Sasha Vujačić stepped to the free-throw line with 11.7 seconds remaining in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA finals and the Lakers clinging to an 81-79 lead over their arch-rival Boston Celtics. Under the most immense pressure that the game of basketball can offer, Vujačić calmly knocked down both shots, putting the game out of reach and forever etching his name in Lakers lore.
“I recognized the magnitude of that moment and the precious opportunity to bring the team one final step closer towards finishing our long season in the way we imagined we would: with a hard-fought victory against our historical rivals, the Boston Celtics,” Vujačić said. “That moment will live on forever in my mind and heart.”
With his playing days behind him, Vujačić turned his attention toward a new passion: winemaking. Founded with the 2010 vintage, his Paso Robles–based wine brand, Aleskander, produces Bordelaise red blends, typically releasing just two bottlings each vintage. (Aleksander is Vujačić’s real first name, which is commonly shortened to the nickname Sasha.) Unlike most other wine labels created by public figures — from other NBA star brands by Dwyane Wade to hip-hop vintners like E-40 and Snoop Dogg to Hollywood-powered efforts by actors like Kurt Russell and Cameron Diaz — Aleksander is the fruit of a collective family effort.
Vujačić became interested in wines during the early years of his professional basketball career. His stepfather, Goran Bjekovic, was exploring the wines of the northeastern Italian region of Friuli and learning about the diverse practices, approaches, and traditions that determine the quality and character of a wine. As Bjekovic shared his profound appreciation for wine with his son, they began to entertain the idea of producing a wine that would reflect their palates and express their international roots.
“Slovenia boasts a strong wine culture and is recognized as an important producer of wines specific to the area,” said Vujačić of his heritage. “Slovenia’s viniculture and its proximity to affluent bordering wine countries such as Austria and Italy enables people from that part of the world to develop a varied and sophisticated palate.”
Vujačić and his family have found the Central Coast to be the ideal spot for a thriving winery. “Paso Robles offered the ideal growing conditions and soil for the Old World–style Bordeaux blend we had always imagined,” Vujačić said. “The neighboring area and the property that hosts our winery today also met the needs and preferences of the family. In short, it was love at first sight.”
Vujačić will be introducing his Aleksander wines to Santa Barbara County on Friday, November 18, when Nella Kitchen & Bar in Los Olivos will host an intimate dinner featuring current and library releases. Attendees will have the opportunity to rub shoulders with the two-time NBA champion while enjoying several vintages expertly paired with a multi-course meal curated by Nella’s Executive Chef Luca Crestanelli.
“We were introduced to Chef Luca of Nella by our great friend Roberto Facciolla from Toscana Ristorante in Brentwood,” Vujačić said. “With Chef Luca, we planned a special wine dinner event hosted by Nella for an evening of perfect pairings.” Tickets are $145 and can be booked via this link.
“My basketball and winemaking careers bear many similarities,” said Vujačić, who also played with the Nets, Clippers, Knicks, and numerous international teams until his final season in 2018. ”While everyone loves a good win and a good wine, these are only possible with an honest behind-the-scenes commitment to the pursuit of excellence. A strong work ethic, the prioritization of collective effort, and loyalty to one’s vision are crucial to success in both worlds. Both basketball and wine bring people together in meaningful ways.”