by Steven Sanchez
People in the Central Valley are odd when it comes to their perceptions about the Valley. This is an area where the youth beg to leave to experience life whether it be going to college, traveling, finding a career, and the list goes on. They have good reasons to depart, and no one really enjoys the heat much. But yet, at the same time, no matter how long people are a way from the area, people always find a way to come back. Whether to visit or move back. The famous line is true, “There’s no place like home.” And for Demetrius Porter, he would agree.
The former Fresno State basketball player has played ball which allowed him to travel the world. But speaking as of now, he’s the owner/coach of Exposure Sports, where he helps local b-ballers get scholarship offers to play in college. And you can add winemaker to his resume. You heard it, the former athlete is making the fine and fancy alcoholic beverage with his company Center Cork. But, he’s putting his own spin on it.
He may have left the game, but it definitely has stuck with him in his wine making endeavors. In the wine industry, there’s a term called “typicity” which means the degree in which a wine tastes like the region where it was grown. With his brand, just going by the names, you can tell that it was made in the Valley and from a basketball player with names like “Corkside,” ‘‘Pre-Game,” “Crossover” to “Tip-Off,” and “One and Done.” But this isn’t your typical wine company.
With Demetrius, the profits he makes from his wine he puts towards the youth he coaches. You can say he wants the world to not gloss over the Valley. He wants to prove to the world that our wine is tasty, and that the prospects here are equal in talent and deserve the same attention that other regions get across the country when it comes to basketball communities. And when it comes to community, that’s exactly what he needed to overcome the obstacles that came with the pandemic. But his story is different than everyone else’s.
While 2020 started for us with the lockdown, with Demetrius, his year started off rocky the moment when NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna died in a plane crash in January. The Fresno Heat AAU team that he coaches was supposed to play Gianna’s team the day the crash happened. Having to deal with the passing of one of the greatest basketball players of all time, coaching kids for collegiate recognition at a time where they weren’t allowed to compete, and putting together his wine business wasn’t easy, but the game prepared him well for the adversity life brings.
There’re people in the world that are trying to provide escape, entertainment, and help to those effected by the pandemic. Demetrius is one of them. But he was a giver way before the pandemic happened, but it has emphasized his goal even more so now. To give back and help the place he calls home, to assist the kids in achieving their sports potential at the highest level, and to enjoy life one sip at a time with his fine wine. It was fascinating getting the opportunity to talk with this Valley hero to go over the process of making wine, what will it take to turn this place into a basketball town, and why he loves Fresno so much.
KRL: In some cases, wine isn’t perceived to be a man’s drink. For us it’s usually beer, whiskey, or hard liquor, while wine is usually reserved for women in the conventional sense. Was there any trepidation on your part in going into the wine making business knowing people would either ask you or think why are you making wine?
KRL: When athletes get into business ventures, or when people change careers and get into something different, it usually rubs people the wrong way in a “how dare they” way. Like what makes them qualified, do they think it’s easy kind of thing? There’s people who make a particular thing their career while they see someone coming into it out of nowhere and they don’t know if that person has ulterior motives and what not. They might take it as an insult. Do you ever get that vibe from other industry people when you first were getting involved in wine making? And how were you able to prove them wrong?
Demetrius: No, the Central Valley has taken well to it. I think they’re happy to see a person who was a former athlete embark on a new venture and do more than just be athlete. I think when it comes to LeBron James, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan, people are getting used to the athletes going into business.
KRL: When it comes to sports it just feels like when it comes to basketball there’s some kind of entrepreneurial spirit that comes with the game. I don’t see too much of that with other sports but with a few like basketball it’s commonplace to see players have other side hustles, or other endeavors and pursuits while playing or after they retire. Do you ever feel that the energy and logistics of the game; constant movement; passing; one moment you’re in the air and the other you’re on the ground; one moment you’re playing offense and the other you’re playing defense; you go from both opposite ends of the court all game; and you have to react to when a play is different than it was drawn up; that this game of transitions translates to the athletes becoming businessmen and finding ways to stay busy and to keep that competitive edge going?
Demetrius: I think being a foreman early in business you always adapt to any situation whether it is a good or bad when you figure out how to make it work. In sports, the game plan you move forward and it may not work and you have to adapt and do something different in the face of adversity and not be afraid of change.
KRL: The Central Valley is mostly known for its produce, but it’s wine making is up there. Along with the Bay Area, this region gets quite a bit of attention for the wine selection which can lead to competition. So, what made you want to come to Fresno to make your brand knowing that you’d be in competition with other wineries. Has it been really competitive or has there been unity and collaboration through the process?
Demetrius: It’s very competitive, but again as an athlete I’m used to competing and it’s always exciting to do. Business is creative and on the court, I’ve always been a creative player with my passing and ways to score being a little guy so it’s no different for me.
KRL: Obviously 2020 happened. So much stuff went down and one of the biggest things was the racist tensions that were permeating the news. We all know about what colored athletes have to deal with when it comes to their sport, but with you, from what I know, I don’t know of too many colored people who represent the wine industry. What was it like going into an industry knowing that there weren’t a lot of people that looked like you?
Demetrius: It’s great because it shows minorities such as myself that it’s not when you start this but when you finish, and it’s okay to do something that other people are afraid to do. Shows leadership in the willingness to do something that hasn’t been done.
KRL: I saw that you spent three seasons playing in France and their appreciation for wine is what inspired you to bring it to the states. Is there any other foreign traits, habits, or interests, that you would like to turn into a business?
Demetrius: For me wine was it. Before playing in France, I had never really drank wine but once I got there and learned the different types of wine and the health benefits, I fell in love with it. I like what wine does! It brings people together and is always used in happy moments. Wine is an elegant drink that makes a statement when you share it with someone.
KRL: Fresno is weird. It’s the place you want to leave, but when you do, you always come back or you’re gone for a certain amount of time but not for long. You’ve traveled and you could’ve lived anywhere but decided to come back. For you, what is it about the Valley that makes you keep coming back?
Demetrius: Family and the community. Do you want to leave and you never feel the love that the community and your family members have given you to watch a career and throughout your life? There’s no replacing it regardless of where you live.
KRL: I’ve always wondered, wine has always had appealing names. The names of your wine are basketball terms, so how do you decide which one is called “Corkside” to “Pre-Game,” “Crossover” to “Tip-Off,” and “One and Done.” Do you go by taste and then give it a name or do you think of a name and revolve the taste and making of the wine according to that?
Demetrius: I don’t go by the taste. There’s many factors that go into how I name my wines. For example, I released the Season Opener during November and Christmas because of the different seasons. My Corkside had a luxurious look so I named it Corkside because all the VIP seats are court side. My Moscato was my first white wine so I named it Crossover. I was going from red wines to white.
KRL: You’re also an AAU coach helping dozens of local high school players in the Valley get college scholarships. From your perspective, what separates the basketball community here than the other ones across the country?
Demetrius: I think because we are forgotten about at times in the basketball world, our kids work harder and play with a chip on their shoulders. Our kids do not take anything for granted because they know the struggle in the whole world it took for them to change the stereotype of what the college will think of our players. I think also support from the community is like no other and you support it for the rest of your life in Central Valley.
KRL: The Valley has to do a lot more to get collegiate recognition when it comes to basketball, but why does this area get glossed over when it comes to the other regions in the country, when it comes to recruitment? What will it take, even though your contributions are a big factor, but overall what would this area need to do to show colleges that this area can be a haven for hoop talent like the other basketball communities in the nation?
Demetrius: I think we just have to continue to take advantage of those moments that we have such as what Aari McDonald has done, what Jalen Green has done, Deshawn Stevenson and Bruce Bowen. When we get the opportunity to match up with those out of town teams make sure they know that there’s talent in the Central Valley.
KRL: We all had to deal with the pandemic, but you had to juggle a business and non-profit all at once. You had to worry about your wine and the kids you coach. That probably wasn’t easy. How have you been able to juggle all that?
Demetrius: It’s very hard doing both, but when you have your family and players throughout the Central Valley they depend on you, it motivates you to keep going. The wine came from someone taking a chance on me and providing a platform that advanced my career which allowed me to go to college and play overseas. So, I feel obligated to do the same for our Central Valley kids. That’s why portions of my wine sales go back to the kids!
Check out Center Cork’s website.