University of Washington

How wine became former UW star Damon Huard's latest touchdown

The Huskies broadcast team of Bob Rondeau, left, and Damon Huard calling the University of Washington's 49-0 defeat of Sacramento at Husky Stadium on September 12, 2015. (Photography by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)
The Huskies broadcast team of Bob Rondeau, left, and Damon Huard calling the University of Washington's 49-0 defeat of Sacramento at Husky Stadium on September 12, 2015. (Photography by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

Several cars are parked in front of a two-toned brown building at an industrial park. It might sound like a normal business day until realizing it's Saturday and the other parking lots are empty.

This unassuming visual is home to one of the most revered wines within the state of Washington. Perhaps a greater revelation than the location itself, is knowing a key figure powering this operation is actually one of the most familiar names in Washington Huskies' history.

Damon Huard isn't standing around and admiring a glass of his wine. He's running around carrying heavy boxes of it, going from Point A to Point B while making sure everything for his latest tasting is in order.

"We always said we're going to make 500 cases of wine and kinda have fun with it and be a hobby," Huard said. "We'll sell a little bit of it and maybe pay for it and drink the rest of it. But it's taken off and it's certainly exceeded my expectations."

Huard's venture is known as Passing Time. The winery's name came from South Florida resident Claire Marino. Her husband is one of Huard's business partners. You might know him as Dan Marino.

From 1997 to 2000, Huard and Marino were teammates with the Miami Dolphins. The two quarterbacks became close friends and they bonded over wine. Marino joked how he got Huard to grow from being a "rum and Coke guy" to someone who became a wine aficionado.

They talked about getting into the wine business but wanted to wait for the right time. Huard retired in 2009 and the two revisited the idea shortly thereafter. The former teammates got together with a few business partners plus Chris Peterson, an award-winning winemaker, to create what's become a successful venture.

"He's awesome. If it wasn't for him — because I'm in Miami — and he's here and right down the street from his house. He's on top of it," Marino said. "He does a hell of a job. He has a great passion for it. I do too but I'm not here every day. It's been a lot of fun and so far I think it's been pretty successful."

Marino, who grew up in Pittsburgh, said his grandfather and father both were into making homemade wine. That's how the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame passer developed an interest.

Huard was born in Yakima, raised in Puyallup and went on to lead the Huskies to an Orange Bowl win over the Miami Hurricanes. At the time, he was one of UW's better-known home-grown faces, and left as the program's then-all-time leading passer.

They became fast friends, and Marino would often have Huard over for dinner.

"I'd give him some Washington wine. Things like Col Solare or Quilceda Creek," Marino said. "I'm like, 'Dude. You know this is right in your backyard and you don't know anything about it.'"

Enter Peterson.

He's also a Washington native who went from being a fan of wine to becoming one of the state's leading makers. Petersen produced award-winning blends while at DeLille Cellars until becoming the co-owner at Avennia Winery. He was named Seattle Magazine's Winemaker of the Year in 2017.

Damon Huard, left, Chris Peterson and Dan Marino are the driving forces behind Passing Time, a Woodinville winery. Huard and Marino are retired NFL quarterbacks, and Peterson is winemaker and co-owner of Avennia Wines in Woodinville. Courtesy Passing Time

Peterson said he and Huard had ties to the same financial adviser who put them in contact once the former UW star said he wanted to get into the business.

"Everyone's first advice when someone wants to get into the wine industry is, 'Don't do it. What are you thinking?'" Peterson said with a laugh. "But Damon persisted and the next step was we had dinner. ... We talked about the philosophy of wine making and said, 'Well, do you want to make our wine?' So, I'm like, 'Sure. Sure. That'd be awesome.'"

Passing Time's 2014 Red Cabernet Sauvignon recently received a 92 rating and was given an 'Editor's Choice' designation by Wine Enthusiast. The assessment falls within the 90-93 range which the publications deems to be "excellent" and "highly recommended."

The company has produced eight different wines. One of them, the 2016 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, was in such high demand that it sold out nearly 20 minutes before Passing Time's latest tasting.

Huard used the phrase "labor of love" when describing the pursuit of making the best wine possible. It's evident from what's inside the warehouse.

Light brown wooden barrels are stacked what feels like 30 feet high. Each one of them, big and round, are Cabernet-stained from where the wine has been poured inside of them.

Their latest expo has a unique feel. It possesses the normal scenes at a wine tasting. Someone's pouring 100 or so glasses of wine for guests to enjoy over the course of a 30-to-45-minute span.

A flat-screen television shows different vineyards as the soundtrack of music from the 1970's and 1980's toes the line between being subtle yet its enough of an audible scene-setter.

It all seems normal until Marino, who still commands a room with his 6-foot-4 frame and distinct voice, emerges from the back room wearing a dark jacket and blue jeans.

He walks around introducing himself although everyone in the room is quite aware of who he is. The same goes for Huard .

"It's like the stars have aligned with the winemaker we were able to get in Chris Peterson, the fruit I'm able to get from these older, established vineyards over in eastern Washington were my dad grew up and my great-grandparents grew grapes in the early 1900's," Huard said. "Now we're making about 1,500 cases and we've been so spoiled with our reviews and our loyal customer base that has made this whole thing happen."

But again, there is a lot of work.

Huard reinforced making wine in Washington is different. He said it's not as simple as going to a chateau's vineyard to pick grapes and the wine is made on site.

Passing Time is located in Woodinville; it sources its content from several vineyards in eastern Washington. In Huard's mind, that's what makes their wine unique.

"I really try to be hands on. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm the delivery boy," Huard said. "I drive to the back of El Gaucho in Tacoma and deliver the wine. To me, I felt like we had to have that personal touch early on for people to take us seriously. I want to have that relationships with the restaurants and the folks.

"The Tacoma Boys in Puyallup. The Metropolitan Market Store on Proctor in Tacoma. They've seen me. I've delivered. That's the difference here at Passing Time."

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark