Drinking and Driving
Greg Norman, Australia's golf legend, is now vintner extraordinaire. A three-hole, five-bottle tasting of the Shark's new California vintages.

(FORTUNE Magazine) –

BEFORE THERE CAN BE DRINKING, there must be driving. And his drive just went 320 yards.

My golfing opponent has some other things working in his favor.

He designed this course (a distinct home-field advantage). With a wave of an extremely tanned hand--and a few days' notice--the grounds crew will "double-cut" the greens to mimic the conditions at Augusta or firm up the fairway so that he can practice for a tournament at St. Andrews. My opponent also caught a 1,083-pound great white shark and laminated it. It's hanging above the bar in the clubhouse.

But, as I said, the drinking doesn't come till later. First I must hit a tiny white ball while the former No. 1 golfer in the world watches from about four feet away. "You're teeing the ball too high," says Greg Norman, grinning. He mentions this after I hit my drive, which nobody could argue lacks sufficient height.

We're standing on a wind-whipped tee at the Medalist, Norman's home course in Hobe Sound, Fla. We're here to indulge in his old livelihood (golf) before sampling his newest venture--a line of Greg Norman wines from California that he's released with Foster's Wine Estates. Preternaturally relaxed, with a sweep of white-blond hair and piercing blue eyes, Norman seems impervious to the fact that there's a phenomenon called a tropical depression approaching. He's wearing a slim-cut black microfiber shirt (Greg Norman Collection, of course) and at age 50 looks like a guy who still works out 2½ hours a day, six days a week. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Norman tells me he hasn't hit a golf ball in seven weeks. "This time of year," he explains, "I like to take a business sabbatical."

The looming tropical depression soon drives us indoors, but not before I tie him on the third hole with a par. (I will later frame the scorecard.) Back in the clubhouse, Norman gets worked up when the conversation turns to his favorite libation. "What I love is to drink wine. I would drink wine every night." He pauses. "I do drink wine every night." Like his friend Bill Clinton, Norman is at once extremely intense--variations on the words "passion" and "passionate" appear at regular intervals--and able to make everyone around him feel immediately at ease. And he's not done telling me about his palate. "My choices are the ones with a little more meat on them. I love the Zinfandel. I'm a Cab Sauv guy. But a lot of Americans don't like that real beefy, stand-a-spoon-up-in-the-wine taste. They like to have it toned down a bit. So we worked on that."

Norman became an oenophile while playing tour events in Europe in the 1970s; he says he was one of the few pros who drank anything besides beer. As his career progressed--and his body began to give out--he realized that he "didn't want to be dependent on those 14 brothers and sisters in my golf bag for my entire life." In 1993 he fired his reps at IMG, the sports agency, deciding he would rather build businesses than simply do endorsements. And while he still plays a handful of PGA Tour events every year, he's amassed a fortune estimated to be in the hundreds of millions through Great White Shark Enterprises, a private lifestyle company built around products that bear his name. He's not called the Shark for nothing: Norman has a lifetime clothing deal with Reebok; in 1995 he made an estimated $40 million off a $1.7 million investment in the golf club maker Cobra; and he's designed 51 courses around the world. He's also dabbled in dozens of other ventures--including a few investments he'd probably rather forget, such as a turf company and a restaurant called Greg Norman's Australian Grille. With all this under his belt, in 1996 he approached several wineries about collaborating on a line of wines from his native Australia and struck a deal with Mildara Blass, which was later bought by Foster's.

People might have tried Greg Norman Estates because of the brand-name backer, but the wines really are quite good. In 2004 his Australian Reserve Shiraz was ranked the eighth-best wine in the world by Wine Spectator. One out of every three bottles of Australian wine sold for $10 and up now has the Shark's logo on it, a fact he has at the ready. Given that most Americans drink American wines, the man Rupert Murdoch once called a "one-man multinational" decided California was his next target.

Though Norman has lavish tastes--among his toys is a Gulfstream G550--a wine snob he is not. When I ask him what's the highest compliment he's received on his wines, he tells me it's that he's "never had anyone come up to me and say, 'Your wine's a piece of crap.'" Most of his wines sell for around $15 a bottle, and "I always say, 'Forget the rules!' I have one great Australian wine that I drink with a pizza--the peppers, the onions, the meat ... it brings an extra flavor!" Norman isn't out there stomping grapes, but he says he's hands-on when it comes to finding the right winemaker, choosing the exact blends, developing the look of the bottle, and deciding which wine regions to tackle next. Day to day, his job seems to be that of official taster. "My wife and my daughter and I rejected the first California Chardonnay," he says as we begin the wine-sampling portion of the day. (This judge, for the record, favored the Zinfandel.) Norman's winemakers thought they had nailed the first blend, an oaky, classic Chardonnay. "But we said, 'It just doesn't hit it. Go back and tweak it.' And you know that they were cringing on the other end of the line." They may have winced, but three weeks later they came back with a different, un-oaked batch that all parties agreed was a better wine.

If Norman is a demanding boss, he's also the company's most demanding drinker. Of the 3,200 bottles he keeps in his Florida cellar, around 600 are his own label. He foists bottles on dinner guests ("I'll say, 'Try the Chardonnay with the beef!'"), and no Safeway aisle clerk is safe if Norman can't find his wines at the store. As for eating out? Some celebrities worry about being badgered at restaurants; Norman badgers sommeliers who don't carry his wines. "I'll say, 'Try it! It's better quality and a better value than what you've got here!'"

These days not every restaurant manager recognizes the Shark from the Tour. But that doesn't mean his days as a public figure are finished. A few months ago he was in Turks and Caicos and had just set out with three buddies for a 4 A.M. fishing expedition when a Coast Guard patrol, seeing a small craft speeding toward Cuba, radioed for more information about the boat and its passengers. "I gave all our IDs," says Norman, who clearly relishes telling this story. "Finally the woman comes back and said, 'Oh, Greg Norman ... you're the wine guy!" Norman pumps his fist and grins. "I turned around and said, 'Yes! I made it, man! That's what I want to hear!' "

Norman Invades California