Bledsoe Wine Estates is creating a Northwest vinous empire

Former NFL quarterback purchases new Walla Walla vineyard and winery, will open two new tasting rooms in 2023

This week Bledsoe Wine Estates, founded in 2007 by former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe and his wife Maura, announced the purchase of àMaurice Vineyard and its adjacent winery facility in Walla Walla Valley.

“It’s a really special piece of property,” says Josh McDaniels, general manager and director of winemaking. “We’re thrilled.”

The 2,000-square foot winery building and 20-acre vineyard are located in the Upper Mill Creek area of the valley. With plantings first established by the Figgins family (Leonetti CellarFIGGINSToil Oregon) in 1997 at their Upper Mill Creek Vineyard, the area has become renowned for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and, to a lesser extent, Syrah.

At the site, Bledsoe Wine Estates will open a tasting room for its Bledsoe | McDaniels label, a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Walla Walla Valley Syrah project that launched in 2019. The facility has a targeted opening date of Spring Release Weekend 2023. The winery also plans to open a Bledsoe | McDaniels tasting room in Willamette Valley in 2023 at the 80-acre Eola-Amity Hills property purchased last year.

McDaniels says the purchase of the àMaurice property is the realization of a long-held goal to own land in this region of the valley. “The whole time I've been [at Bledsoe Wine Estates], I’ve been looking for a piece of property in Mill Creek. I've tried forever.”

The reason is not just the top quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that comes from this area. For McDaniels, who grew up in this part of the valley, it’s much more personal.

“I've always loved that area,” he says. “It’s quintessential Walla Walla to me. It's the reservoir up there, it's the Mill Creek River, it's the mountains - the Blues, it's the trees, and the wheat fields.”

Indeed, the area is outrageously scenic. It also creates some of the best wines in the valley and will likely one day get its own appellation designation if local wineries so desire.

Upper Mill Creek is currently home to Walla Walla VintnersàMaurice, and Abeja, in addition to numerous vineyards. Figgins is establishing a wine cave in the area with plans to build a winery. The area has become increasingly popular of late, with Echolands purchasing 340 acres in 2020 and Jackson Family purchasing its first Washington vineyard there earlier this year.

McDaniels says the purchase of the site played out over time. In 2019, he was approached to see if he was interested in purchasing fruit from àMaurice Vineyard.

“I jumped at the opportunity,” McDaniels says. Eventually, he was introduced to the Schafer family and inquired about the availability of the property.

“I knew I was interested, but I could tell it was very emotional for [Tom Schafer],” McDaniels says. “It was very personal to me too.”

Currently, the new Bledsoe | McDaniels property is 12.5 acres planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Additional plantings next year will raise the acreage to 15. The winery has received fruit from this property since 2020. The Cabernet and Merlot from the vineyard will be used for the winery’s Doubleback label, dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon. The Syrah will go to Bledsoe | McDaniels.

With the purchase, Bledsoe Wine Estates now owns an astonishing 370 acres of land in Walla Walla Valley. The winery also owns 80 acres in Willamette Valley, creating a Northwest vinous empire. Approximately 115 of the combined acreage is currently planted. In addition to its Doubleback and Bledsoe | McDaniels labels, the winery also has Bledsoe Family Wines. With this sale, each winery will have tasting rooms in Walla Walla Valley. Bledsoe Wine Estates also has a tasting room in Bend, Oregon.

“The number one objective for me [when I became general manager] was estate vineyard development,” says McDaniels, who joined the winery in 2014. The goal for Doubleback has been to include different pieces of terroir from across Walla Walla Valley. “This was kind of the missing piece,” McDaniels says.

Despite the large amount of new acreage, McDaniels says production will not expand dramatically. Rather, estate fruit will be used to replace existing contracts. Production will increase slowly over time. Doubleback is well on its way to being completely estate focused.

“To be able to be really, truly an estate grown Cabernet now with Doubleback and have completely different terroirs to go into that wine has been just really rewarding and gratifying and exciting,” McDaniels says.

With its increased property, the winery also now has its own dedicated vineyard crew. The crew is employed year-round, has full health insurance, and has full retirement benefits.

“I can't talk enough about how positive that's been for all of us, that cultural shift with our crew and our employees,” McDaniels says. “Our business is to create genuine happiness for ourselves and our customers. That's it. All of our employees are part of that. Wine happens to be the medium that we get to give that experience to people.”

The Schafer family established àMaurice Cellars in 2004. Over the years, guided by winemaker Anna Schafer Cohen, the winery became known in large part for its Viognier, Malbec, and Bordeaux-style blends. The àMaurice 2010 Boushey Vineyard Grenache remains one of the finest examples of this variety I’ve ever had from Washington.

àMaurice stopped making wine in the 2019 vintage. The Schafer family will retain the name àMaurice Cellars and current inventory. The family will continue to sell the wine it has.

“We are elated to be passing all our hard work and vision, which has been intensely emotional and personal, to another true family enterprise,” the family said in an email to its customers. “We will miss our sweet vineyard, yet we are grateful that the Bledsoe and McDaniels families will carry on our legacy.”

Image by Richard Duval. 

Sean P. Sullivan

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