Celebrity wine and spirit brands are now so ubiquitous they seem to be almost a rite of passage. For some, though, the stereotype of a vanity project doesn’t quite fit.
“We started our endeavor in the oldest way possible: We started in the dirt,” says former National Football League quarterback Drew Bledsoe. After his playing career ended, Bledsoe and his family returned to his hometown of Walla Walla, Wash., starting the aptly-named Doubleback Winery. “We purchased a piece of land and planted vines. Our kids actually helped plant vines with us back in 2007.”
Bledsoe, who played 14 seasons in the NFL, mostly with the New England Patriots, admits a bit of name recognition is helpful to the cause. “But that isn’t what this project is about,” he says. “We have always shied away from the ‘celebrity winery’ angle. My wife and I love wine, and the more we learned about the entire business, the more intriguing it became. Once we discovered that my hometown valley was producing some of the best wine grapes in the world, we almost couldn’t resist.”
He’s referring to the Walla Walla Valley AVA, which includes over 120 wineries and nearly 3,000 acres of vineyards, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot being the top three varieties. “Walla Walla has a perfect combination of soil and weather to make it an ideal place to grow wine grapes,” Bledsoe says.
Soil varieties and terroir vary dramatically from site to site, and while most people think of the Pacific Northwest as rain soaked, “the inland Northwest has a near desert climate,” Bledsoe explains. “We are on the dry side of the Cascade mountain range, and all of our precipitation falls between November and May. Our long, hot summer days combine with cool nights to allow us to fully ripen our fruit while achieving long hang time on the vines, which helps develop complexity.”
Buoyed by the surrounding wine industry, the town of Walla Walla itself is budding as well, becoming a popular wine destination thanks to a quaint downtown packed with tasting rooms and restaurants, and a growing number of high-end hotels. “Walla Walla is a unique place in a unique time,” Bledsoe says. “You can have a world class meal with amazing wine but you’ll likely be parked next to a pickup truck rather than a Tesla. The wines have been discovered by the critics and the wine geeks, but you can still find amazing value at every price point.”
Building on the success of Doubleback Winery, which is wholly dedicated to Walla Walla Cabernet, Bledsoe has launched several other ventures. Bledsoe Family Winery explores a broader set of grapes and wine styles at accessible price points, and the new Bledsoe-McDaniels Winery is a partnership with Bledsoe’s winemaker, Josh McDaniels, which moves beyond Walla Walla to also work with Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. “His name has always been on the back of the bottle, and we felt it deserved to be on the front as well,” Bledsoe says.
Bledsoe, 48, shared some of his passions with Penta.
Courtesy of Penta & Drew Bledsoe
Text: Jake Emen