Doubleback was unquestionably one of 2010’s most exciting new wineries. On the cusp of its second release, the winery shows every sign of establishing itself as one of Washington’s best.

Doubleback was founded by former NFL quarterback and Walla Walla native Drew Bledsoe and his wife Maura. Critical to the winery’s success, Chris Figgins from Figgins Family Wine Estates was hired as consulting winemaker (read a Focus Report on the winery here).

The response to Doubleback’s inaugural release, a 2007 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, was overwhelming. It included dueling 95-point scores from Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator and a spot on the latter’s annual Top 100 list.

Bledsoe says that, even with top vineyard sources and one of the state’s best winemakers in place, he never expected such a positive response to the first release. Apparently many of his friends didn’t either.

“One of the most gratifying things is having friends and former players that bought the wine just to be supportive and then get the wine and crack a bottle. I would get text messages and phone calls saying, ‘Dude this wine is actually really, really good!’” Bledsoe says with a laugh. “They were looking at it, rightfully so, like, ‘This old football player, what does he know about wine?’”

Far from a vanity project, Drew Bledsoe is serious about wine and about making the best Walla Walla Valley Cabernet possible at Doubleback. The 2008 vintage release continues to set the bar high. In fact, when the 2007 wine was being released both Bledsoe and Chris Figgins were already quietly talking about how excited they were about the 2008 vintage.

Bledsoe says that while the 2008 wine is a clear sibling to the 2007 vintage, he believes it’s a bit more complete. “We’ve still got the nice soft tannin structure on the attack and nice long finish; nice acidity that gives us some more flexibility in terms of food pairing; but I think we rounded out the middle,” Bledsoe says. “It’s a bigger, rounder, and I would say even softer wine than the 2007.”

Much like the 2007 release, the 2008 Cabernet uses top sources Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge, and Figgins Estate. However the winery added Cabernet Sauvignon from LeFore Vineyard in The Rocks district of the Walla Walla Valley, which Bledsoe says has given the wine some minerality.

To support the inaugural release Bledsoe traveled to the areas he played football – New England, Buffalo, and Dallas. What he found was that despite the amount of exceptional wine being produced in Washington, the region remains somewhat unknown in many areas of the country.

“There is still some relative ignorance about the quality that is coming out of Walla Walla and out of Washington when you get out to the rest of the country,” Bledsoe says. “It’s still very Napa centric.” Both a wine lover and a strong advocate for the Washington wine industry, Bledsoe used the opportunity to give a message he firmly believes.

“I believe Washington is not just another wine region,” Bledsoe says. “This is a wine region that is producing some of the very best wines in the world.” Comparing Washington and California he says, “I think are we’re delivering better quality and better value at every price point.”

Bledsoe says that Doubleback’s mission will continue to be focusing on the production of a single wine. He plans to increase production as the winery’s vineyard sources mature over time. “The goal,” he says, “is to get into a range where we actually turn it into a viable business instead of just an expensive hobby.”

As the winery continues to progress, Bledsoe has made a number of changes. He sold his Flying B Vineyard in the Columbia Valley and purchased another vineyard in the southern section of the Walla Walla Valley. This vineyard was subsequently named after Bledsoe’s late father-in-law, Bob Healy.

Bledsoe says that there is some irony in giving the site his father-in-law’s name. “He and I had this on-going debate forever and ever about wine,” Bledsoe says. “He was one of these guys that thinks its just pure marketing, and there’s no difference between a $10 bottle and a $100 bottle. Now I’m getting the last word. We’ll make some kick-ass wine from the vineyard named after him.”

Despite having a well-known name and signing on one of the state’s best winemakers, Bledsoe says that succeeding in the industry is still not easy. “You literally have to do everything right,” he says. “The quality has got to be there. The marketing has got to be there. You’ve got to get face-to-face with people and tell the story. If you touch all of the bases, then you’ve got a shot. If you miss on any one of them then you’re behind the eight ball a little bit.”

While four years removed from the NFL, Bledsoe continues to have an interest in the sport – and fans continue to have interest in him. Bledsoe was recently voted by New England Patriots fans into the teams’ Hall of Fame. The Bledsoe family will travel back to New England for the induction in September – assuming there is an NFL season.

Bledsoe, for one, believes the current labor dispute will ultimately be resolved. “I think they all recognize that they’d be killing the Golden Goose,” he says. “It’s all fun and games until you start missing actual football games. That’s when you’re going alienate your fan base. Fans don’t want to see the billionaires arguing with the millionaires over money. It doesn’t really resonate with people.” Amen.

Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2008 $85
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Dark in color. Aromas of cherries, raspberries, earth, espresso, licorice, woodspice, and a touch of herbal notes on an aromatically complex, compelling wine. Rich, ripe, and wound up tightly at present with a dense core of fruit, earth flavors, and soft, beautifully refined tannins. A thirty plus second finish. Give one to two years but will be worth the wait. 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, and 7% Petite Verdot. Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge, Figgins Estate, and LeFore vineyards. Aged 22 months in French oak (60% new). 14.4% alcohol. 900 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.