Put Dan Marino and Damon Huard in a room with a bottle of wine, and you don’t even need to talk football. The two quarterbacks are plenty entertaining discussing fermented grape juice.
They’ve shared this passion since 1997, when Huard joined the Miami Dolphins and Marino helped the young quarterback realize that a good drink wasn’t relegated to beer or rum and Coke. Marino, who was near the end of a Hall of Fame career, taught Huard how to appreciate wine, and he even introduced Huard, a Washington native, to his own state’s best stuff. Soon after, the two vowed to start a winery together one day.
That day is now.
On Thursday, Marino and Huard sat in a conference room at the Washington State Wine Commission, preparing to unveil Passing Time, a clever name for their cabernet sauvignon, which will be sampled Thursday during a private party. The wine is still maturing in barrels, and 500 cases of Passing Time will be released in 2015, priced at $75 per bottle.
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If you think this is two former jocks goofing off and having fun with their money, you’d be mistaken. Marino and Huard are far more ambitious. They’ve partnered with Seattle businessmen Kevin Hughes and Doug Donnelly, and they all are “sparing no expense to make Washington’s next great cabernet,” Huard said.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be for people to take us seriously,” added Huard, the former University of Washington quarterback who played eight seasons in the NFL and on two Super Bowl teams with the Patriots. “We’re not just two quarterbacks doing this because we can. We’re doing it right in the vineyard, and we’re doing it right in the cellar.”
They’re working with an impressive local winemaker named Chris Peterson, who is a partner with Marty Taucher at Avennia, a well-respected Washington winery since it started in 2011.
As recognizable as the names Marino and Huard are, Peterson wasn’t going to attach his work to the project just because of that. He says the quarterbacks are sincere in their desire to produce great wine.
“It wasn’t just some guys saying, ‘Here’s some money. Make us some wine,’ ” said Peterson, whom Huard calls “O” to differentiate the winemaker from new Washington coach Chris Petersen. “Sometimes, people come with unrealistic expectations like that. Do I want to work with Dan Marino and Damon Huard? Heck yeah, I do. But the project had to be enticing. This has been challenging and interesting.”
Marino grins as he listens to Huard speak about the entire endeavor. Huard’s passion is evident when he starts detailing how particular they’ve been about the grapes and the barreling. He speaks effusively about owning a business, designing a website, learning how to convert dollars to euros and even working with the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
“I’ve never started my own business,” Huard said. “There are so many moving parts, it’s fascinating to me.”
Marino jokes, “I didn’t teach him all this.”
Marino grew up in Pittsburgh, and his uncle made wine. It wasn’t advanced as this project, however.
“It was a six-pack — no labels,” Marino said, laughing.
Marino, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, can’t be as involved daily as Huard. But it’s just as important to him to create a top-notch wine. The standard is so high, Marino says, that the group once decided to sell 35 percent of their juice because they didn’t think the grapes were up to their standards.
They’re taking a purist’s approach to it all.
“We want it to express place clearly,” Peterson said. “We want to celebrate Washington with it. We don’t filter. No chemicals. More is less. You can theorize how it’s going to taste, but the wine is going to decide that.”
The wine is a blend of 86 percent cabernet sauvignon, 9 percent merlot and 5 percent cab franc. When it’s ready to be sold, it will have been aged 21 months in new French oak barrels.
Thursday’s private party is a significant step in a dream that began 15 years ago. As expected, the old quarterbacks will treat it like game day.
“The football analogy is that we’ve worked out a great game plan, and now it’s all about execution,” Marino said.
And we all remember how spectacular Marino was when the game began.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277
On Twitter @JerryBrewer