Kyle MacLachlan’s Toughest Role: Winemaker
The actor talks about how director David Lynch introduced him to fine wine and the origins of his own brand, Pursued by a Bear.
Kyle MacLachlan has a way of engendering a certain level of fanatical fan attention.
In his presence, MacLachlan’s fans will often lose their ability to speak coherently and generally pester him with increasingly intricate questions about his character on cult classic television show, Twin Peaks.
A few months ago, I saw it happen myself when we were both booked on the same radio show as guests. The usually cool, calm and collected hosts, were clearly excited about meeting him in person and were severely star struck. They kept steering the conversation to ever more specific plot twists of Twin Peaks, things they no doubt had spent countless hours obsessively thinking about and were dying to get his insights on. But throughout the half-an-hour interview, no matter how painful the conversation became, MacLachlan remained remarkably unperturbed and pleasant. To the dismay of the hosts he didn’t confirm their conspiracy theories or reveal any info about future episodes.
“I just kind of roll with the punches,” he recently told me, when I reminded him of the experience. “There is definitely a focus and an intensity with people that can be a little disconcerting.”
But he quickly admits that he understands their feelings. “I also have those reactions. I remember meeting Jimmy Page at the Kennedy Center,” he remembered. “I’m a member of the Kennedy Center Honors committee and that particular year Zeppelin was being honored. And so, I became exactly that person meeting Jimmy Page, so it gives me a complete appreciation and understanding of the other side.”
While his work with director David Lynch on Twin Peaks and in movies Dune and Blue Velvet is legendary, the role of the kind but eccentric mayor on hipster TV hit Portlandia may be closest to what he’s actually like in real life. While certainly less zany, MacLachlan like his character, has an endearing earnestness and infectious curiosity.
Take for example his passions for Pacific Northwest wine. “I’ve always been interested in wine and I thought I could maybe do something [in Washington], which would get me back home more frequently to see my dad,” he said. “Then there was a chance meeting with Eric Dunham from Dunham Cellars. I was looking for a wine to serve at the reception of my wedding in Miami and I wanted Washington represented there. He had a great syrah and we sort of struck up a friendship from my enquiry. And I went to visit him in Walla Walla and after a couple of years I just sort of said ‘hey, I’m kind of interested in doing something would you partner with me on a project to make wine?’ And he said ‘sure.’”
That’s how MacLachlan’s wine brand, Pursued by a Bear began, which is now produced in small batches by winemaker Daniel Wampfler. He currently has a syrah, a rose and a highly-rated cabernet sauvignon. While his famous name no doubt helps open doors, in the wine world it’s not as famous as, say, Napa or Sonoma. “It’s still very small production in Washington State, which is not as known as California,” he points out. “We’re the underdog. It’s an uphill battle.” While the brand is clearly a passion project that takes up a good amount of his time, he has no plans to quit acting anytime soon. “I couldn’t afford to do that,” he says with a laugh. Getting more serious he added, “I love both things. They’re both creative. I hope I never retire. It’s so much fun.”
However, it was acting that really introduced him to fine wine. When he grew up in Yakima, Washington’s fertile farms were used to grow fruit and the wine industry was really just getting started. “What we had growing up were just orchards,” he says. “The way we’d make money, is we’d work in the orchards, we’d pick fruit whether it was cherries or peaches or apples or pears or whatever, for not very long because it’s back breaking work. Oh, my god! It’s so hard.”
His father was a stockbroker during the week and a gentleman farmer on the weekends, tending to his large garden in their backyard. But MacLachlan had seen enough. “When I was a kid I couldn’t wait to leave,” he says. And at just 23 after finishing college, he took a screen test for David Lynch’s futuristic movie Dune. And “as a thank you or a gesture of good will [Lynch] sent over a bottle of Lynch Bages to my hotel room. And I didn’t really know what to make of it and I hadn’t had a Bordeaux wine before.”
That bottle of French wine was a big step up from what MacLachlan was used to drinking. “I drank a lot of not very good wine,” he remembers. “When you’re in high school and college you pretty much take whatever you can get.”
That original gift also turned into a long-standing tradition of MacLachlan and Lynch giving each other wine for their respective birthdays. Is it hard to find a present for Lynch? “He’s pretty much a Bordeaux drinker. So anything red and anything from Bordeaux,” says MacLachlan. “I’ve given him my wine before and he’s gracious and he probably enjoyed it but he really prefers the French stuff.”