NBA legend Yao Ming has pulled $2m worth of crowdfunders in to share his love of red wine

Picture: Lee Bond/YouTube

As a genuine NBA star, Chinese export Yao Ming was hard to miss, defying all the stereotypes simply by standing at 229cm.

In eight seasons with the Houston Rockets, Yao made the All-NBA Team five times, played in four playoff series and only missed the NBA All-Star weekend once due to injury.

He made TIME’s 100 most influential people in 2003 and in 2008, carried China’s flag into the arena during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. So if you want to break into a market in China, Yao’s your man.

He’s the guy at the back:

Picture: Lee Bond/YouTube

When he retired in 2011 Yao surprised many by establishing a winery in California’s Napa Valley. But as he says:

“Every empty bottle is a permanent memory – a night to remember with family and friends. We are all eating different meals but sharing from the same bottle. That’s why I fell in love with wine. It reminded me of the family-style meals in China.

It’s only produced three wines, but by focusing on selling them to the growing middle class in his home country, Yao seems to have hit on yet another winning play. Yao Family Wines has sold $US8 million worth of Napa Valley wines since releasing its first vintage in 2011.

Picture: Lee Bond/YouTube

And now through Crowdfunder, it’s offering up a part of its growth to anyone with a love of red who wants to share a spotlight with the one-time tallest player in the NBA.

Yao’s president and director of winemaking, Tom Hinde, says the business now sells “more premium wine in China than any other California winery”. And it’s growing at 25% year-on-year – figures any Hunter Valley vineyard owner would pop their cork over.

In the promo video for the Crowdfunder campaign, Hinde says Yao is a genuine part of the production process. “When Yao and I taste, Yao directs the style of the wines,” he says.

“It’s his personality that ultimately emerges in the wines.”

Picture: Lee Bond/YouTube

It’s an expensive personality – the price history on Yao Family Wines Reserve Cabernet is currently topping out at $1158 a bottle, and has never been lower than $700. (It does get great ratings, though.)

Picture: Lee Bond/YouTube

The starting price for the cheapest vintage – “Red Wine” – is $58 and the Chinese middle class are handing over $120 for the standard cab sav.

Picture: Lee Bond/YouTube

So what do you get by joining Yao’s wine mission? For starters, you’re helping him raise funds to establish tasting centres in Napa Valley and Shanghai, both of which you’ll get an invite to when they open.

Picture: Lee Bond/YouTube

There’s also the promise of attending a winemaker dinner with Yao and Tom later this year.

Picture: Lee Bond/YouTube

In terms of ROI, the pre-money valuation of the company currently sits at $15 million. For crowdfunders, it’s offering a preferred return on investment from any free cashflows “until you receive your investment back plus 2% annualised. Thereafter you will receive 25% of free cashflows.”

“Finally your equity in the company may generate a return if the company gets acquired or has an IPO.”

Yao himself is the founder, proprieter and director and owns 25% of Yao Family Wine shares and proving a great drawcard for the Crowdfunder campaign. Just 10 days in to trying to raise $3 million, it’s so far cruised past the $2 million mark.

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