A man requiring no introduction, NFL legend, Drew Bledsoe, took his success on the playing field into fielding his own winery. Since starting Doubleback roughly a decade ago he has taken the Washington wine scene by storm. A few days ago I had the chance to visit his gorgeous new winery in Walla Walla. Drew is a fun-loving, down to earth guy that is an absolute blast to chat wine with. Originally from Walla Walla, Drew ‘doubled back’ following his successful career as an NFL quarterback and started his winery, Doubleback. With superstar winemaker, Josh McDaniels, at the winemaking helm, he has achieved some remarkable success as all of his wines sell out extremely quickly. I think you will really enjoy hearing more about Drew’s story in wine. Here is my exclusive interview with Drew Bledsoe, NFL legend and owner of Doubleback winery.
WWB: How did you first get into wine?
DB: I got into wine the way that most pepole do. Once we had saved some money my teammates and I started going to dinner and realizing how interesting wine was. The more I learned about wine the more interesting it became. I started collecting wine from all over the world. I got very intrigued by Italian wines and also Australian wines. My interests spanned the globe. Then I had a phase where I was really interested in Napa wines. After time I looked for wines that displayed more balance and were not super extracted. That brought us back to wines from Walla Walla. We had a great group of teammates when I was playing for New England that were all getting into wine. Damon Huard, Mike Vrabel, Ted Johnson and Teddy Bruschi all loved wines and wanted to learn about wines of the world. We started regularly opening wines from all over the world and blinding them. I would have a lot of teammates coming over and we would do blind tasting Cabernets from California vs Washington and wine from Washington would always win. That is where the seed was planted as I started thinking that that maybe after football is done I would go back to Walla Walla and make wine a carer.
WWB: How did you get to know Josh McDaniels?
DB: Chris Figgins of Leonetti Cellar was our consulting winemaker at Doubleback for several years. At Leonetti Josh McDaniels was working for Chris. As time went on I knew that Chris was going to move on and pursue his own projects. We had slowly started the process in place for Josh to take over as lead winemaker. Pretty soon it became apparent that Josh was able to take over the whole thing himself. The time came and we made the chance and it has been off to the races since then. I had tried Leonetti for many years and Josh was involved in every vintage of Doubleback. Once we moved out to the wine studio at Leonetti Josh was intimately involved in all the wines so it was not a big step for him to take over all the winemaking.
WWB: How does your NFL success translate into success in the wine industry?
DB: There are a few things that made it important to me that our business and story was not about the football guy. We wanted the focus to be about a small town kid that came back home and had some success. Doubleback is an authentic, real project. The winery is not a passing interest or hobby for me but it is something we are really serious about. We didn’t want to place Bledsoe on the bottle. That is where the name Doubleback comes from, doubling back and coming home. In terms of translating football into business it has been amazing to me how similar football and wine can be. The wine education that I have received since I have been in the business, particularly from Chris Figgins, Greg Harrington, Josh McDaniels and these people that have helped me have been vital. The day to day operations of the wine business shares a lot of similarities with footballl, Themes like teamwork, perseverance, adaptation, and a competitive spirit all provide important influences in both football and wine. Drive and competition really never leaves you once you leave the NFL. The wine business competition is a different kind of competition. Obviously the wine industry doesn’t require that we beat someone so it benefits us if we are helping our neighbor and trying to be great. We are always marketing all of Walla Walla when we are marketing our wines. We aren’t knocking the other guy down we are simply helping share and influence how great Walla Walla wines can be.
WWB: What are some of the most memorable wines that you have tried across your lifetime?
DB: There are a few wine experiences that jump out for me. One of them, surprisingly, was a Napa wine, the 1998 Viader Red Wine which was cool for a few reasons. 1998 was a hard vintage in Napa from critics but I have noticed something that has held true for a long time that the so called bad vintages have great wine from great producers. That was the case with this wine. A lot of Cab Franc was in the wine and that is one of the Bordeaux varietals that was really memorable. One of the epiphany wines that I had unfortunately I wasn’t able to find out what was in the glass. I was in a restaurant in Buffalo, New York, and enjoying myself. There was a guy having dinner in the restaurant who knew that I liked wine and he handed me a glass of something, dropped it off, and then was gone. The wine was a great Burgundy and it was ethereal and proved to be an unbelievable experience. It was almost like you were drinking air how silky smooth this wine was and I was absolutely blown away. Another memorable wine that I enjoyed took place during a dinner with the Golitzins from Quilceda Creek and Alex brought a bottle of 1998 Chateau Lafitte-Rothchild. This was a wine that was really that good, amazing wine and actually lived up to the price of the wine. The 1961 Barolo, Coterno, probably holds the title of the best wine that I have had. It is really hard to describe this wine but I noticed that there was just so much going as everything was in perfect harmony. Too me that was what defines a great wine. There was tremendous complexity and balance. That is what Josh has going here, wines that have great balance but complexity at the same time.