That Damon Huard, following a successful college and pro career in football, would return to his native Washington state and start up a winery probably isn’t a huge surprise.
The guy who introduced Huard to how good Washington wine could be probably will be a surprise.
Huard, born in Yakima, played football for his Puyallup high school and was the starting quarterback for three seasons for the University of Washington Huskies from 1993 to 1995. He moved on to the NFL and played several years for the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, ending his playing days in 2009.
But it was while he was 2,700 miles across the county in Miami from 1997 to 1999, where Huard, a rum and Coke drinker, was schooled in Washington wine.
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Dolphin great Dan Marino would host parties for his teammates. Already a big fan of Washington wine, Marino noted where Huard was from.
“He was poring all these great Washington wines, Quilceda Creek, Col Solare, Leonetti, and asking if I’d ever tried them,” Huard said. “’These are right in your back yard,’ he said.”
Talks of a partnership began quickly, and the pair went looking to buy a vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills as early as 2001. That deal didn’t come to fruition, but that didn’t end the partnership.
“It remained our intention to get into the business,” Huard said. “We both have a passion for this. We really believe in Washington wine. This isn’t a vanity project. We’re not just looking for something to invest in. And we’ve got to prove that.”
They’re proving it now as they prepare to release their inaugural bottling, 500 cases of a Cabernet Sauvignon blend with fruit from the Discovery Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills balanced with Merlot from Red Mountain’s Klipsun Vineyard and Cabernet Franc from the Champoux Vineyard near Prosser.
The partners secured Chris Petersen as their winemaker, who is partner with Marty Taucher at the Avennia winery in Woodinville where Passing Time is made.
“Chris and I hit it off,” Huard said, and was quickly sold on their focus of making big Cabs.
The wine was bottled this June following 21 months in French oak and will be released in spring of 2015.
The goal is to work up to production of 1,000 cases a year, “but always Cabernet,” Huard said. And always wine that celebrates the individual vineyards.
Huard hopes to eventually produce a Horse Heaven Hills Cab, a Red Mountain Cab and a Walla Walla Cab, which would allow wine lovers to taste the differences among the separate terroirs.
“We want to celebrate that. Have that same variety, that same vintage, but they can be so different. We want to celebrate the place,” he said.
With Passing Time, Huard and Marino aren’t hiding their connection to football, but they’re also not plastering their photos on the label. The bottle makes a subtle reference, a raised cross-hatching that suggests a football’s laces.
“But are those laces? Are they the posts in a vineyard?” Huard said.
Mario’s wife, Claire, suggested the name, which already was the name of the Marinos’ vacation home. But it fits nicely.
“It’s what you’re doing when you’re with your family, you’re hanging out with friends, enjoying an awesome glass of wine. You’re passing time,” Huard said. “But, also, when it’s third down in the red zone and you’re down by six with seconds left in the game and you’ve got to score, it’s passing time.”
Passing Time is taking reservations for its 2012 Cabernet, $75 a bottle, $900 a case at its website, www.PassingTime.com.-- Jon Bauer is Wine Press Northwest’s Salish Sea correspondent. The longtime newspaperman lives near La Conner, Wash.