On Wednesday night, I took a ride to my summer home, the Mohegan Sun Casino, to visit Geno’s FastBreak Restaurant, named after UConn’s Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach.
The space hosted a private party to introduce Auriemma’s newest business venture, the release of a small collection of wines that will bear his name and soon pop up on shelves of wine and liquors shops in the state – and, course, on line – for our possible consumption.
As time passes, one thing has become predominately clear about Geno. His acumen for business and marketing, and his enthusiasm for furthering his personal brand, is as acutely polished as his coaching ability.
Think about how blessed his professional life has been; a unique personality, an engaging personality, born at the right time, coaching the right sport in the most perfect place he could be.
He came to UConn 28 years ago and through his efforts, along with Chris Dailey and his All-Americans, built one his sport’s sturdiest pillars – a seven-time national champion. Some call it a dynasty. And it’s hard to argue that point.
And the confluence of these on-court events with his other attributes has allowed him the chance to build much more than that.
He is as close to a national celebrity as the sport has. He is beloved by his fans in a state that generally adores his program and his players.
His charitable efforts, for cancer research, to aid the victims of Newtown, to enhance education opportunities at UConn, have been enormous.
He is well-paid, second-only to Jim Calhoun among state employees. At some point, perhaps as soon as his new five-year deal is signed, he will eclipse the retired Calhoun.
Imagine that: A women’s basketball coach will be the highest-paid employee in a state. Welcome to Connecticut.
Imagine this: What it must be like for him to walk through a grocery store or stand in line for a coffee. Almost everyone knows who he is.
But for those who may not….
Over time, Geno has come to understand how to combine his popularity – and his instinct – with his other passions in his life; food and wine and good times.
We’ve tasted his red sauce (the kind you spoon over spaghetti). We’ve seen his restaurant. We will see a new fancier one soon.
We’ve tasted his wine. We got to taste some news ones Wednesday.
Just so you understand, Geno does not personally squash the grapes for his new wine line. A wine maker, 47 Anno Domani, does that. And then companies, like Wine By Design, spread the word and help distribute the product.
The goal is to help to create brand loyalty to Geno’s products; what sport you watch on television, what school you donate to, what you eat for dinner, where you take your spouse on their birthday, what kind of wine you order for the table.
Think Coca-Cola. Think Kleenex. Think Nike. Think Windex.
You want to play in the Final Four? Think Geno.
Thirsty? Think Geno. Hungry? Think Geno. Looking for a place to throw a business party? Think Geno.
It’s quite the game plan. And what will help it succeed is that he will be able to rely on someone he trusts – himself.
What Geno has done is consult with the wine maker to decide what kind of wine he wants inside the bottles that will wear his name.
His Italian heritage comes fourth in four wines: Prosecco DOC; 2012 Pinot Grigio; 2010 Puglia Rosso; and 2008 Cabernet/Merlot.
“The decision to create a line of Italian wines was the fulfillment of a dream,” said Auriemma. “And teaming up with 47 Anno Domini was a natural choice – they possess the passion and respect that I share for the art of winemaking.”
47 Anno Domini Vineyards is in the Piave region within the Veneto in northeast Italy. According to the press release, “The Piave River works its way to the Adriatic Sea between the provinces of Treviso and Venice. Along this river valley, the clay and mineral soils yield grapes and wines of distinctive character.”
“For me, these wines bring back memories of growing up in Italy,” Geno said. “I wanted to create wines with character for people to enjoy at their tables with family and friends.”
For a list of retailers, or to order online visit, winebydesignco.com/coachauriemma. More information will become available at coachauriemma.com later this month.