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Chris Hinton

One of many former jocks who've found a second career in wine, this 13-year veteran of the NFL trenches proves that size doesn't preclude sophistication

Posted: Tuesday June 26, 2007 1:15PM; Updated: Wednesday June 27, 2007 1:54PM
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Where Are They Now?
Chris Hinton.
Chris Hinton.
Greg Foster/SI
• Photo Gallery: Where Will They Be?

By Adam Duerson

This Where Are They Now feature and others like it can be found in the July 2nd issue of Sports Illustrated.

A few years back, Chris Hinton encountered a fawning fan at an Atlanta grocery store. "You're that guy!" she squealed. Sure of what was coming next, the 6' 4" hulk tried to help the woman out. "Yeah, I played a little bit of football," Hinton said with a smile. Indeed he had -- 13 years as a tackle with the Colts, the Falcons and the Vikings. Hard-core NFL fans will also remember him as the 1983 first-round pick out of Northwestern whom the Broncos packaged to the Colts for the draft rights to John Elway. But pigskin wasn't on the woman's mind. "You're that wine guy," she said. Surprising as that might have been to hear, it was a defining moment for Hinton, 45, who recalls thinking, "I guess I'm not a football player anymore."

These days he's the unassuming owner of Hinton's Wine Store, a sprawling 6,400-square-foot shop in Alpharetta, Ga., 25 miles north of Atlanta. Hinton spends 55-hour weeks patrolling the floor and dispensing advice on what goes well with what. He leads well-attended tastings in his adjoining bar, Bin 75, named for his number in the NFL. He has even made a few trips to France for research. "Being able to tell a wine's story -- that's romantic," Hinton explains. Further proof of his commitment lies in the new $40,000 toy in his bar: a 24-bottle Enomatic dispenser that can auto-pour a glass of wine with the swipe of a credit card. "It's the only one in Georgia," he says, beaming.

The big man from the Chicago suburbs had never tasted wine before he reached the NFL. But a love of food prompted him to develop his palate, and soon he was stopping at specialty wine shops on road trips. He found a fellow enthusiast in Bears safety Dave Duerson, with whom he once shared a $3,000 Chateau Latour. During a detour to Napa Valley on one of his six trips to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, Hinton started stocking his own cellar, shipping home thousands of dollars worth of wine. After his playing career ended and with "no work experience besides knocking people down," as he puts it, he opened the store with his wife, Mya, in 1999.

Now Hinton is among a growing number of athletes in the wine trade. With wine consumption on the upswing in the U.S., he isn't surprised to see more players getting involved. "The lifestyle these guys live, they're drinking more wine," Hinton says, "and it isn't just the old guys."

Hinton likens the transition from consumer to seller to learning a new football position. "I played outside linebacker one year in college," he says. "The next year I played tight end, the exact opposite position. It made me a better tight end to have played linebacker, and I think I'm a better retailer because I was a consumer for so long. When I'm picking out wines for customers, I'm not talking over them, but to them."