Hello friends. We have access today to small parcels of a pair of wines from one of the most exciting Washington wineries to launch in the past five years: Damon Huard and Dan Marino’s Passing Time.
It’s not really a surprise that this winery’s star has risen so rapidly. It was clear from the very first time I met Damon Huard that this was not going to be in any way a half-ass celebrity wine label. I still remember walking into Avennia and catching Damon talking to Chris Peterson about vineyard spacing. Not branding or labels. Not sales or marketing. Geeky vineyard talk! It seemed auspicious at the time, and it seems auspicious today.
Now then, the story of how this all came to be. The genesis of the project was a period in the late ‘90s when Dan and Damon overlapped with the Miami Dolphins. Marino was already a wine fanatic at that point, and he surprised Huard (a Washington native) with the fact that a solid chunk of his cellar came from Washington (wineries like Andrew Will, Leonetti, Col Solare, all three of which, I have to say, were making phenomenal wine in the late ‘90s; fine taste, Mr. Marino!).
Damon can tick off multiple connections to Washington wine: his great grandparents were grape farmers (okay, the grapes were Concord, but close enough); his grandpa played high school basketball with Paul Champoux (Champoux Vineyard); and he married a girl from the Yakima Valley. So there was plenty of interest among both men in finding a way to move into Washington wine after retiring from football. With their shared love of Cabernet Sauvignon, and their connection to the Champoux family, the original plan was to wait until they could access Champoux Cabernet, but in the interim, they tasted Cabernets from a series of Champoux neighbors. One of those tastings featured Discovery Vineyard, and the guys had a “wow” moment (I’ll admit; I’ve had a few of those drinking Disco Cabs).
With a vineyard plan in place, they next set about securing a consulting winemaker, and they landed on Chris Peterson of Avennia. What I love about this project is that Damon and Dan are asking Chris for a different house style than he does for Avennia (If we think of the Avennia style as maybe 40/60 fruit elements/non-fruit elements, then we can think of Passing Time as Chris Peterson trying to achieve something closer to 70/30). I’m sure that’s part of what makes it interesting for Chris, as well, and it certainly makes it compelling from a Washington Cab-lover’s perspective. This is a fantastic opportunity to taste two Cabernets from the same vintage, treated quite similarly, but from two very different terroirs:
2015 Passing Time Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills
The Cabernet (88%) comes from Discovery (59%) and Champoux (29%), two of the finest sites in the state for Cab. There are also small amounts of Merlot (8%) and Cab Franc (4%), all aged for 21 months in 80% new French oak. Listed alc is 14.8%. This is a marvelous expression of Horse Heaven terroir, with all its signature graphitic minerality paired to the blackest of fruit. Despite the warm vintage, Chris Peterson just can’t seem to help making elegant, ageworthy, texturally gorgeous wines. This dazzles on its endless finish, which is awash in polished, espressoey tannins. The whole package is a balanced beauty.
2015 Passing Time Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley
The WWV bottling is 100% Cab, and it comes from two of the valley’s stalwart vineyards: Seven Hills (64%) and Pepper Bridge (36%). The proportion of new French oak is slightly lower here (60%), and listed alc is 14.9%. The nose is a dark brooder, featuring cassis fruit and loamy soil swaddled in appealing barrel notes of spice and cocoa powder. The palate is texturally lovely, silky and seamless and approachable as can be. Jeb lists the same 2018-2033 drinking windows in both reviews, but if it were me, I’d drink the Walla Walla Cab younger while waiting for the Horse Heaven bottling to unwind. What is exciting about this project is how different these two Cabernets are, a fine counterpoint to anyone pushing the narrative that Cab tastes like Cab and struggles to express its terroir.