Kyle MacLachlan's Pursued by Bear wine strikes all the right notes
If he were a wine, the actor Kyle MacLachlan would come in many varietals. There is the spiciness of Paul Atreides in "Dune"; the rich complexity of Jeffrey Beaumont in "Blue Velvet"; the trippy acidity of Ray Manzarek in "The Doors"; the polished austerity of special agent Dale Cooper in "Twin Peaks"; the weak but jammy undertones of Trey MacDougal in "Sex and the City."
Now MacLachlan, a wine lover since high school, gives us a new varietal. Only this time it's a Bordeaux-inspired Cabernet called Pursued by Bear. The wine is a collaboration between MacLachlan and Eric Dunham of Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla, Wash., and the ’05 vintage (the very first) received a 91 rating from Wine Spectator.
This month, MacLachlan releases the ’06 vintage, and the Dish caught up with him to talk about the joys of participating in the winemaking process and why Washington state may one day rival Napa. We also asked the all-important question: What would special agent Dale Cooper drink?
Interview after the jump.
How long have you been into wine?
Since high school and college. It came about mainly because I wasn’t really a beer drinker. That, of course, has changed. I liked the taste of wine but I knew nothing about it. So I started drinking sweet wines and things that were not very good, and I learned as you do by drinking and tasting.
What made you want to make your own wine?
I have a very good friend who is a winemaker [Ann Colgin of Colgin Cellars] who I met by chance. She’s very successful in Napa Valley and she told me her story, and I thought it was inspirational. It didn’t seem like it was an impossible thing to embark upon if you had the right combination of things. In my case, it was somebody who could really do the lion’s share of the heavy lifting.
Did you ever consider working out of Napa?
I was thinking of going to Napa, but it became daunting really quickly. It seemed like everyone and their brother was trying to make a wine in Napa, and there is a lot of really, really good wine in Napa. I wanted to stand out a little bit and I thought the opportunity to do that would be better in my home state.
Did you think it would be easier in Washington?
Yakima is my home town and Walla Walla is about two hours from Yakima. The more I thought about it the more it made sense, so I thought it gives me an excuse to be up there and I’ll get to visit with my dad and my family. We jump in the car and go to Walla Walla all the time to do tastings. And travel-wise, it’s not that much farther away than Napa, once you factor in flying into Sacramento or San Francisco, renting a car and driving.
That must be nice.
Yes, and Eric’s facility is about 200 yards from the airport in Walla Walla. So I often get there and just walk over to the winery from the airport. Literally. I walk from the airport and I have a little wheelie bag and I only make one stop at the Coffee Rose Tree, because the coffee is unbelievable. And then I walk into the winery and it’s all good to go.
Are there special challenges to growing wine grapes in Washington?
It is colder and you can lose your root stalk if it’s really cold. But the upside of it being really cold is that the diseases that affect vines in California don’t exist in Washington, because it gets cold enough to kill anything that could possibly damage your vines. So, apart from a little mildew, it’s a pretty easy place to grow the stuff. You certainly have enough temperature growing days because the eastern side of the mountain is very warm and there’s no rainfall. There’s like 8 inches a year over there, or 9 inches a year, depending on where you are. So, your water source is controllable. And the fun thing about it is there is still a frontier mentality with these guys. It’s Wild West winemaking because everybody is figuring it out as they go. There are a lot of young winemakers. I would imagine it’s sort of where Napa was 30 years ago.
Are you expecting to see more winemakers moving into the area?
I think so, especially as winemakers learn what works there. That’s one of the most interesting things for me to figure out. You grow this stuff, you get this juice, you get these barrels and you sort of go, “I think it’s going to be OK,” and then you put it in together and you have to wait three years and you’re like, “OK, this is what we made,” and so that’s your baseline. So with the next attempt you say, “Maybe we put a little more fruit in here, maybe we try to build the structure a little bit differently.” So you’re constantly tweaking it, and it’s fascinating because it continually changes and there’s always a sort of uncertainly. So, in places like Napa and Bordeaux, where they’ve been at this for a long time, they have a pretty good idea about what’s going to happen there. In Washington, it’s a little up for grabs, so it’s very exciting.
How many vintages have you released?
2005 was our first vintage. It was in barrel for 25 months, which is a long time for a red wine to be in French oak, but it wasn’t picking up any of the oakiness. I’ve got really, really nice barrels that I’m using. They’re expensive and very good, so you can keep the wine in the barrel longer. You taste it every three months and it begins to change and refine and mature and you think, “It’s softening, those harsh flavors are beginning to settle in.” So it goes through this very wonderful transformation.
How many barrels do you have?
We have 12; it’s a very limited amount that we do. We make fewer than 300 cases, so it goes pretty quickly.
Where can we find the’06 vintage in L.A.?
I’m so disorganized, I’ve been releasing it through the winery but I haven’t formally announced that it’s available. But it’s coming available; in fact, Wallys here in L.A. has it. The ’05 had a lot of structure and bright acid and the ’06 has more fruit in it and also has a nice brightness, so it’s a little more elegant, I think.
What’s the ideal pairing for the ’06?
Any kind of red meat dishes -- steak or lamb. We did some lamb with a cherry sauce on it that was great. A lot of Washington wines have a berry component. Sometimes people say it’s like a cherry Coke, or a blackberry-blueberry kind of component. And the structure and the acid pairs well with anything that’s got a little bit of a fat. It cuts through the fat really nicely.
Why did you name the wine Pursued by Bear?
I wanted something related to the theater and acting and I’ve always gotten a kick out of this crazy stage direction from “The Winter’s Tale,” because it’s one of Shakespeare’s most eccentric. There’s nothing else that rivals it. He wrote, “Exit pursued by a bear.” It makes me smile because I can imagine the stage manager back then getting a copy of this and talking to the director and both of them going, “How in the hell am I gonna make a bear run across the stage?” I can just see them pulling out their hair.
Sorry, but I have to ask: What would special agent Dale Cooper drink?
Well, I know what he would drink because it’s the same thing that David Lynch and I drink, which is red wine. Cabernet -- he’s a big Cabernet drinker -- what can I say?
-- Jessica Gelt
Photo: MacLachlan (right) and Eric Dunham. Credit: Pursued by Bear