Like many retirees, Drew Bledsoe decided after leaving his career that he would return to his roots. Unlike most retirees, however, Bledsoe was stepping off the playing field as an NFL quarterback and into one of the most idyllic wine regions in the U.S.

At the ripe old age of 35, Bledsoe returned to his Washington roots to plant new ones: His original estate vineyard, known as McQueen, was planted in 2007. (McQueen is a family name for the Bledsoes; it’s both Drew’s middle name as well as his son Stuart’s). His estate-driven winery, Doubleback — named in reference to his return back home — debuted the following year. Both are located in the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

To produce his wines, Bledsoe hired Josh McDaniels — no, not that Josh McDaniels, though it seems as if Bledsoe is unable to escape his links to the New England Patriots — and together the two, plus Bledsoe’s wife Maura, have expanded the business to include three additional vineyards within the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

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In 2018, a new Doubleback Winery and tasting room debuted on property that is home to one of Bledsoe’s four parcels, the Flying B vineyard. In 2019, the Bledsoe Family Winery, the second label from the Bledsoe and McDaniels tandem, opened a tasting room in Bend, Ore. With multiple successful projects already under their belts together, Bledsoe and McDaniels announced a new collaboration, the Bledsoe-McDaniels label, focused on Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley and Syrah from the Walla Walla Valley.

VinePair spoke with Bledsoe to learn about his journey in wine, from his first epiphany to his desert-island favorite, along with what he’s currently drinking when it’s not made from grapes.

1. What’s your desert-island drink, whether a bottle of wine or a beer or cocktail?

If I had to drink only one wine forever I would have to go with an appropriately aged Barolo. I will always love Walla Walla Cabernet, but the experiences I’ve had with great Barolo are pretty magical. A friend shared a glass of 1961 Conterno last year and I’m certain it is the best glass of wine I have ever had! Here’s to great friends!

2. What’s the first drink you remember ever enjoying?

My first epiphany wine was a 1998 Viader Cabernet. I remember having a sip at the top of the stairs after putting the kids to bed. I walked downstairs and sat down, and a full minute later the sip was still getting more interesting. That was when I figured out that great wine was a far different and more interesting beverage than the beer I’d consumed through college.

3. How have your tastes in wine and other drinks changed over the years?

When we first started drinking wine, we started with Napa Cabernet just like so many people. I loved the fruit- forward, big-oak style initially. The wines were generous and easy to enjoy. In the years since, I have become more enamored with balance and elegance over pure power. Thankfully, balance and elegance are hallmarks of wines from the Walla Walla Valley! The wines made in our valley make me proud to call Walla Walla my hometown.

4. What do you typically order when you’re out with friends or hanging out at home?

If we aren’t drinking Walla Walla Cabernet or Syrah we will likely be sipping on some Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It is a great privilege to live in the Pacific Northwest where we have our own versions of Bordeaux and Burgundy right in our backyard!

5. Is there a type of wine, or another type of drink, that you’re just starting to explore right now, and what’s exciting about it for you?

I have made it a mission to learn to make the perfect Manhattan. I haven’t achieved perfection yet but I will continue to practice until I have it nailed down.

6. What’s your favorite drinking destination, and why?

My wife and I made our first trip to Italy a few years ago. We spent time in Tuscany and fell in love with the country. Neither of us have Italian heritage but we feel like we are Italian at heart. The food and wine combined with the lifestyle and friendly people really resonated with us. We can’t wait to go back.

7. You mentioned learning to make a great Manhattan; what else are you drinking besides wine these days, and why?

My wife and I both really like great tequila. If we go to dinner and we aren’t drinking wine I will generally experiment with some tequila on the rocks.