NEWS / FEATURES
Maura and Drew Bledsoe. ##Photo by Barbara Gonzalez
Bledsoe Family Wines hospitality
associate Austen Law takes care
of guests at the new Bend location. ##Photo by Barbara Gonzalez

Bledsoe in Bend

Former NFL star opens Oregon tasting room 

When it came time to open a tasting room and wine bar in a new market, it only made sense that football star-turned-winery-owner Drew Bledsoe would choose Bend.

The Central Oregon city is, after all, his chosen home. Beyond that, Bledsoe and Josh McDaniels, president and director of winemaking for Doubleback and Bledsoe Family Winery in the Walla Walla Valley, saw an opportunity to establish a greater presence for wine in a booming community better known for its craft breweries than Cabernets.

“We feel that the timing is right to pair great wine with the area’s beloved outdoor-oriented culture, and to do so in a way that is both unique and fun,” Bledsoe says. “This has long been a dream for us.”

The Bledsoe Family Winery tasting room opened in mid-August at the northeast corner of the Box Factory, a trendy historic-renovation district midway between downtown Bend and the Old Mill shopping district. A formal grand-opening event for wine club members is planned for early September.

Bledsoe is the second Walla Walla winemaker to open a Bend tasting room. Va Piano and owner Justin Wylie previously established a tasting room in the Old Mill in 2015.

At nearly 3,600 square feet, the Bledsoe tasting room features a marquee created from wine-barrel staves. Large roll-top doors open to a street-side patio, creating an indoor-outdoor ambience whenever weather cooperates. A mural of the family’s Flying B Ranch in Ellensburg, Washington, provides a backdrop for indoor seating; an upstairs mezzanine is open to private tastings and special events.

Doubling back

Bledsoe grew up in Walla Walla and earned all-American honors as a quarterback at Washington State University. He then launched a 14-year career in the National Football League with New England, Buffalo and Dallas, climaxed by Super Bowl and Pro Bowl appearances. He retired in 2006, and in 2007 moved to Bend — where his wife, Maura, had deep roots. Her uncle, Bill Healy, founded the Mount Bachelor ski resort in 1959.

It was the same year, 2007, that Bledsoe “doubled back” to his roots, to the town where he had been a high school star, and began a new career in the wine business. Today, his Doubleback wines are among the most exclusive in the Valley, with Cabernet Sauvignons fetching between $98 and $145 a bottle. Doubleback is offered in Walla Walla by appointment only, at a new state-of-the-art winery that opened in April 2018. In Bend, those wines will also be available for tasting and purchase by appointment.

“When Drew came out of the NFL and started a winery, he wanted to base the business on a single quality wine,” says winemaker McDaniels, a protégé of Chris Figgins of Leonetti winery.

The pair has perfected a Cabernet of understated elegance, rich and full-bodied, with flavor and balance. “We want a wine that is approachable on opening, but which peaks between five and 20 years,” McDaniels says.

Grapes chosen for the Doubleback label are “the best of the best,” he says. The second tier goes into the Bledsoe Family Wines — Cabernets, Syrah, Chardonnay, rosé and a red blend. These are priced in the $32 to $54 range.

Oregon vineyards

It’s really not a reach for a Walla Walla wine to be showcased in Oregon. Although Walla Walla is a Washington-focused AVA, “it dips significantly into Oregon,” Bledsoe points out. “Many of the best vineyards are in Oregon — including three of our four estate vineyards.”

The McQueen Vineyard crests a 1,440-foot ridgeline in the Seven Hills district. “A lot of the structure in our Doubleback wines comes from here,” Bledsoe says. Wind-blown glacial loess has left a shallow soil over fractured basalt, through which stressed vines must work their way.

The Bob Healy Vineyard stands 300 to 500 feet lower, also in the Seven Hills. Warmer and less windy than the McQueen Vineyard, with loamier soil, it “creates plush, round, voluptuous wines,” Bledsoe explains.

The LeFore Vineyard is in The Rocks, a sub-AVA occupying an ancient riverbed. Although The Rocks is best known for its Syrah, Bledsoe says the Cabernet grapes harvested here add “a cool minerality” to his wines.

In addition to the Walla Walla grapes, the Bledsoe Family Winery last year produced an Oregon Pinot Noir from Ribbon Ridge grapes. This year, the winery is considering purchases from other Oregon vineyards.

Tasting room

“The Bledsoe Family Wines allow us the freedom to be a little more experimental,” Bledsoe says. “These wines are priced within the reach of more people — and they allow us to focus on what grapes will make it into Doubleback.

“I hope I never lose touch with what the general public likes to consume,” he adds.

Annual production of Bledsoe Family Wines is 7,000 cases. Doubleback, an allocated brand, is a mere 3,300 cases.

Oregon operations manager Sunshine Willis, who spent the previous nine years in management at the Sunriver Resort, oversees the Bend tasting room. Guests can sample a flight of Bledsoe Family wines or enjoy an individual glass. Discounts of 20 percent on the glass or bottle are offered to wine club members.

Food is limited to small plates such as cheese, olives and almonds. But the Box Factory offers numerous dining options no more than a few steps away, and Bledsoe guests are welcome to bring their own food.

Located at 555 N.W. Arizona Ave., Suite 198, Bend, the tasting room is open daily, noon to 8 p.m. For details, visit www.bledsoefamilywinery.com.

 

 

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