Early in Kyle MacLachlan’s foray into winemaking, he learned an important lesson: Don’t forget to spit. The Twin Peaks star and Yakima native was testing out blends for Pursued by Bear, the cabernet sauvignon he’d partnered on with Walla Walla’s Dunham Cellars, when he realized he was getting tipsy. “I learned very early that you’ve gotta keep your wits about you.” He’s learned a lot more in the last decade, not the least of which is how to handle the respect that comes from earning glowing reviews in Wine Spectator. Because his is no vanity project. It’s a damn good glass of wine. —Matthew Halverson
The adage that it takes a large fortune to make a small fortune in the wine business is absolutely true. It is incredibly expensive to buy the quality of grapes that you need. Initially—and only because I knew people in Napa—I thought this is something I should or could do in Napa. But it became clear quickly that it wasn’t going to happen. The grapes themselves were outrageously expensive.
I attended Food and Wine’s Best New Chefs event in 2000 as a celebrity ambassador. I remember speaking off the cuff saying, “Someday I will be standing in front of you with my wine.”
My wife said, “Why don’t you look at Washington? You’re from there. You have a story already in place.” She recognized early on that the story is a huge component. It can really help give the wine a setting and an interest to a potential drinker. I had this idea that Washington wouldn’t be as romantic as Napa, which is quite a magical place. But I thought, You know, we will make our own magic in Walla Walla.
The process in the vineyard I understand a little bit, but the aging process is so interesting. I remember tasting the 2005 for the first time after six months in barrel and then nine months in barrel and being very frightened about what was happening. It didn’t taste like anything that I linked to wine at all. I was like, “It’s kind of like grape juice—but not a very good tasting grape juice.”
Yeah, I’m pretty patient. But the patience is a by-product of being forgetful.
I have a couple cases of our first vintage in my home cellar, and I do find it difficult to be patient with that because I really want to drink it. But I also know there is a finite amount of it around; once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Something that I’m good at as an actor is coming in for a show, and once it is over I’m on to the next thing. But this is ongoing. When I started making wine, selling wine, promoting wine, I thought, Well okay, if I make the wine, they will sell it at the winery and people on the mailing list that are interested will buy it and that will be it. It will take care of itself. And it became clear early on that that wasn’t going to happen.
I remember the first review of our vintage better than I can remember any acting review. I was at a food and wine event in Beaver Creek, Colorado. This would have been ’09. I was going through the review section of Wine Spectator and saw Pursued by Bear, but I didn’t immediately think, That’s my wine. It didn’t even seem possible to me that it would be in there. Then I saw the 91 rating. I was alone in my hotel and I just had this, I don’t know, euphoric adrenaline rush. It was kind of a blur.
Because it was cool, 2010 was a difficult year. It meant that the amount of fruit that we had on the vine wasn’t going to completely ripen because it didn’t have enough energy. So we had to drop some fruit, and that can intensify the flavor. The wines we make are pretty voluptuous, and the ’10 and ’11 wines are a little leaner, a little more austere. But the flavor is there, the tannins are there. A good winemaker can make good wine with what they’re given. I just recently tasted the 2010, and it’s going to take a couple of years down or a really good decant before you have it.
I can recognize when a wine is good, but if you ask me to pick out the three or four notes that I’m getting, I would struggle. Like, I know I taste cherry and I know I taste a little lavender, but the descriptive words don’t come easily to me. I don’t know, maybe it’s the amount of coffee I drink.
I find I really enjoy the sales part of winemaking. The one-on-one is fun. And yeah, some doors have definitely been opened because people are curious to meet me, which I do use to my advantage. It provides me with an opportunity to come talk about the wine, and then when they taste it they say, “Wow, okay, so you are the real deal.”
Part of my motivation was an interest in making wine, but the other thing was that it would provide a reason for me to come home more frequently and see my dad. He was getting older, and I just felt bad that I was only getting back once a year, for Thanksgiving or Christmas. With him it was all about doing things together. So whether we were tasting wine, or playing golf, or gardening together, we were always doing something. It was an activity, and then the conversation would just bubble up from there. He passed a couple years back, but to be able to share the winemaking journey with him, that was just golden.
This article appeared in the October 2014 issue of Seattle Met.
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