technology industry employees helping pay for Climate Pledge’s $1 billion refurbishment with three-year minimum commitments on ticket plans undoubtedly prefer beverages beyond your average Miller Lite to go with their corn dogs.
“I actually think there are many things we share in common,” said Munoz Oca, who arrived here nearly 20 years ago from Argentina’s winemaking Mendoza region, where field hockey is the only version of the sport anybody really knows.
Munoz Oca was talking largely about the longstanding local histories of Chateau Ste. Michelle — dating to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 — and the former KeyArena, now Climate Pledge, which was a product of the 1962 World’s Fair. There are also vague similarities in the innovation and science behind winemaking to that applied by some more analytically driven sports teams, not to mention climate concerns around grape growing that overlap with some of the arena’s stated aims on environmental sustainability.
But unless somebody was going to plant grapes in the 7,000 cubic yards of terroir dug out daily by construction workers from the arena’s basin to double its square footage, the basics of this union are still rooted in marketing and economics.
Chateau Ste. Michelle is the official wine partner of both the team and arena, and the prime positioning of its marketplace just off Climate Pledge’s east-gate entrance across from the Monorail didn’t come cheap. Nor did getting to put its posh lounge inside the Mount Baker Club behind the arena’s south-end seats.
The company’s wines will also be available at the team’s Northgate Mall training center, due to open in September.
NHL teams have placed favorite local food and beverage items on arena menus before; the Nashville Predators offer a spicy hot chicken sandwich, and the Buffalo Sabres have — of course — Buffalo wings. Montreal offers smoked meat, the Toronto Maple Leafs sell multiple varieties of poutine, and Skyline Chili is a big Columbus Blue Jackets offering.
But here in Seattle, the local specialties tend to skew beyond comfort food basics, something the team and arena has reflected in its coming lineup.
This month, the Kraken announced the Metropolitan Grill & Elliott’s Oyster House among an eclectic list of arena food and beverage partners. The Met probably isn’t the first place hockey fans would think of grabbing a cheeseburger, but it’s another sign of the team looking to ensure those patrons paying the arena’s hefty freight have every range of options available.
Other partners include Ballard Pizza, Lil’ Woody’s, Din Tai Fung, Just Poke and Hop Valley Craft Beer, so there’s plenty of variety to go around.
One thing uniting all partners is being part of something the team calls “The Climate Collective” — designed as a sustainable food and beverage program with curated vendors and local ingredients. The goal is for 75% of all food and beverage items sold at the arena to be sourced within a 300-mile range.
Chateau Ste. Michelle, which sources grapes from the Columbia Valley, fits that description.
Unlike the more-generic beer brands typically sold at U.S. sporting events, wine tends to be distinctively local and reflective of the soil its grapes were grown in. Jeff Webster, a vice president of corporate partnerships for the Kraken and the arena’s Oak View Group developer, said because Washington is fast becoming a world-class producer of wines it made sense to feature a local producer prominently within the arena.
“That’s what the fans coming to our arena want,” Webster said. “They may drink wines from all over the world, but their go-to are always going to be the local and beautiful brands.”
Chateau Ste. Michelle, in turn, feels there’s a chance to broaden its client base by exposing its wines to hockey fans. It will release two new Kraken White and Red Blend cans made by its 14 Hands winery to be sold in the main level marketplace, then a co-branded limited edition 2017 Collector’s Edition Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to be made available to Kraken season-ticket holders, its own wine club members and for sale in the arena’s Mount Baker lounge along with its other labels.
Also, Chateau Ste. Michelle has produced two etched nine-liter bottles of cabernet to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Seattle Metropolitans winning the Stanley Cup in 1917. One will be sold at the Auction of Washington Wines this fall as part of a Kraken package, the other cellared at the arena until the Kraken wins its first Stanley Cup.
Also, as Chateau Ste. Michelle annually hosts a series of live music events on its Woodinville winery grounds, it hopes concertgoers at Climate Pledge appreciate being able to taste its products.
“There are a lot of synergies between sports and music events, and we want to be a part of that,” Munoz Oca said, walking through his winery’s planned concessions space during an arena tour last week.
And even though he grew up knowing nothing about the NHL — and admittedly still knows little — he feels wine is all about making new connections.
“It’s part of the beauty of wine,” he said. “People drink local, because I feel wine makes the place that we are a better place and a better community. People understand that. That’s why we drink wines from where we are. … It’s part of the fabric of the community.”