Women’s basketball superstar Elena Delle Donne has a number of worthy causes she supports, and now she’s worked with boutique Bluebird Hill Cellars in Monroe, Ore., on the opening tip of her delicious fundraising project — Deldon Wines.
The standout center from Delaware plays in the District of Columbia for the Washington Mystics, and she’s believed to be the first in the Women’s National Basketball Association with a namesake wine.
“We knew it was going to be Pinot Noir, and it was going to be Willamette Valley,” Delle Donne shares in her Instagram video. “The dream has finally come true.”
And rather than being recruited by Delle Donne and her marketing team, Neil and Sue Shay were given a tryout alongside other Pinot Noir producers from California and Oregon. Delle Donne’s interest in the Willamette Valley gave Bluebird Hill Cellars an added advantage.
“We were excited to be invited to submit samples for the Deldon project and even more excited to have our 2021 Pinot Noir chosen,” Sue Shay told Great Northwest Wine. “Neil and I were the winemakers, and the fruit was sourced from Bluebird Hill and Zenith vineyards.”
Wine judges and critics would not be surprised to see a Shay wine earn such a spotlight as Bluebird Hill Cellars has received a stream of accolades in Pacific Northwest judgings this fall.
During the 11th annual Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa in Hood River, a panel of West Coast wine buyers and sommeliers awarded double gold medals to the Bluebird Hill Cellars 2019 Mom’s Reserve Pinot Noir and 2021 Flagship Pinot Noir. Their 2019 Reserve Syrah was voted best of class.
Next was the 24th annual Platinum Awards, staged alongside the Columbia River at the Clover Island Inn in Kennewick, Wash., where the Shays garnered platinum medals for their 2021 Chardonnay and 2021 Pinot Gris.
And those familiar with the profile of the Bluebird Hill Cellars Barrel Select Pinot Noir program will have a sense for the Shays’ soon-to-be-released collaboration with the co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition.
Bluebird Hill wine a part of DD Project
As for the Deldon Wines 2021 Pinot Noir ($49), all profits will be divided between the Elena Delle Donne Foundation — which supports Lyme disease research, special needs programs and animal welfare programs — and the DD Entrepreneurial Foundation that advances women’s entrepreneurship.
Delle Donne’s label is under the umbrella of DD Project Wines, which raises funds for the foundation. The DD Project is inspired by the late Diane Dickerson Rizzo, co-founder of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop. Rizzo’s business acumen helped take the original store, circa 1976 — famous for its turkey-and-cranberry sandwich — from statewide acclaim in Delaware into a nationwide chain. (In the Northwest, there are two Capriotti’s in the Portland area and one in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.)
Rizzo, who died in 2019, enjoyed Pinot Grigio, so her son, David Britz, created a wine company as a platform to assist female-led businesses and education efforts in and outside Delaware. Among the Northwest influencers who have been spotlighted in the past year by The DD Project is Hailey Bohlman of Seattle-based Cork and Fizz.
The DD Project Wines portfolio includes a white blend, a rosé, a Grenache and a 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon ($99) from Napa Valley’s Oakville growing region.
At $49 per bottle, the inaugural Deldon 2021 Pinot Noir — the product of a vintage lauded by critics — is reasonably priced for a celebrity-backed brand and a fundraising project.
“It’s always been kind of a bucket list thing for her to have her own wine,” says Amanda Chilton, Delle Donne’s wife.
Delle Donne, who helped the U.S. win a gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics and led the Mystics to the 2019 WNBA title, is the architect for Nike’s Air Deldon basketball shoe. It’s designed with a collapsible heel, an upper that makes it easier to insert the foot and an easy-to-grasp Velcro strap. Those “Fly Ease” features and the pink accents are tributes to her older sister, Lizzie, who suffers from cerebral palsy and autism. Delle Donne’s devotion to Lizzie prompted her to decline a scholarship to storied University of Connecticut and instead play closer to home at the University of Delaware.
Raising awareness about Lyme disease and tick-borne illnesses has been a cause of Delle Donne’s for nearly two decades. In 2022, the Nike Air Deldon was offered in “Lyme” green. Her struggles have been traced back to a tick bite while on family property in Delaware during her senior year of high school. Relapses have cost her parts of several seasons, and a compromised immune system prompted her to opt-out of the COVID-affected 2020 WNBA season.
Delle Donne joins small circle in NW wine
When it comes to Pacific Northwest wine, there are few female athletes and celebrities involved. Perhaps the most famous is a relative newcomer — singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile of XOBC Cellars, whose winemaker is Sean Boyd of Rôtie Cellars in the Walla Walla Valley. Golden Globe-nominated Cameron Diaz co-founded Avaline, which works with Tagaris winemaker Frank Roth in Richland, Wash., for organically farmed Cabernet Sauvignon from the Columbia Valley.
NBA star CJ McCollum began to help introduce more basketball fans to Willamette Valley wines when he launched McCollum Heritage 91 with Oregon wine pioneer David Adelsheim. Buzz for those wines has continued after the lowly Portland Trail Blazers traded McCollum to New Orleans in 2022.
The WNBA began in 1997, and Portland was granted a franchise three season later. However, the association, which owned and operated its franchises in the early years, folded Fire after three lackluster seasons. The late Paul Allen, who owned the Trail Blazers, decided not to purchase the Fire despite an average attendance of 8,000. (Average attendance throughout the WNBA for the 2023 season was 6,615.)
Until this fall, it seemed Delle Donne, the Mystics and assistant coach Shelley Patterson, who played point guard for Washington State University from 1980-84, might see the WNBA return to the Willamette Valley. Yet, despite the support and success surrounding the Rose City’s club in the National Women’s Soccer League, the WNBA paused plans to award Portland an expansion franchise.
Meanwhile, Delle Donne looks forward to promoting her causes and Oregon wine.
“If I can get some wine fans to be WNBA fans, we’ve got a good thing going on,” Delle Donne says.