“All these farmers, it all starts with them,” says Damon Huard, president and co-owner of Passing Time in Woodinville, Washington.
Huard’s wine journey began in 1997 after he was signed by the NFL’s Miami Dolphins as a backup to Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. “Dan was just a big wine guy,” Huard says. “Every time I’d go to his house, I would get to taste fine wine.”
Some of Marino’s cellar included wines from Washington. Huard was born in Yakima, Washington, raised in Puyallup, and was starting quarterback for the University of Washington Huskies. The Washington wines caught his attention.
After Huard joined the New England Patriots in 2000, he and starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe, also a Washington native, would pour the state’s wines for their teammates and friends. (After he retired, Bledsoe started Doubleback in 2008.) An interest quickly became a passion.
“I’d come home in the off-season, and I’d meet so many of the people involved in the Washington wine industry,” Huard says. “I was gathering all this information, knowing that when I was retired from the NFL and back home, I was going to try to do something.”
In the NFL, Huard was blocked behind the likes of Dan Marino, Drew Bledsoe, and Tom Brady. In the wine industry, however, Huard has had uncanny good fortune.
Famed Horse Heaven Hills grower Paul Champoux played high school basketball against Huard’s father. Renowned Walla Walla grower Norm McKibben’s daughter lives next door to Huard. When Huard was looking to start a winery, his financial advisor just happened to work with one of the most talented winemakers in Washington, Chris Peterson (Avennia, Liminal).
“I’ve had the great fortune of meeting the right people at the right time,” Huard says humbly.
In 2012, Huard and Marino decided to start a winery together, with Peterson as winemaker. They named the endeavor Passing Time in a callout to their NFL careers.
While some sports stars launch brands as vanity projects, even a short conversation with Huard reveals a knowledge and passion for wine that runs deep. Wine, meanwhile, was always part of Marino’s life, with family members making home wine when he was growing up. “It was just part of his blood,” Huard says.
Passing Time’s production started with 500 cases of a Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. Over the last decade-plus, the winery has expanded its offerings to include a Red Mountain and Walla Walla Valley Cabernet, a reserve-level Cabernet, a red blend, a limited production Merlot, and a Chardonnay. The focus, however, has always been Cabernet Sauvignon.
From the very beginning, Passing Time’s success has been powered in large part by immaculate vineyard selections. “Sourcing the very, very best fruit is where it all starts and ends,” Huard says. “Then it’s just about the artistry and the passion of Chris Peterson.”
Huard runs Passing Time as a “lean” business. Production remains limited at 3,000 cases annually. Huard’s day job is director of community and external engagement for the University of Washington Huskies.
“None of us are getting rich, but we’re all having fun,” Huard says of the winery. “I just want to make great Washington wine and not have too many headaches along the way.”
Production might be modest, but the wines speak for themselves. Passing Time is not just making great Washington wine as Huard has hoped. It’s making extraordinary Washington wine.
Recent vintages show Passing Time unequivocally belongs in the upper echelon of Washington wineries. The Passing Time Cabernet Sauvignons are now among the very best being produced in Washington.
“I am blown away how this thing has gone from a couple of dumb jocks trying to put something together into something that I hope the Washington wine industry is proud of,” Huard says.
That pride surely runs both ways. Passing Time is Northwest Wine Report’s Winery of the Year for 2023.
Images courtesy of Passing Time.
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