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Former QB Drew Bledsoe Becomes Unlikely Lobbyist For Interstate Wine Sales


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe has been a lot of places since his glory days with the New England Patriots. He went on to play for Buffalo and Dallas and in his retirement, he returned to his hometown of Walla Walla, Washington, where he founded a winery. Bledsoe has not forgotten his New England fans. In fact, he wants people in Massachusetts to be able to buy his wine and, for that matter, other wines online.

The state won't let him. State law effectively says no wine shipments to your house from across state lines. So Drew Bledsoe is in Boston this week where he has been petitioning for a change and tweeting with the hashtag FreeTheGrapes. He joins us now. Welcome to the program.

DREW BLEDSOE: Thanks for having me on. I appreciate you taking the time. Yeah, it's been interesting for me. My latest career, I'm now a registered lobbyist in the state of Massachusetts, which is a realm I'm very unfamiliar with, but it's been good.

SIEGEL: What kind of a reception are you getting as a lobbyist in Boston?

BLEDSOE: You know, so far, it's been really good. And the reason that it's been good is this is a deal that really benefits everybody. You know, it benefits the consumer first. It obviously benefits, you know, the small businesses, which are these little wineries of which we have one. It also benefits the state. There'll be increased tax and licensing revenue.

SIEGEL: I would assume the argument in favor of this law is that doing away with it would hurt local state license to package stores, that their sales would diminish if people could order online.

BLEDSOE: That's the argument, but surprisingly enough, that argument ends up not being true. In Maryland, they studied it and they actually did better business once they allowed direct shipping. And the reason for that, quite simply is that, you know, you get more people trying new wines and involved in wine culture and, you know, they want to try something new, they run down to their local package store and pick something up.

SIEGEL: So how does it work? You turn out to the state legislature's office and after posing for the photo with a football in hand, you get down to talking about wine. Is that what...

BLEDSOE: Yeah, yeah. That's really kind of the way it works. Although I did discover yesterday that I actually can't even pose for a photograph with them because that could be misconstrued as something of value, which I - apparently in Massachusetts you cannot give anything of value as a lobbyist, so. But yeah, it is interesting. We end up talking about football for a little bit and then I try to steer the conversation toward wine and why it's important.

SIEGEL: Well, Massachusetts, we should say, is not the only state that still has a law banning this kind of wine shipment. I thought there was a federal court ruling that threw out these laws three years ago.

BLEDSOE: You know, one of the most difficult parts of the wine business is dealing with compliance in all the different states. You know, there are 39 other states that have made this happen and it's gone smoothly. If Massachusetts changes this law, hopefully, you know, the other states will follow suit.

SIEGEL: Drew Bledsoe, tell us a little bit about your transition in retirement from NFL quarterback to winery owner.

BLEDSOE: It's pretty scary, that transition. You know, the statistics for professional athletes when they retire are pretty alarming. You know, it's something like 70 percent of professional athletes are bankrupt within three years. In order to try and prevent that for myself, my wife and I sat down and we figured out a plan for retirement. It just so happens that my hometown where I grew up, out there in Walla Walla, produces some of the best wine grapes in the entire world.

And it's been fun to go back home and be part of a wine industry that still is just in its adolescence.

SIEGEL: You wrote this about the 2010 vintage of your wine Doubleback. I'm gonna quote now, "the nose exhibits the high toned floral notes we have made a hallmark, while also showing plum maraschino cherry, vanilla and Asian spice notes. On the palette, the wine exhibits the balance we continue to strive for, nicely integrated tannins, crisp acidity and a beautiful Walla Walla Valley fruit."

You speak fluent wine.

BLEDSOE: You know what? And you're hired. You sound better reading that than I do.

SIEGEL: I have no idea what I just said.

BLEDSOE: It's pretty funny. I do catch a lot of grief from my old football buddies, you know, who'll read some of that stuff and they'll call me and say, really? You're really writing about floral notes and integrated tannins? You know, what happened to you? I thought you were a manly guy. I thought you were a football guy.

SIEGEL: So you think your chances of getting this law changed in Massachusetts are pretty good?

BLEDSOE: I think our chances are pretty good. You know, the big issue we're facing right now is that, obviously, there are a lot of important issues that the state is dealing with. And trying to get them to give this one a little bit of attention so that it can get out of committee and actually be voted on is the next step. And the sooner that happens, the better. I really do think once it makes it out of committee and is voted on, I think it will be passed.

SIEGEL: Have you enjoyed the wine lobbying enough to consider a third career as a lobbyist after football and wine?

BLEDSOE: I think I'll probably - I'm probably going to be a retired lobbyist here in another couple weeks. It was interesting, but I don't think that's going to become a career for me.

SIEGEL: Well, Drew Bledsoe, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

BLEDSOE: I really appreciate the time. Thanks for having me on.

SIEGEL: That's former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who's in Massachusetts lobbying to try to get the ban on home delivery and online sales of wine in that state lifted. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.