Football and Wine: An unlikely pairing

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Several months ago we hosted the Donnelly family at the winery and were so blessed to meet many of the family members, including loving grandchildren who were so sweet to the elder Dr. Donnelly. Many of you remember this beloved physician in Longview. In the entourage, was Doug Donnely, who was a classmate of my brother, Kirc Roland. I had a great discussion with Doug, and came to find out that he loves wine and to my surprise, was an investor in a new winery called Passing Time.

Passing Time Winery is one of several in Washington state founded by former professional athletes. So, yes, there are a few football players who prefer wine over beer! I can understand the fascination and interest in these enterprises because, after all, they are famous and hopefully still have some of the cash they made during their careers. But for me, I ask how’s the wine taste and how did they learn to make the stuff?

Let’s start with Passing Time. As it turns out the star duo of Dan Marino and Jason Huard are a part of a team that includes Doug Donnelly, Kevin Hughes, and winemaker Chris Peterson. Everybody knows hall of fame inductee, Dan Marino, who led the Dolphins to the playoffs ten times in his seventeen-season career. Jason Haurd met Marino as a player in Miami, but we all know him as a quarterback with Washington. These guys are not in a hurry. Passing Time is committed to cabernet sauvignon, which they blend with merlot and cabernet franc. Their minimal approach emphasizes the fruit, not fancy cellar tricks. They use new oak to compliment the fruit sourced from top vineyards in the state. I’m sure their celebrity has opened some amazing doors for them. I’m not jealous.

Double Back Wines was started by WSU standout Drew Bledsoe. He
played fourteen seasons in the NFL. Bledsoe is best known to us as a standout quarterback for WSU, but he went on to be the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots from 1993 to 2001. Owning a winery has always been a part of his vision because of his love of fine wine. Drew grew up in the Walla Walla Valley and in 2007, he planted an estate vineyard. Here lies the main difference between Double Back and Passing Time. Drew wants to grow his own grapes and follow them through to the finished wine, whereas Marino and company want to focus on the wine and leave the growing to the long established growers. Both are passionate about cabernet sauvignon and both have already won high marks from Wine Spectator. Drew and his wife, Maura hired Josh McDaniels as winemaker in 2007, to assure that only the best viticulture and winemaking practices are followed.

Back to my conversation with Doug Donnelly. When the Donnelly’s were about to leave the winery that night, Doug took me aside and said he would bring to a bottle of the sold out Passing Time wine. Frankly, I wasn’t about to hold my breath at getting a $100 bottle of wine, but sure enough, about a month later, he fulfilled his promise. He not only brought the wine, he brought me two bottles. Haven’t opened it yet. Review to come.

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