When Drew Bledsoe was an NFL quarterback, he spent most of his time surveying the football field, waiting for the right receiver to break open and attempting the perfect pass. Today, Bledsoe spends his days surveying endless fields of grapes, waiting for them to ripen, and attempting to make the perfect bottle of wine at his family-owned winery, Doubleback. Though the jobs may be different, he says making wine gives him just as much joy and fulfillment as he got from playing professional football.
“The similarities between running a business and being the quarterback of a team show up all the time," he said. "You have to plan and execute and get all the details right, you have to be adaptable, go through adversity and have a good team around you. It’s also really competitive.”
The competitive nature of the wine industry might be the reason it has attracted a handful of other former NFL players, including Rick Mirer, Dan Marino, Damon Huard, Charles Woodson and even John Elway, who have started wineries of their own.
Bledsoe says he developed a passion for wine sometime during his playing days, which included nine seasons with the New England Patriots, three seasons with the Buffalo Bills, and two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. He and his wife, Maura, collected different wines from around the world, and they became more and more fascinated as they learned about the process of making good wine. When Bledsoe retired in 2007, they decided to move back to his hometown in Washington state to start a new career as a business owner – making their own wine.
“Walla Walla became known as one of the great wine making and growing regions of the world while I was playing,” Bledsoe explained. “So, when I was looking at transitioning out of football and figuring out what to do with the rest of my life, Maura and I made the decision to move back home and start a wine business. And it’s gone on to be a successful endeavor for us.”
Thanks to Walla Walla’s long, hot summer days and crisp, cool nights, Bledsoe found the perfect climate for growing red wine grapes right in his hometown's backyard. That's one of the reasons why Doubleback Winery focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon, which has become a world-class wine and has made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wine List twice. Being able to own a successful business in the same place where he grew up is an added bonus and one that Bledsoe doesn’t take for granted. But he says he'll always have a place in his heart for the cities he called home and the fans that embraced him throughout his 14-year NFL career – especially Buffalo.
“Playing in Buffalo is really a unique experience in the NFL. The only place I would compare it to is Green Bay, where you have a really strong connection with the community. You really feel like you are a part of it, rather just being a sports star. And that kind of connection doesn’t exist in many places for professional sports. The fans are so supportive and kind.”
Bledsoe still fondly remembers his first home game in Buffalo, when he drove to the stadium early in the morning and pulled in to see the parking lot full of RVs and eager Bills fans. He says it’s his favorite story to tell from his days in Buffalo.
“I remember asking the equipment guys what was going on. I thought there was an RV show or something. And they said no, they are there to tailgate. It was Wednesday morning and they were already tailgating for Sunday’s game. That’s why I was really excited for the Bills when they finally made the playoffs again. If they ever make it through to win a championship, I’ll still be excited for them. The fans deserve it.”