Basketball star chooses new career as winery owner
Sasha Vujacic is no stranger to scoring points on the basketball court. These days he is earning them for his boutique Aleksander wines — Bordeaux blends from Paso Robles. His family-owned vineyard is open to wine club members only.
An exclusive opportunity to experience several vintages paired with a multi-course meal curated by S.Y. Kitchen and Nella Executive Chef Luca Crestanelli and Nella’s Chef Marco Longinotti will take place Friday at Nella Kitchen and Bar at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, 2860 Grand Ave., in Los Olivos.
A welcome reception begins at 5 p.m. followed by dinner at 6.
Mr. Vujacic spent six full seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers after they selected him in the 2004 National Basketball Association draft.
But ultimately, the Slovenian shooting guard will likely always be remembered for the two late free throws he made in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.
Mr. Vujacic’s freebies gave L.A. a four-point lead over the Boston Celtics with 11.7 seconds to go, effectively sealing the Laker’s 16th title. And the 38-year-old said he still gets love from the Lakers faithful for making those two title-winning free throws 12 years ago.
“It’s been amazing. When you get drafted by the Lakers, and I was one of those people, whose dream was not only to go to the NBA, but my dream was to go to L.A. and win with the Lakers — and obviously to play with one of the best players that’s ever played the game. And then, thank God, I didn’t miss those free throws.”
During his time with the Lakers, Mr. Vujacic became close friends with the legendary guard Kobe Bryant, whose tragic death in a helicopter crash truly shook him.
“You know, Kobe was my big brother and an incredible teammate and someone that was one of a kind. I was honored and lucky, and you know, just happy to be able to learn and compete against him every day. I think he accepted me the first day when he saw that I’m also a little bit obsessed with winning and hard work, and that’s how the mutual respect and brotherhood kind of started.”
Asked how he got on Mr. Bryant’s good side, Mr. Vujacic said he simply put in the hard work and focused solely on winning the NBA championship with the Lakers.
“I didn’t figure out the way. I didn’t care about that. When I showed up at the gym at 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock in the morning, and there’s Kobe, so when you see there’s the franchise player and a young kid that came from Europe that I have to prove myself, and he recognized why I was in L.A.
“I didn’t care about Hollywood. I didn’t care about celebrity statuses and stuff like that. All I cared about was winning, and when you put the hard work in, when you combine talent and opportunity, the real ones recognize real, and that was with Kobe.”
According to the winery website, www.aleksanderwine.com, Mr. Vujavic’s journey as a winemaker began in Slovenia, a small country renowned for its ability to produce quality wines of all kinds. He and his father Goran started to nurture a profound interest in wine during the early years of Mr. Vujacic’s professional basketball career in Italy.
Exploring the northern Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, they developed a deep appreciation for the wines of Livio Felluga. Quickly, the father and son began to envision themselves owning a family winery that would reflect their respective palates and inherent familial epicureanism.
After he joined the Lakers, Mr. Vujacic and his family — father Goran, mother Sena, his brother Al, and his sister, Nina —– settled in California. They quickly embarked on a quest for the perfect piece of land, which would take them one step closer to bringing their vision to fruition.
Having accomplished the goal of founding what is now S&G Estate in Paso Robles in 2010, the whole family joined efforts to create a memorable, Merlot-dominant red, reminiscent of Old-World wines but made on California soil.
After obtaining his business degree from the University of Redlands in 2016 and a subsequent successful season as head coach of a professional basketball team in Japan, Al Vujacic decided to dedicate himself fully to Aleksander as chief operating officer.
Sena and Goran live on the estate, running every aspect of the business, from production to logistics, as well as curating exclusive private wine tasting experiences. While pursuing her doctoral degree at UCLA, their daughter Nina remained deeply involved in the family business.
The cost of the dinner on Friday is $145. See the FYI box for reservation details.