The Evergreen state is attracting former National Football League quarterbacks for something entirely unrelated to their profession: wine. Yes, gridiron signal callers are calling a life audible and becoming winemakers of sorts, moving from the football fields to fields of vines.
Drew Bledsoe, Dan Marino and Damon Huard have found themselves in the southern reaches of the state of Washington, growing grapes and making wine. Bledsoe has established a successful winery in Walla Walla called Doubleback, while Marino and Huard teamed up to start a winery called Passing Time (Vimeo video) – it will be based in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA near the Columbia River.
Why southern Washington and why wine? The region is part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA that has over 40,000 acres of vineyards. The area is well known for its winemaking with almost a cult following including wineries such as Alexandria Nicole and Columbia Crest. Washington wine is ever-growing in popularity.
The connection to the area revolves around the fact that two of the quarterbacks are from the state of Washington: Bledsoe from Walla Walla and Huard from Puyallup. Also, Huard’s father had a farm in Horse Heaven Hills. Marino’s connection is that Damon was his backup on the Miami Dolphins for four seasons. By the way, somewhat ironically, Huard would become Bledsoe’s backup with the New England Patriots.
As far as why these quarterbacks felt inclined to be in the wine business, with Bledsoe (New England Patriots) having grown up in Walla Walla – a city known for its farming including onions and grapes – it was a natural progression for Drew especially considering his longtime friend Chris Figgins was a excellent winemaker. As for Marino, he had been a fan of wine from the time he could first drink and that passion brought Huard along when they were teammates. That friendship between the quarterbacks, developed into finding a winery they could call their own. Also, the Hall of Famer Marino is no longer working on television as a NFL analyst and will have more time on his hands for new ventures like Passing Time.
Bledsoe has created a small but successful winery with Doubleback, while Marino and Huard just bottled their first vintage, a Cabernet Sauvignon, which will be made available in 2015. Both of these wines are being marketed as higher end quality boutique wines with prices in the $75 to $100 range per bottle.
Making money is not likely the goal here, at least not right now, but both of these businesses are set up to reach big heights. In the mean time, these former football stars will continue to market and improve their Washington wine on the Columbia River Plateau – a long ways from the glitz and glamor of playing as a quarterback in the NFL.
Daryle W. Hier