From the time he fought a galactic emperor as a desert warrior in 1984's Dune to his political fortitude, however fictional, as Portland mayor in Portlandia, Kyle MacLachlan has been one of the Pacific Northwest's most talented exports. Those talents extend beyond the silver screen and into the vine-bestrewn landscape of eastern Washington where, in Walla Walla, the Yakima-raised vintner has made wine since 2005. His label Pursued by Bear (first produced with pioneering winemaker Eric Dunham before he passed, now with Daniel Wampfler of Abeja Winery) is an apt thespian nod to Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale in which stage direction notes an actor's exit, "pursued by a bear." MacLachlan's pursuits, be them acting or grape crushing, take the 60-year-old from LA to New York to, occasionally, right back here to his home state.
Come spring, Pursued by Bear will release its latest lineup of vin: 2015 cabernet sauvignon, 2015 Baby Bear syrah, and, later in the season, 2018 Blushing Bear rosé. While MacLachlan relishes a cup of damn fine coffee—just as his character FBI agent Dale Cooper famously does in Twin Peaks—he, too, appreciates the deep, thrilling drama that can slowly unfurl inside a glass of red.
What are the similarities between being an actor and being a winemaker?
First and foremost it's a collaboration. When you're working on a film or television or even [on] stage, you're collaborating with other actors, with the director, with the editor—there's so many different elements that go on in the creation of a film or television. It's very collaborative in the wine world, too. I'm working with Dan, my winemaker, and we're working with the growers who we source our grapes from, so we have those relationships. I also have relationships with the crush facilities that I use at Dunham Cellars. So all of these pieces work together, as they do in the film and television world, to make this one thing that you're selling the public that hopefully they'll enjoy. Hopefully you make something worthwhile that will become a classic.
When you split time between LA, New York, and elsewhere, what is it about Washington or even the Pacific Northwest that brings you back?
I had the experience, when I was younger growing up in Yakima and then going to school in Seattle, of really wanting to move on, I think, which is natural for that age. You want to get out of Yakima, you want to go to Seattle; you want to get out of Seattle, you want to go someplace that's going to be the center of what we're doing, which was New York for me, for acting. I just happened to take a right turn and I ended up in Los Angeles instead, and then in Mexico City unexpectedly... And then as time goes on, of course, I would come back occasionally for visits and you begin to appreciate where you come from more: the stark beauty that is Yakima in the cold months, and the abundance and the buzzing, growing life that is there during the summer months. The vistas that I couldn't wait to get away from...I'm returning back. I step off the plane, I breathe in and smell that air, and I'm like, 'Wow this is so beautiful.'
What about western Washington?
I feel the same way about Seattle. I love going to Seattle. Okay, I went to school there in '77 and I go back now...tremendous change but still this culture of pleasure with what the Northwest has in abundance. Not only the fish that come up from Puget Sound and beyond, but also the vegetables and the foraging and the wine and the coffee... So, I return to this place where I went to school and spent a lot of time and, again, it feels like coming home.
You've been doing this for some 14, almost 15 years now. Have you noticed a change in the wine scene in Washington and in Walla Walla especially?
Yeah, definitely. I have noticed it and I think it's growing in spurts and starts.... There are so many small producers and the Northwest really supports their wine. Whether it's the pinot noir coming out of Oregon or the cabernet, merlot, et cetera coming out of Washington, people from Washington support Washington. I love that.
Are you a red wine guy?
Yes, I do love a red and making a white wine is a challenging proposition and I feel like I haven't quite gotten there yet, to add one of those to the list. Eventually, I think the rosé comes pretty close...with really nice mineral notes, just a hint of rose and a little bit of a whiff of the strawberry and melon kind of quality that comes with grapes we use. And everything is stainless steel; we do a couple of experienced oak [barrels]—it's a term that my winemaker coined that I loved, he probably borrowed it from somebody, but I love it as opposed to saying old oak or used oak, it's experienced oak. And the rosé is beautiful, and that's as close to the white world as we get.
The winemaking world has its own sort of lexicon, right? When you read descriptions of wines and tasting notes, it's always such a beautiful tangle of adjectives.
God, I'm so bad. I lean so heavily on my winemaker Dan Wampfler for his [notes] and when he was alive Eric Dunham, too. These guys had language. Oh my god, you know, "toast" and "pencil lead" and savory notes—they had all these at their fingertips, which was so cool to me. A lot of the Pursued by Bear wines are very classic Washington state flavor profiles: black fruits, blackberry or plum, cherry, cola kind of flavors. And then you have the influence of the barrels, which will you give you a little bit of the toast notes, vanilla possibly—you don't want too much of that. But these are big, red, rich flavorful wines with a wonderful bright quality...it's like a bright, quench-y sort of dances-in-your-mouth-a-little-bit flavors.
Could you describe the 2015 cabernet sauvignon?
Sure, sure! I would lead with...it's got an abundance of rich black cherry, bing cherry, with sort of a bramble or a blackberry quality to it. It's got a beautiful mouthfeel, rich. And it also has a structure that's really apparent—it comes, it sort of wraps around it and kind of gives you a bright finish. Almost some mocha notes in there from the barrels.
A dash of coffee, as it were.
A dash of coffee, afraid so.
Editor's note: As a point of clarity, Dan Wampfler has been making Pursued by Bear wines since 2008, the year Wampfler joined Dunham as head winemaker. When Wampfler moved to Abeja in 2016, Pursued by Bear wines went with him, though the wines are still custom-crushed at Dunham. Eric Dunham made Pursued by Bear wines from 2005 to 2007.