Bare-Knuckled Boxer Inspires Cabernet Sauvignon | Wine Enthusiast
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Bare-Knuckled Boxer Inspires Cabernet Sauvignon

The Heavy, a powerful Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with “depth, complexity and finesse,” called for a label design that would mirror those characteristics. Designers at Tank Garage Winery, which makes the wine, found just the image: legendary John_Sullivanboxer John L. Sullivan, considered both the sport’s first heavyweight champion and the last recognized bare-knuckle fighter.

Known as the “Boston Strong Boy,” Sullivan dominated the timeframe that bridged boxing’s bare-knuckle and modern gloved eras during the late 1800s.

“Sullivan wasn’t just a brute,” says James Harder, co-founder of Tank Garage. “He was a strikingly dynamic, athletic and complex fighter who could dazzle the crowd with speed and swagger, or shut his opponent’s lights out with one punch. There were just too many parallels with this wine not to put him on it.”

A  rare 1898 photo of Sullivan conveys the spirit of a Napa Valley blend.

The design team chose a screen print of a 1898 photo of Sullivan to convey the spirit of the heavy-hitting 2014 Napa Valley blend of 73 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Merlot and 7 percent Cabernet Franc.

A flashy dresser known to proclaim that he could “lick any son-of-a-bitch in the world,” Sullivan was the first athlete to earn more than $1 million.

The bouts were brutal endeavors that could last 100 rounds or more, and Sullivan was brutally good at it. He went undefeated, suffering just two draws in 42 fights. Gloves were introduced gradually in the 1880s and Sullivan fought with both bare knuckles and gloves during the transition. His ring dominance came to an end in New Orleans on July 9, 1892, when he lost the title by knockout to James J. Corbett in the 21st round.

After he retired from the ring, Sullivan was involved in several ventures, owned a bar, but later gave up alcohol to promote temperance. He died in 1918 at age 59, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Located in Calistoga, Tank Garage Winery operates from a 1930s mechanic’s garage and gas station. The wine is a partnership between Harder who owns James Cole Winery in Napa, Jim Regusci of Regusci Winery in Yountville, and T-Vine Winery in Calistoga, in which Regusci is also a partner.

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