I’m calling an audible this week.
Instead of writing about the best red wines I tasted during “summer school”(I’ll do that next week), I’m going to tell you about my meeting with former NFL star quarterback turned winemaker Drew Bledsoe, who is producing an outstanding Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon called “Doubleback.” The name is derived from Bledsoe’s “doubling back”to his hometown of Walla Walla following his pro football retirement in 2006.
Bledsoe flew into Boston last week to attend the induction of former teammate Troy Brown into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. Following the Gillette Stadium ceremony, Bledsoe took in the Patriots home opener Sunday – a 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
On Friday night, however, Bledsoe made an appearance at the Lower Fall Wine & Spirits Store in Newton. Looking tanned and extremely fit from working his 80 acres of vineyards back home, the 40-year-old Bledsoe greeted oeniphiles, football fans and the curious for nearly three hours.
The Wine Novice got to spend 20 minutes with No. 11 and I came away impressed.
In his playing days (1993-2006) Bledsoe could count on six 300-pound men shielding him from the likes of Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Yet on this night only a table of wine stood between him and the public. Bledsoe was friendly and classy. He signed sports memorabilia and took photos with anyone who requested one. He talked sports. But believe me, Bledsoe was most relaxed when talking about wine and his home state.
When I told him about my Wine Novice column, he chuckled. He said he started from scratch too. Born in Washington’s wine country, Bledsoe said he started thinking about his NFL “retirement”when he signed with the Patriots in 1993. His wife Maura (they are the parents of four children) supported his dream to return home and make wine. Ten years later he purchased 80 acres in Walla Walla for $400,000. He planted vines on 50 acres at a cost of $20,000 an acre. The $1.4 million investment carried a lot of risk. it would take 3 to 5 years for the vines to produce fruit, and who knew what the quality would be like.
Bledsoe scored big teamming up with boyhood friend Chris Figgins, a top West Coast winemaker for Leonetti Cellars. Figgins blended the first commercial vintage of Doubleback in 2007. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot bottling was a hit and sold out 600 cases at $90 a bottle. Bledsoe followed with a stunning 94+ points 2008 vintage of 800 cases.
On Friday night, Bledsoe was signing bottles of the 2009 vintage, which he says is his best so far. The cab blend (76% Cabernet, 14% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot) was selected No. 53 on Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Top 100 list. I enjoyed a sampling while Bledsoe described the attributes: Ruby red, lush in strawberry and other dark fruits, elegant on the finish. Bledsoe said the wine is best served after a 2-hour decanting, when more floral, cinnamon and chocolate notes are released.
The 2009 vintage, expanded to 1,600 cases, is still hard to get at a price range of $89 to $109 a bottle. Savvy collectors are purchasing more bottles knowing the wine can be cellared for up to 10 years and likely increase in value. Bledsoe, however, doesn’t believe the wine should sit around for admiration. “I want to produce good, quality wine that is best expressed when it is opened with friends and family when they want to enjoy it,”he said.
Bledsoe said the 2010 Doubleback will be released in January 2013. Sales distribution is limited, so Bledsoe said those interested in buying the wine should make inquiries at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Overall, I found Drew Bledsoe to be very down to earth. He cares deeply about Doubleback and the people drinking it.
I purchased a bottle of the 2009 Doubleback – No. 8632 – and Bledsoe signed it. He then laid it gently into my hands, like a clean handoff to a running back, and said, “Enjoy this with a good steak and wonderful friends.”
Six bottles of the 2009 Doubleback are available at Tutto Bene Wine Shop on Prescott Street in Lowell