WineInk: Quarterbacks and their wines

An inspired wine list featuring over 350 labels, including 7 Cellars, can be found at the Vail edition of Elway's in the Lodge at Vail.
Courtesy photo from Elway’s |


2014 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2014 vintage of Doubleback is of championship caliber, but with just a couple of thousand cases produced it may be more elusive than Drew Bledsoe was when he played. Dominated by 89% Cabernet Sauvignon with a small amount of Petit Verdot, Malbec and a thimble full of Merlot, this husky Walla Walla Bordeaux Blend is full on the palate and, at this stage, long on tannin. A keeper for sure.

If you are an NFL football fan, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

The regular season is winding down and the race for the Super Bowl is heating up. While fans of the Denver Broncos, and wine country favorites the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, may have little to celebrate this year, that should not deter us from settling down to watch all the postseason action with a great bottle of wine.

Against that backdrop, my editor sent me a missive this week touting the wines of Elway. That would be wines of the Denver Broncos’ general manager and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, John Elway. I did not know that the man, who had won a pair of Super Bowls as a player and a third in his current role as an executive, was in the wine business. But I did know that he operates the superb Elway-branded steakhouses in Denver and Vail along with one in the Denver airport, where I spend considerable time. It would only make sense then that the QB-restaurateur would have his own wine label to sell with those steaks.

Elway, who famously wore the number 7 as a Bronco, christened his wines 7 Cellars. The label produces wines made from fruit sourced in California’s Napa Valley, including chardonnay from Carneros and cabernet sauvignon from the Rutherford AVA. The wines are made in conjunction with Rob Mondavi Jr., who is a wine icon and Napa Valley pioneer Robert Mondavi’s grandson. I have not tasted the wines, but given the pedigree of the winemaking team I would not hesitate to order a bottle on my next visit to Elway’s.

“For well over a decade, it has always been a vision of mine to take the celebratory spirit and experience of my restaurants and capture it in a bottle of wine,” states Elway on the website. “I hope you savor these wines while celebrating one of life’s finer moments.”

Like maybe a future championship?

7 Cellars wines are produced in partnership with ONEHOPE vineyard and winery, which is a new company based in Napa and aspires to marry great wines with great causes. According to 7 Cellars, the wine project “makes an impact with each bottle sold by supporting Team Rubicon (a Los Angeles-based charitable organization), that works to unite the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams in natural disasters. Most recently, Team Rubicon was at the forefront of hurricane relief efforts and continues to carry out operations in Puerto Rico, Florida and Houston.”

Of course, John Elway is not the only former NFL quarterback who has aspired to make great wines. Joe Montana, who had some classic duels with Elway both as a 49er and a Kansas City Chief, partnered with winemaker Ed Sbragia to make a cabernet under the Montagia moniker. And Rick Mirer, a former Notre Dame star who played for the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders in his NFL days, headed to Napa Valley after his playing career ended to found the Mirror Wine Company.

But for my money, the best wines being made by former NFL quarterbacks are products of Washington State. Another Hall of Famer, Dan Marino, who spent his entire career with the Miami Dolphins, is in partnership with his former backup quarterback, Damon Huard, producing wines under the Passing Time label in Woodinville, Wash. Far from being “hobby wines,” the pair works with former DeLille Cellars assistant winemaker Chris Peterson in sourcing wines from many of Washington’s top vineyards, including Champoux and Klipsun.

But the most promising foray into wine business by an ex-NFL signal-caller may well be a project called “Doubleback” from Walla Walla, Wash., started by former Patriot Drew Bledsoe and his childhood friend and winemaking superstar Chris Figgins of Leonetti fame. The ex-Patriot field general, whose near-catastrophic chest injury in New England in 2001 allowed Tom Brady to get a little playing time, returned to the place he grew up to plant a vineyard and make stunning Bordeaux blends. Doubleback has become a major player in the Washington wine scene.

While Figgins is involved in other projects today, his former assistant, Josh McDaniels, is now the lead winemaker at Doubleback and the Bledsoe Family Wines label. Ironically, another Josh McDaniels is Brady’s current offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots. Small world, indeed.

Yes, quarterbacks get all the glory on the gridiron. Now let’s see if they can produce championships in the vineyards, as well.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at

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