We were about 30 seconds into our call when Kyle MacLachlan said he had to ring me back; the 2016 vintage of his rosé, Blushing Bear, was at his door and he needed to bring in the delivery. Having just landed in LAX shortly before our chat, and with the imminent release of the new Twin Peaks series, one would imagine rosé would be the last thing on the actor’s mind. However, it soon became apparent that “winemaker” is an important facet of MacLachlan’s identity. MacLachlan’s Walla Walla-based winery is called Pursued by Bear. It started as a hobby, but it has organically grown into a delicious representation of Washington wines.
The path to wine started simply for MacLachlan. Glasses at dinner with a high school girlfriend’s family, along with wine picnics-turned-makeout sessions piqued his initial interest. In college, he eschewed beer for wine, earning him the reputation as “the Wine Guy.” But it was a bottle of Lynch-Bages, given to him by David Lynch in the formative years of his career, that struck a chord. Wandering the Napa wine route, the concept of quality wine began to crystalize, and a meeting with revered winemaker Ann Colgin opened doors into the world of winemaking for the actor. She brought him up to Napa and introduced him to some of the area’s preeminent producers, deepening his understanding of winemaking. Simultaneously, something began to resonate within, and he took to wine with earnest.
“About that time I heard rumblings about Washington wine and my sister kept telling me about these new vineyards in Walla Walla,” recalls MacLachlan. As a Washington native, he wanted to see how the home state he knew so intimately was incorporating this world of wine he was slowly discovering. As on his Napa trips, he traveled the wine routes, stopping to taste and talk with producers. Through these visits, he became connected with Eric Dunham at Dunham Cellars. Their relationship inspired MacLachlan to turn his passion into a tangible thing and Pursued by Bear was born, starting with a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.
McLachlan cites Ann Colgin as a model and mentor, “because she started at a custom crush facility, she started with a winemaker, and she started by sourcing around for grapes,” he says. “She didn’t own anything. So I said, ‘I can do this, you just have to know the right people and have the right connections.’”
Those connections solidified in 2008 as Dunham began transitioning from winemaker to brand ambassador and Dan Wampfler joined as another winemaker at Dunham. “We became a threesome, [with] everyone involved,” says MacLachlan, and in the meantime, he developed definitive ideas of how he wanted to push the quality forward. “I had been using the same sources of grapes that Dunham was using and bringing in my own Taransaud barrels, [but] I began to look around at other vineyard sources.” He turned his attention to producers he admired and began chasing fruit.
He is charmingly geeky about barrels. When discussing what parts of the process he loves, he waxes philosophic about their nuances and the role they play in winemaking. His relationship with his barrel broker is a cherished one, built on trust. As a winemaker has to wait years to see the effect the barrels have on the wine, a broker’s expertise in invaluable.
Inevitably, our conversation turns to acting. “Pursued by Bear” is the only stage direction Shakespeare ever wrote. Just from the name of the wine, it’s obvious MacLachlan draws strong correlations between his two professions. “There are 3 processes in the movie business,” he explains. “There’s the movie you write, the movie you shoot, and the movie you edit. It’s the same with wine,” he explains. Both wine and acting require following a certain structure in order to achieve the desired outcome. “The nuance of what you’re blending is not unlike a performance,” he continues, discussing another favorite part of winemaking. “I blend a lot of different things into whatever I do with a character. Depending on the day and what’s needed in the scene, I’ll move through whatever the choices are that I’ve made. Kind of like blending, you have all these wines laid out in front of you, different varietals and types and you’re going to put them together in a certain way, something that will work where the sum will be greater than the parts.”
I was curious: did being known as an actor affect his credibility in the wine world? MacLachlan admits he had to prove himself a bit, but being from Yakima gave him some leeway in the tight-knit Washington wine community; he wasn’t seen as “some California guy who’s just stepping in.” Especially since he’s a bit of a Washington wine cheerleader. “I’m cognizant of the fact that I’m out in other cities, places, and environments where I can talk about not just my wines but Washington wines,” he says. “I feel a little bit like I’m an ambassador; I’m a self-appointed ambassador, but I feel a responsibility for that. I’m proud of what’s done there. I do it because I believe in it.”
Unlike most celebrity wines, MacLachlan’s is actually great. Pursued by Bear Cabernet Sauvignon spawned Baby Bear Syrah in 2008, an homage to MacLachlan’s son’s birth year. In 2014, Eric Dunham passed away and Dan Wampfler became head winemaker. Shortly after, Wampfler and his wife moved on from Dunham to Abeja, but continues to partner with MacLachlan on Pursued by Bear. 2015 saw the addition of a rosé to the lineup. “It’s turning into something more,” he says. “It’s gone from a hobby into a small business now and that’s what I’m wrestling with. How do I structure this, how do I move forward? These are my questions right now,” MacLachlan says.
The business portion may be in flux, but MacLachlan has a clear vision for his wine style: balanced and food friendly. “[All] I desire is to make really great wine, wine that I would like to drink, wine that I’m proud of,” and wines that make people realize the impending greatness of Washington State, MacLachlan says.