By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
Fall still signifies a new season for Rick Mirer. The Seattle Seahawks’ 1993 first-round pick out of Notre Dame spent 12 years in the NFL ultimately playing for six other teams: the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, and Detroit Lions. During those years, especially the ones he spent in Northern California with the 49ers and Raiders, Mirer became intrigued by wine and the wine industry. Ten years ago, he launched his own label, Mirror Wines.
Mirer explained how his interest in wine turned into a business.
“I collected wine. I studied it. It was a release from football,” Mirer said. “I needed something to study. I had a chance to meet some people in Napa. My wife’s a great cook and the wine just went along with it. Wine cranks up around the fall just like football. It’s how the growing season goes. It’s this excitement and energy from September on. You have the offseason in the spring and summer and then everyone’s back in town.”
Contrary to how it may appear, Mirror Wines is not a play on Mirer’s name. When Mirer first started the business, the two vineyards he used were on slopes facing – or mirroring – each other across a valley in Napa, California; and that’s how Mirror Wines came to be.
Mirer earned a marketing degree from Notre Dame, but didn’t have a specific plan as to how he might utilize it. The wine business provided that application. In addition, Mirer also participated in the NFL’s Executive MBA Program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which he found extremely impactful.
“I knew I had a business to figure out and that was a nice way to get introduced to those ways of thinking,” he said. “The NFL offering that (to players) is a brilliant thing.”
Ten years later, Mirror Wines offers five varietals – three reds and two whites – which can be found across the country in both retail outlets and restaurants, and Mirer hopes to continue to grow the label.
The Mirer family lives in San Diego where Rick and his wife, Stephanie, settled when his three sons were very young, but Mirer makes frequent trips up to the Napa location.
“What we’ve done is a very conservative, small production brand. We’re not competing with some of the huge facilities,” he said. “I didn’t want to relocate my boys. We focused on what’s best for them so we’ll develop this thing over time as we see fit.
“It’s been a learning experience. It’s an incredibly competitive environment so, I was drawn to that too. The world didn’t need another wine and here we were adding some. You’ve got to fight for your position, and tap into your network, and follow the hot leads. It gives me something to work on. But the things that go well, there’s great satisfaction in.”
Mirror Wines has also helped augment something Mirer began early in his NFL career, the Mirer Family Foundation. In addition to receiving grant money from the NFL’s charity arm, certain profits from Mirror Wines are designated for the foundation, which is now more than 20 years old and which provides scholarships for students attending Notre Dame, as well as supporting other youth-related programs.
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do for the foundation,” Mirer said. “When I was playing it was easy to contribute and take a little out of the paycheck and support the charity, but now the business has made it possible for the foundation to grow.”
He has seen the impact over the years as his scholarship students have moved on to experience many achievements. In fact, Mirer was taken aback several years ago when he was reading through a mailing from Notre Dame and discovered that one of the students he provided a scholarship to was scheduled to deliver the commencement address as the class valedictorian.
Mirer is now watching as his oldest son heads off to Notre Dame to play Lacrosse. And once that’s done, Mirer’s 2017 wine season will kick off.
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.