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Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson launched a new wine and also shared his thoughts on the Wolverines for this year. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News

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Ann Arbor — During his days with the Oakland Raiders, Charles Woodson developed an interest in wine making.

The former Michigan standout and 1997 Heisman Trophy winner has been involved in the wine business for several years and has launched a new line — Intercept — with O’Neill Vintners & Distillers that he introduced Wednesday at the Junge Center adjacent to Michigan Stadium where Woodson created many game highlights. The line features four wines, a cabernet sauvignon, a red blend, a pinot noir and a chardonnay, that retail for $18. They will be in Meijer stores beginning Sept. 1, but some already have the wine for sale.

His Charles Woodson wines are on the pricier side, and he wanted to develop a more affordable wine.

“I had people walking up to me all the time, ‘Hey man, you have really good wine, but it’s a little expensive,’” Woodson said Wednesday. “Or they may buy a bottle and I’ll autograph it and they’ll say, ‘I’ll drink this when my kids graduate,’ and I’m like, ‘Nah, I don’t want you to wait. I want you to drink it now.’ It took me a long while to figure out, if I go out to a restaurant, it was nothing for me to spend $85, and when I created the wine, I created it off of that, but that’s not the way everyday people are drinking. They want a great premium wine they can afford.”

Woodson had an 18-year NFL career, won a Super Bowl, was a nine-time Pro Bowler and had 65 interceptions. Hence the name of the line.

“You know where that comes from,” Woodson said, smiling. “That’s what I did better than anybody, I feel, taking the ball away.”

More: Former Heisman winner Woodson sees national title for Wolverines

The wine label features a lion. Woodson identifies with the animal and has a lion tattoo on his left arm.

“I conveyed to them (in marketing) my affinity for the lion,” he said. “King of the jungle, majestic, teamwork, all of those things represent me. My tattoo says, ‘A lion ain’t supposed to be tamed.’ You can’t put me in a box. I’m into doing different things. I’m not a typical whatever you think I am, so that’s where the lion comes from.”

Woodson said he’s never been one to get boxed in.

“I’ve always been that way,” he said. “I’ve always been a guy who does things my way. That was a natural fit for me. It’s kind of the way I feel — don’t put me with everybody else. Maybe I’ll do some of the things they do, but don’t be surprised if I’m over here doing something totally different, something that interests me more than it interests everybody else over here. I’m not a carbon copy of anybody. I think I’ve been that way all my life.”

It was that authenticity that appealed to Jeff O’Neill, who founded the company in 2004. O’Neill has shied from working with athletes and celebrities, but Woodson was different. He had already been involved in wine making and clearly had a deep interest in wine and the business.

“I try not to (work with celebrities), because they’re usually trying to sell their name and they’re not passionate about the business,” O’Neill said. “When the team brought the idea to me, I was a little bit skeptical because the brand has to live on its own. It cannot live just on a celebrity. The wines have to be fantastic and everything from the branding to Charles’ interest, It was very easy for us to make that connection. 

“We see celebrities all the time where there’s no connection, and if there’s no connection, the story’s not real for the consumers. That’s the magic. This is the first and may be the last (work with a celebrity), because it’s honest and authentic.”

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