Celebrating the legendary wonder of wine with classic and innovative cuisine.
Few of us are bestowed a title for life. Dick Vermeil—or simply “coach,” as most people address him these days—has earned that honor.
Vermeil spent 19 seasons in the NFL, 15 of those as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs. He guided the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl in 1980, and won the Lombardi trophy with the Rams in 1999, making him one of only four coaches in history to take two different teams to the big game. He’s also the only one to be awarded Coach of the Year honors at the high school, community college, Division 1 and pro football levels.
Vermeil has since parlayed his football expertise into a career as a broadcaster for NFL and college games. He’s even been immortalized by Hollywood (by actor Greg Kinnear) in the film Invincible.
To this day, he’s beloved in our region for lifting an Eagles franchise from the doldrums during his seven seasons in Philadelphia. The native Californian he has even chosen to become one of us. He makes his home in Chester County, works for countless local charities, and serves as a pitchman for area businesses.
At 77, his travel schedule, work ethic and zest for life would put much younger men to shame. Granted, he may not be sleeping in his office watching hours of game film anymore. But he continues to exhibit the same levels of intensity, drive and passion that made him a success in the first half of his life.
Main Line Today sat down with Vermeil to discuss his second-half game plan for life, including one of his more recent passions: wine.
MLT: Everyone knows how tough Philadelphia fans are. It’s win or else. Why do you think you’re still so appreciated here?
DV: I think people identify with the problems I inherited coming to the Eagles in 1976, and in the way we went about rebuilding the program. I think they’re appreciative of the results, even though we didn’t win the Super Bowl. I told them how it was every day as honestly as I could. And when it was over, they respected that I stayed here in the community.
MLT: You’ve been out of football officially since 2006. Do you miss it?
DV: I miss the good days; I don’t miss the headaches. Anyone who’s 77 probably wishes they could still do what they did at 60. So, yes, I miss it.
MLT: So was it a tough transition into life after football?
DV: Not really. I’ve always had other passions, other interests, besides football. I spent many years restoring some of my dad’s old race cars. I like to hunt, fish. Public speaking is a great thing; it’s like having a new team to coach, even if only for an hour. My family and friends are all here, so I stay busy.
MLT: You were born in California wine country (Calistoga). Is that where your passion for wine developed?
DV: My dad’s father was a Frenchman, and he made all the Vermeil wines at home with the Frediani grapes. Gene Frediani was like a second father to me, and his wife of 93 still runs the Frediani Vineyard, where we grow our grapes. At our family dinner table, if you weren’t talking about wine, football or race cars, there wasn’t a conversation.
MLT: How did you turn your wine hobby into a business?
DV: Well, it wasn’t my idea. I was talked into it by my friends: John Scarpa; Michael Azeez; Carl Peterson; and Paul Smith, our winemaker. We don’t make a lot volume wise. This year, it was 2,200 cases. We’ve made as much as 5,000 cases, in 2008. This is the first year we may make money. We aren’t in business to lose money, but our motivation was not to make a lot. We wanted to focus on the quality and enjoy producing something we’re proud of.
MLT: Which of your wines are you proudest of?
DV: All of our wine varietals win awards now, but they didn’t initially. We’ve won gold and double-gold in San Francisco Chronicle reviews, a highly respected publication that knows Napa Valley wines. If you’re a true red-wine drinker, our cabernet sauvignon is very good. Our $80 bottle is as fine as some $120 bottles out there. Our cabernet franc 2010 is awfully good—that little area in the Napa Valley is one of the best places on earth for growing that type of grape. If people like zinfandel, our vineyard is 105 years old—so when we say “old vine” zinfandel, it’s not just a marketing tool.
MLT: Sounds like you’re bringing that same football intensity you were known for into your wine venture. Is it a family effort?
DV: My wife was always involved in my football career, but she’s not as enamored of the wine business. I think she thought that this time in our life would [have] a little more downtime, less travel. But my name is on the bottle, so I feel I have to be there to sell it.
MLT: Let’s talk about your wife, Carol.
DV: We’ve been married for 58 years, and she’s the least selfish person I know. She dedicated her life to my career and our
family. She was always the biggest part of my coaching staff.
MLT: What was the attraction to Chester County?
DV: Being born and raised in a small town, I love the country. Back in 1984, we saw this property, we fell in love with it, and we’ve been here ever since.
MLT: You’re both actively involved in many charities. Earlier this year, I know you auctioned off some of your wines at the Devereux Foundation’s fundraiser.
DV: It’s important to be involved, and I do a little bit with a lot of things. I give away more of my wine than I drink. You mentioned Devereux’s event … Tom Brookshier was a very influential person in my life, and I get involved because of him and his dedication there. We’ve helped out with the Boy Scouts of Chester County, Wistar, the Mary Campbell Center. And Carol has always worked for the Children’s Fund and Operation Breakthrough.
MLT: By the time this interview runs, football season will have arrived. What’s your assessment of the Eagles?
DV: They will be a better team this year. They might not win more games, since they have a tougher schedule. If you play
10 to 12 playoff-caliber teams on your schedule, you have to beat half of them if you are a playoff team yourself.
MLT: What are your thoughts on Chip Kelly as a head coach?
DV: I like him a lot. I really think he’ll be one of the game’s trendsetters, especially with the way he practices. That high-rpm, repetition-emphasis practice will put him ahead of the game. Other people will emulate and practice the game the way he does. A lot of that is in college football now, and the college game never gets the credit it deserves. People think all the experts are in the NFL, and that’s not true.
MLT: So, a last word on wines: What should we be looking forward to from Vermeil?
DV: Our 2012 reds are among the best in the Napa Valley, and a leading wine expert has told us (independently) that they are among the best he’s tasted so far.
MLT: So I should put a bottle in the wine cellar and break it out someday when the Eagles win the Super Bowl?
DV: “Yes … You’ll be drinking it within three years.”
Vermeil wines are available in select Premium Wine & Spirits stores and at www.vermeilwines.com.