Damon Huard is one of the most famous quarterbacks in University of Washington History. He is not only the co-owner of Passing Time but currently serves as Director of External Relations for the University of Washington football program. Huard also played 12 years in in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. Damon won two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots in 2001 and 2003. He attended Puyallup High School in Puyallup, Washington and was letterman in both football and basketball. In football, as a senior, he was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year and won All-American honors. Damon attended the University of Washington from 1991-1995, where he finished his career as the Huskies' all-time passing leader with 5,692 yards. Huard’s long road into wine began with the Miami Dolphins. He signed with the Dolphins in April 1997. Damon backed up Dan Marino for three seasons. He got his first real playing time in the NFL replacing an injured Marino in the first quarter on October 17 1999 when he came off the bench and led the Dolphins to a come from behind win against the New England Patriots coached by Pete Carroll. Huard was named NFL player of the week for his strong performance in the Dolphins 31-30 victory in Foxboro. He then won the next three consecutive games that he started, tying a Dolphins record set by Earl Morrall in 1972. Huard also had a successful career with the Kansas City Chiefs. In the 2006 season Huard started eight games for the Chiefs, posting a 5–3 record until Pro-Bowl QB Trent Green returned back to health from a severe concussion he suffered week one. Damon had a huge hand in the Chiefs making the playoffs that season.
While Huard was with the Miami Dolphins, he befriended Dan Marino. Dan had an incredible wine collection and shared his cellar with Damon with all kinds of wines from around the world. They talked about starting a winery together when they both retired. After Damon retired, Huard looked into finding the right winemaker and Chris Peterson was the perfect match. Peterson had the pedigree that Huard and Marino wanted, a young passionate winemaker who cut his teeth at Dellile cellars making big Washington Reds. Passing Time’s production facility is located in the Woodinville Warehouse District. I recently had the opportunity to sample their impressive 2013 Passing Time Cabernet (WWB, 94). This was an absolutely outstanding and rich example of Washington Cabernet, with the silky texture that head winemaker Chris Peterson is known for. Huard is very happy with the 2013 Cabernet and looks forward to the bright future of Passing Time Winery. I recently had the great opportunity to sit down with Damon and talk wine. I found Damon to be incredibly humble, as he talked about learning his way in the wine industry after a highly successful NFL career. Damon is very excited about the future of Passing Time and the Washington wine industry. Here is my interview with Damon Huard, former NFL quarterback and co-owner of Passing Time Winery.
WWB: Can you talk about how you were first introduced to the world of wine?
DH: It took me to move three thousand miles from home to really learn about Washington wine. Sneaking into Dan Marino’s cellar, I was a young, 22 year old kid and knew nothing about wine. I was never exposed to fine wine and I get to Miami and Marino is pouring amazing Washington wines, like Andrew Will, Col Solare and Quilceda Creek. I had never had any wine like this. I had no idea that my home state made wine of this quality. After a while the wine bug just bit me. Danny [Marino] and I had a great connection with football and with wine. For many years we talked about starting this wine venture when I was done with football. Another interesting side note was that when I was done with the Dolphins I signed with the New England Patriots . At the time fellow QB and Washington native Drew Bledsoe was just getting into wine himself while in New England and the passion for wine kept growing. The more wine I enjoyed, the more I knew that wine was the career for me once I was done with football.I would go back to Washington each offseason and during my time off from football I made some great connections in the Washington wine community. We formed an LLC in 2001 that included myself, Dan, Bledsoe and Rick Mirer. We all wanted to be part of a winery. We soon realized that the winery had to be here in Washington and we needed to live here, so we all decided that we were going to do this when I was home and done with pro football. Drew retired and then started Doubleback and that was around 2005 and his first vintage was 2007. Rick Mirer started Mirror in Napa shortly thereafter. I retired in 2009 and got started with the whole process of finding the winemaker and getting the fruit from different vineyard sources. 2012 was our first release. Even though this story is new, our story goes back 20 years when Danny was first introducing me to Washington wines.
I think my favorite part of the story is I have some really deep agricultural roots in Eastern Washington. My great grandparents were farmers of concord grapes in Grandview, Washington. Dick Bouchey says that he drives by Huard road most days on the way to his famous vineyard. That road was named after my family. My dad grew up in Prosser and played high school basketball against Paul Champoux. I didn’t initially know about all this history of my family but I find it fascinating that I am now sourcing fruit from the same Horse Heaven Hills region where my father grew up. As a young winery we are so fortunate to be able to get fruit from many older established vineyards in the state. Vineyards like Champoux and Klipsun which were planted over 30 years ago are a part of our program and we would not be off to the great start without their fruit. I am lucky that I have these great relationships in wine that I have built over many years. Another difference maker is I have an amazing young winemaker, in Chris Peterson. He was at DeLille for 8 years and now Co-owns a winery he started with the 2010 vintage called Avennia. The real beauty of Avennia and Passing Time is that the wines Chris is making for both wineries are very different in style. With Avennia he makes a lot of wines with Rhone variatils and his Bordeaux blends come from cooler vineyard sites so they are very different wines then the big Cabernets we are asking him to make for us at Passing Time. I work very closely with Chris with Chris on all decisions made in the cellar and vineyard. I have learned a lot from him these past 5 years. It is all about the process and a true labor of love. Our goal is to be in the conversation as one of the next great Cabernet produces from Washington. We want to be the place customers go to taste amazing Washington Cabernet from the three appellations that we think people identify Washington wine with the most. We are always going to make the flagship Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet. But starting with the 2014 vintage we are going to make three different wines, all Cabernets, from these three Washington appellations -- Walla Walla, Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain. We want to celebrate how different the Cabernet is from these three appellations and showcase how unique Washington’s different growing regions are.
WWB: As Seattle fans of football, we were all very excited when you were leading the Chiefs into the playoffs during that 2006 season which included a big win against the Seahawks. Can you talk about that special NFL season?
DH: That 2006 season was awesome. The season started rough with Trent Green getting hurt the first game of the year. The poor guy got hit and was knocked unconscious for 15 minutes. Our coach, Herman Edwards, told me I was in and I was nervous and also disturbed after seeing my friend and teammate carried off the field after a hit like that. I hadn’t really played much since the 2000 season. I had mostly held the clipboard for New England. In Kansas City I did not play my first two years on the roster. When I got this opportunity I knew it was my time. I look back at my career and watching Dan play and then [Tom] Brady play for three years I knew I could do it if given an opportunity. I got that opportunity and I made the most of it. We had a great run that year and I finished second in the league in quarterback rating behind Peyton Manning. I had a great season. 2007 started out good (4-3 record) as well and then we lost a couple games and Edwards [Kansas City Coach, Herman Edwards] wanted the younger guy in there at QB and we didn’t win another game that season. I had a great time in Kansas City and will never forget that magical season in ‘06.
While in Kansas City I had some Hall of Famers around me. Football is the ultimate team sport. Tony Gonzalez is maybe the best player I ever played with. He was amazing and always would make the catch, no matter where I threw the ball. We had some incredible offensive lineman. Will Shields was just inducted into the Hall of Fame and he is one of the best offensive lineman to ever play the game. Larry Johnson that year was a monster at running back and we had a strong cast of characters. We had a great time and it was a fun group of veteran guys. Being the quarterback of that team was an honor. But one of the toughest things was when Trent came from his injury and Herm [head coach] gave him the starting job back. I had gone on a run and had won a few games, so that was tough on me. Trent was the captain of the team and a Pro Bowl quarterback so I understood coaches decision but I remember that experience being really hard on me.
Beating the Seahawks that 2006 season was amazing. I grew up being a Seahawks fan. I actually worked for Paul Allen in 1996 for Football Northwest my first year out of college after I got cut from the Bengals. I did a lot of public speaking around the state of Washington talking about the economic impact if the Seahawks were to move to LA. I talked about what a great owner Paul would be if we all stepped up a little with some tax dollars to build a new stadium. Pretty cool out that all worked out. After 9 months working with PauI, I got a call from the Dolphins and they wanted me to come to their training camp. I had been waiting for the phone call for a long time. I still thought I could play so I went to give it one more try with the Dolphins. I fooled them all for 12 years thereafter!
In 2006 when I was with the Chiefs we played the Seahawks. One of the amazing things about that story is that I had essentially worked for the Seahawks when I was with Paul Allen’s Football Northwest 10 years earlier, and I knew a lot of people in their front office. It was special to beat the hometown team that afternoon with so many connections to the Seahawks. The only disappointing side note was that my good friend Matt Hasselbeck was hurt that day and Seneca Wallace played instead. It would have been even sweeter if I had beaten Matt!
WWB: How did you decide to start Passing Time and how were you introduced to Chris Peterson?
DH: I met Chris Peterson just as he was starting Avennia. We have two other partners with Danny and I -- a few local guys with the same passion for wine, one named Doug Donnely and the other Kevin Hughes. Doug is a financial advisor and he has worked closely with Marty Taucher, the co-owner of Avennia, for years. Doug, my financial guy as well, had known for years that I was going to do this wine project. He knew that I was trying to find the right winemaker. I have great relationships with Chris Carmarda and Charlies Hoppes. The Golitzins have been awesome too. Doug worked with the Alex Golitzin in the 70’s as well and I have had these relationships in the wine world but I wanted a winemaker that was closer to my age and driven and kind of just out there wanting to make a name for himself. That guy was Chris Peterson. We signed him on with Passing Time and we knew that we were getting a potential rockstar. I am so impressed with him and his attention to detail. His palate and ability to work with people. He is the quarterback of our team now and it is just amazing what he does. It is such a pleasure working with Chris. We work really well together and I am ok taking the call from him in the huddle these days.
WWB: The 2013 Passing Time Cabernet (WWB, 94) is a silky and elegant wine that drinks beautifully right now. Can you talk about the background of this wine? What are some of the details that go into producing this exceptional bottling?
DH: Let’s start with the 2012, we sourced fruit from a number of vineyards that year. We could have made 800 cases of wine in 2012 but we left a lot of the grapes out and ended up with about 540 cases. Many of the barrels did not meet our standards, so we sold the juice off in bulk and yes we lost some money but we had to do that early on to dial in the program and come out of the gate with an outstanding wine. We have spared no expense at Passing Time. In 2013 the Merlot in our program did not make the Cabernet better, whereas we had 9% Merlot in 2012. We again cut down our overall production with the intent of making the best wine possible. These are tough financial decision to make but we feel like we have to do that in order to build a serious brand. We use old school winemaking with open air stainless steel fermentation. We do daily punch downs and hand sort the berries at crush.
Every year we are going to get better. We are going to know which blocks in the vineyard work best with the different barrels. This is going to be a process. We use a number of French oak barrels and it is amazing how different they all are. We love the trials in the different barrels. There are going to be different mouthfeels compared to another barrel. That is where Chris is really gifted in his barrel program. All of the barrels add complexity to the wine, whether it is mouthfeel or finish. These are the differences that we like. In the final blend picking the right barrels and getting the right amount of new oak and the right barrel, this all makes a difference. WE also ask our farmers to crop our fruit at no more than three tons an acre, sometimes less. Getting the crop loads down can allow that plant to work harder for the remaining clusters really help concentrate the fruit and add unique complexity. Chris is over there in the vineyard ever single week probably twice during Harvest and I am over there making that drive with him when I can. When you pick that fruit is very important. If you pick too late you get that overripe prune flavor profile in time and we are not looking for that. One of Chris’s unique abilities is picking just a little sooner, when the grapes are still fresh. Picking the fruit when it is just ripe makes a big difference in the bottle many years later. I think you can get lazy especially if you are making 10 or 15 thousand cases, you are not going to have that attention to detail in the blocks. I think our end goal will be two thousand cases. We can detail every little thing at that quantity because we are only making that much wine.
WWB: What are some of your favorite wines of the world that you have in your personal collection?
DH: I definitely have had a lot of great old world wine. However, I should have been working for the Washington Wine Commission while I was in the NFL because I promoted Washington wine so much. Everywhere I went I was sharing Washington wine with my teammates. I would visit local shops in KC and New England and get to know the owners and I made sure they were getting Washington wine on their shelves. I would get my L’Ecole and Woodward Canyon and Col Solare. I am the biggest Washington fan at the end of the day. But there is no doubt that I have had some great Italian wines. I love Gaja, Sassacia, and some Super Tuscans are some of my favorites. I also love Barolo. I also love Burgundy and have some great Oregon Pinots in my cellar. I like to think that I have trained my palate a bit from wines from all over the world. From Spain to Argentina I have had them all but at the end of the day I am always drawn back to my roots and the wines we are making right here in Washington!