Dec 2, 2011Drew Bledsoe scores touchdown with winery
Football fans know Drew Bledsoe as former quarterback of the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys. Wine connoisseurs and growers are getting to know him as owner of Doubleback Vineyards and Wines.
Doubleback Vineyards is in Walla Walla, Wash., Bledsoe’s home town. After his football career ended, he was able to fulfill another dream and start a winery.
Bordeaux varietals seem to fare best on his property, Bledsoe said. He is growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, which all go into his Doubleback Cabernet.
“We bought our first piece of land in 2003 in Echo, Oregon,” Bledsoe said. “We bought Doubleback in its current form in 2006. We sold our original vineyard in Echo to focus more acutely on our two vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley.”
Making the switch from quarterback to winemaker wasn’t that hard. Bledsoe thought about it from the beginning of his playing days. There are similarities and significant differences between the two professions, he said.
“Having a great team around you, extensive planning and creative adaptation to changes that come your way are the biggest similarities,” he said. “The biggest difference is that it takes so long to see the results in the wine business. In football, you know instantly the outcome of a decision. In wine, it may take seven years.”
Bledsoe’s team includes winemaker Chris Figgins, a lifelong friend and winemaking expert since 1996.
Walla Walla Valley is home to more than 100 wineries and 1,800 acres of grapes, according to the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. The geography of the valley has it own challenges, however.
“The biggest problem with our land is wind,” Bledsoe said. “The wind howls up on top of the hill where we are.”
But the wind does have some advantages.
“This is a benefit much of the time because it helps fight off frost, mold, etc.,” he said. “But it also does some damage to our vines on the windward side. We have planted some rows of trees to try to mitigate this problem, and we have added some additional irrigation to the vines that get the most wind.”
Bledsoe and his company were flattered by the reception of their first vintage. The 2007 Doubleback sold out in a matter of weeks and received some great reviews, including being named one of the Top 100 wines in the World by Wine Spectator, he said.
“Hopefully, our greatest success is in front of us as our vineyards continue to mature,” he said. “We are trying to grow our production to the 3,000-case level. We just released 100 cases of Syrah, which sold out in just over 24 hours. We plan to do one or two small projects each year, but they will never interfere with our focus on Doubleback Cabernet.”
Bledsoe advises other winery owners to be patient and focus on the long-term health of the vines.
“If that means sacrificing some of your yield in early vintages, then so be it,” he said.
More information on Doubleback wines can be found at the winery's website.