Beer and football have been besties since the tail first let down its gate. Wine was considered more of a white tablecloth beverage best left for refined moments. Surprisingly, it has been the players who have marched steadily down the field into the vineyards. Washington State is home to two such labels: Passing Time, owned in part by former Miami Dolphins Damon Huard and Dan Marino, and Doubleback, owned by former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

We caught up with Huard and Bledsoe to find out how they made the shift from beer culture to wine aficionados, asking them about some of their favorite food and wine pairing. And while nachos may always pair best with a beer, wine has put together a convincing offense earning itself a spot at the tailgate.

Passing Time — Damon Huard

Damon Huard, Photo Credit Passing Time Winery, Woodinville, WA

A native of Eastern Washington, Damon Huard jokes that he had to travel 3,000 miles from home to learn about the fine wines coming from Washington State. In 1997, fellow Miami Dolphins teammate Dan Marino took the “young dumb rookie” under his wing, introducing Huard to his latest discovery — Washington wines like Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, and Pepper Bridge. Huard and Marino were hooked and the dream began.

In the early 2000’s, Huard spent much of his offseason back home in the Yakima Valley building relationships with farmers like Dick Boushey (Boushey Vineyard) and winemakers. His great-grandfather, Nelson Huard, farmed grapes and other crops well into his 80’s in Prosser, WA, where a road was named after him. Each day, Boushey drives down Huard Road traveling between vineyards. Huard’s father played basketball against Paul Champoux (Champoux Vineyard) who later became a big mentor to Huard during the early process of starting Passing Time. While he admits to enjoying a Pinot from time to time, Huard says Washington is where his family’s roots are and swears there’s no way he would go down to Duck country to make wine.

If you’re looking to pair your football with some fancy food, Huard’s go-to Passing Time pairings include Cabernet Sauvignon with Braised short ribs, Merlot with Eggplant parmesan, and Chardonnay with Grilled Copper River salmon and Tom Douglas’ Salmon Rub. If you're looking for a pairing that is just as good but takes less time, Huard recommends beef sliders with sautéed Walla Walla Sweets and Tim’s Cascade Potato Chips alongside the Passing Time Columbia Valley Red Wine.

Doubleback — Drew Bledsoe

Drew Bledsoe, Photo Credit Doubleback Winery, Walla Walla, Washington

During his 14-year career in the NFL, Drew Bledsoe kept his eye on the expanding wine industry in the Walla Walla Valley where he grew up. “Surprisingly, there were a lot of guys on the team that liked wine,” recalls Bledsoe. The Patriots wine guys would host blind tasting parties and Bledsoe would always throw some Pepper Bridge, Leonetti, L’Ecole No. 41 and the like into the mix of Bordeaux and California wines. With win after win for his Washington wine selections, Bledsoe experienced an epiphany. Maybe he could go home and make truly world-class wines.

In 2007, the retired NFL star returned to Walla Walla and planted McQueen vineyard. The next year he and his wife Maura founded Doubleback winery, an all-estate operation that now produces award-winning wines from four estate vineyards. They recently added a brand new winery and tasting room, located on Powerline Road in Walla Walla, to their growing portfolio.

At home, the Bledsoe family and friends sample many varieties of wine including a lot of Italian wines and Oregon Pinot noir, but as Drew says, “ultimately, Cabernet is always going to be number one.” He loves the balance of Washington State wines -- less extracted than other New World wines and not as austere as many European wines.

Bledsoe’s favorite Doubleback pairings:

“When a burger is done truly right…” — and by that he means good quality ground beef, a little Worcestershire sauce, some French onion soup mix, Cougar Gold cheddar from Pullman, and a bun that’s toasted perfectly crisp on the inside and soft on the outside — “it deserves a glass of wine.” Try it with Bledsoe Family Winery’s Flying B 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon or even a bottle of Doubleback 2016 Stolen Horse Syrah.

For an elevated tailgate appetizer, serve some freshly shucked PNW oysters with a crisp bottle of Doubleback 2018 Healy Rosé. “Too many rosés are an afterthought. We give Josh (winemaker Josh McDaniels) carte blanche to kill it.”