Enter: Pursued By Bear, Kyle MacLachlan’s Labor Of Love Turned Winning Wine Venture

Kyle MacLachlan Photo Credit: Pursued by Bear

In honor of Haute Wine Society x Coravin’s Collectors’ Series, we’re exploring one’s personal journey and exploration with the vast world of wine. That person is Kyle MacLachlan.

Many know  MacLachlan for his acting career — for his Emmy-nominated role as Dale Cooper in David Lynch‘s Twin Peaks series and film prequel, as well as other Lynch vehicles like Blue Velvet and Dune, among other high-profile parts (hey, Trey MacDougal!) — but it was actually theatre that inspired his side hustle, Washington-based winery Pursued by Bear (any true fan of the Bard will immediately recognize this reference from A Winter’s Tale).

In 2005, he opted to launch his wines in Walla Walla from Columbia Valley vineyards, using oak barrels to create a limited production of red wines and a rosé that can only be made from the terroir of his home state, in partnership with vintner Eric Dunham of Dunham Cellars. It is regarded as one of Washington’s highest rated wine labels. Indeed, the 2017 Twin Bear — a 100% Cabernet blend — earned a 92 rating from Robert Parker‘s Wine Advocate. Currently, the brand also has Pursued by Bear, a 95% Cabernet/5% Merlot blend; Baby Bear, made of 100% Syrah; Blushing Bear, comprised of 62% Grenache and 38% Mourvèdre; and Bear Cub: 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot and 9% Syrah.

Here, find out why being Pursued by Bear is one of the best damn things to ever happen to him — and why, as Dale Cooper might say, it really is “Damn Good Wine.”

Kyle MacLachlan Photo Credit: Pursued by BearFirst and foremost… Pursued by Bear. Where did the name come from?

It’s a strange one. It wasn’t my first choice. I was looking for something a little more boring to be honest. I knew I wanted to name it something that had to do with my day job – a theater-related name – and I came to that conclusion simply because the winemaker who started me on this journey, a gentleman named Eric Dunham and I – we were partners on the project and initially I thought we would do an amalgamation of our names, but it always ended up sounding like a Scotch whisky. Dunloch, Lochdun; it felt much more appropriate for the brown liquid as opposed to the rose or red. I embarked on this journey to find a name, and most of the things I hit on were already taken – Upstage, Downstage, Backstage – it struck me the stage direction from The Winter’s Tale, the entire direction is: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” And it’s a very specific stage direction and if you’re a Shakespeare person or English Lit person at all, you’ll immediately get the reference immediately. Everyone else is kind of scratching their heads. But I loved it and it seemed to make sense in a whimsical, unexpected kind of way, much in the way that I was embarking upon this wine journey.

You opted to start a winery in Washington because you’re from there area, but have you ever thought about opening another leg of the business in Napa or Sonoma?

It was a combination of reasons. One, I was from there. The wine business in Washington started late 70s. it had been there with Chateau St. Michele and Columbia Crest and some of the larger producers. Washington state is really two states. It’s the wet, maritime climate in the west with Seattle, and there’s the dry high desert on the east side which makes up two thirds of the state, in fact. That’s where I grew up. It was me watching what was happening in Washington and being intrigued by it, and always loving wine and also looking into Napa for a very brief moment. The cost of making wine in Napa was exorbitant so I thought, ‘There was no way that’s going to work.’ Everything came back to Washington for me, so we’ve been here since 2005.

As you’ve expanded, have you thought about broadening your reach to Napa?

Not really. It would be a completely different operation. I have thought about maybe partnering with a winemaker friend from Napa to work with my winemaker Dan Wampfler on a white. He would come in and collaborate on that. He’s a friend as well. So far I haven’t really broached it with him yet, but it’s in my mind. That’s percolating a bit. It would be my first white wine as well. Maybe there’s something there.

Have you always gravitated towards reds or does it have to do more with the climate in Washington?

That’s a good question. It really has to do more with the climate. There are some wonderful white wines that come out of Washington state. In fact, my winemaker Dan Wampfler and his wife Amy — they’re a husband and wife winemaking team, and I commissioned him to make my wine — she’s a really extraordinary winemaker. It’s a funny story. When I was working with Eric, who I started with for the first couple of years before moving on with Dan, when I told him I wanted to do a wine project, he asked what I liked to drink and I said, ‘Well, I like Cabernet’ and he said, ‘OK, let’s do that.’ I didn’t come in with a master plan in other words. So I started with reds and I have in my mind a type of white that I’d like to work towards but I haven’t tasted anything in Washington that’s been where I want to go necessarily. There’s a couple of varietals. They make a very nice Viognier up there. But I have to be tuned in to what the market is going to do and Viognier isn’t something people want to buy a case of; it’s something you’d buy a bottle of for a celebration, and then of course want more, but until I can find a Chardonnay that I really, really like, I’m going to hold off I guess.

Has the venture transformed itself from a pet project into a full-time job for you?

I like my day job but my day job has been closed for a while because of this pandemic. There are a few actors that are working in a very strict capacity, but by and large, most of us are biding our time and waiting for production to resume at a level and intensity that it used to be. It’s going to take some time because of all the protocols that need to be put in place and the concern about shutting down production, but in the meantime I’ve been focusing a lot of my attention on the wine. As a business, I found I could do this 24/7. It’s that engaging. You can involve yourself as little or as much as you want really. For a minimum amount, it’s about half of my time, actually. I’ve got five different wines now and they all need attention. The wine calendar, every month there’s something new you need to attend to. Some months are slower, but right now we’re in the middle of harvest so it’s really jam-packed, especially for my winemaker. During the lulling times those are the times I’ve been focusing on packaging, and the tasting room I’m going to have coming in Walla Walla this spring. There’s a lot of places you can focus on if you want to.  

How else are you evolving the brand?

I continue to work with different distributors around the country, so I’ve got a wonderful liaison who handles all that. I’m in about 17 states as well as the U.K. in London, and also in Japan. I’ve got outposts all over the place that need attention and love and Zoom chats, so that takes up some time. Then there’s the marketing side of things where all year there are different things I want to offer. We’re coming into the holiday season and I waited too long – I’m frantically trying to get this gift box together so I can make an offer on my website – I don’t know if I’m going to make it but we’re trying. All year, there’s always something to attend to.


Kyle MacLachlan Photo Credit: Pursued by Bear

How often are you drinking your wine?

I drink a lot of my wine to be honest! In fact, I pulled out a rose from my cellar and said, ‘I have to have some more sent down!’ Everything I make is in eastern Washington, in Walla Walla, and I have a distribution network there. They’ll package up a couple cases for me and ship them down.

Of the varietals you produce at Pursued by Bear, what is your go-to and why?

What I’m drinking the most of is Twin Bear, which I just released this year. It’s now available on the website. It’s the most expensive one that I’ve made. It’s 100% Cabernet. It’s three vineyards but one dominant vineyard, very beautiful aging with the French oak barrels. I just got a nice email from my brand manager saying that Robert Parker just gave it a 92 rating for the Wine Advocate, which is really nice, because it’s a tough magazine. This is its inaugural vintage; a 92 for the Twin Bear [which is a really nice number]. Would I have liked a 95 or 96? Yes. But will I take a 92, sure. There’s still time. This is a long journey.

I feel like you’ll be doing this for quite some time.

You know, I think so. My son is 12. I don’t know if this is something he might take over, because you start thinking about those things, but I’m enjoying it at the moment and it’s completely mine. I don’t have any investors. I finance everything. I’ve got a lot of loans from the banks, but my idea is to build the brand the way I want to build it and if there comes a point where there’s outside interest, I’ll think about that, but at the moment I’m really having fun with it, just kind of moving it, pushing it down the board.

As an avid wine lover, how has a product like Coravin changed the way you experience wine personally?

A bottle would be finished in two days typically, but I say where the Coravin has really made an impact for me is in the tasting room because oftentimes there are bottles that are special. A library for instance or other wines that you want people to try that aren’t necessarily for sale, but you want to share the journey of the wine. If I want to go back and look at a 2007 or a 2009, I may not necessarily want to open it because there aren’t that many of it, but I can Coravin it and savor it, and that’s been really helpful to me. that is the best part of the journey. I tend to finish the bottle pretty quickly so I do one of the short-term, where I plunge the air out, and it keeps it good for me. It also gives me a little indication of what the wine will taste like when it opens up. Certainly the Coravin is helpful when I’m doing tastings, which now we can’t do so much of because of the pandemic. We’d go to places like Chicago, and we’d always have a special bottle that we’d pour from, and the Coravin would be essential for that as well. You’re not going to just pour out a bottle. It’s very measured and it’s really just as a special treat. The Coravin for me is a special treat.

So it’s fair to say that Coravin has changed the way you look at opening an expensive bottle of wine, because you can make it last?

Yeah definitely. Or that you feel bad once you’ve opened and let’s say you do get halfway through it and it is an older vintage and you think, ‘This may not last even 24 hours or 12 hours after you open it.’ The Coravin is just a wonderful way to keep an older wine, a library wine. There are a couple of mine that are getting like that actually; the 2005, 2006. There’s not that many of those left, and the Coravin would be perfect for those.

Are you drinking your wine with meals or on their own?

I do a bit of everything. We definitely have wine with meals. I’ll have a drink while I’m making dinner, or with dinner. It’s all made to combine with food, whether you’re preparing or eating, is when the wine is definitely flowing. I have a hard time drinking during the day because I just get tired. Once in a while if I have nothing going on, I’ll have something with lunch, or with charcuterie, but I get so tired. Later in the evening is better for me. if you’re having afternoon wine, there should be a hammock, it has to be accessible, and you need an hour, hour and a half just to do nothing.

A few more questions: How do you balance your acting career with owning a winery?

It was challenging. When I was doing Atlantic crossing, which comes out in Norway in the next few weeks and in the States later this year, we were shooting in Prague and the time difference was crazy. It was one of those things where I would work all day and then I’d allocate an hour or so to connect, make some decisions, talk to everyone that I have on the ground in Washington to keep going. I’ve got a great winemaker and a great brand manager that are able to shoulder greater or lesser degrees depending upon my schedule. They can handle things on their own when I’m not available, but they can also take a step back which they’re grateful for when I’m more involved there’s just a lot of little things. It’s running a business. It’s something I never knew about until I got into the wine business, but it’s really time-consuming. The first thing you should think about when you wake up is your business, your brand, what you need to do today to move the needle forward. All things I’m learning. I’m not a business person. I took one economics glass in college which I was miserable at but I’m finding that everything comes back to business, so that’s where I’m at right now.

Kyle MacLachlan Photo Credit: Pursued by Bear

Everyone thinks winemakers just drink wine all day and that’s it but there’s so much involved.

It’s true! It’s that illusion. The romantic version of what you think is happening. And there is some of that. It’s lovely to be able to share the wine, talk about the wine, and there is a romance to it. and I find I do like the selling aspect, which to me isn’t so much selling as it is interacting with customers or fans, people who are interested, who love wine. There’s a nice sort of rapport that happens that I didn’t anticipate it. When I started I thought, ‘You make the stuff, you just sell it, people buy it and you just keep making it.’ But it changes. It’s another level. It was a happy discovery that I liked this part of it, too.

What a cool second career you have.

Between that, being a father to my 12-year-old, who is entering into a very interesting period of time with Zoom schooling, it’s really challenging, but it’s nice having him home for most of the day as opposed to at school. I’m not sure how he feels about it, but I’m enjoying it.

What do you think of the Dune remake? Did Timothée Chalamet  reach out for any advice on playing Paul?

We met briefly – he’s a very nice young man – and I’ve seen the images and watched the trailer. It looks fantastic. I was impressed with the digital work and recreation of giant sand worms and some of the space craft. When we did it in 1983, we didn’t have that sophistication. Everything we did was practical. Little miniatures and models and things, which were cool too but a different look. Watching the trailer, I had an unexpected response. It was very nostalgic for me. I enjoyed watching it, and it felt like I was revisiting a period of time in my life – a long time ago – and sharing scenes with the actors I worked with on that movie. Siân Philips as the Reverend Mother and Patrick Stewart as Gurney and Max von Sydow. Even though it wasn’t them when I was watching the scenes I was feeling the emotional memories of that time. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie first because I love the story, and second of all I think it’s going to be a trip down memory lane in some odd way for me.

What are you working on currently? I hear that David Lynch might be making a new season of Twin Peaks.

Nothing that I’ve heard. David doesn’t have any plans. We do zoom calls from time to time. He, me and Laura Dern. I always sort of saying, ‘What are you thinking’ and I think he’s feeling like he did what he was going to do with it and was grateful for the opportunity to return. But it’s David. He could turn on a dime. You just never know. I don’t think so but I’m sure there’s a certain percentage of possibility that it could happen.

Any last thoughts on Pursued by Bear?

Just that I’m loving the journey, that I’m loving sharing it with people. It’s really about my personality. I tend to be sort of playful and appear not to take things too seriously and poke fun at things. It’s the same thing with the wine. It’s playful and fun, but it’s also serious. I’m very serious about the wine, and looking to create the best that I can with the resources available to me in Washington state. It’s always been about quality first and being able to share that with old friends, new friends and people that are interested.

Last but not least, what to you is the greatest luxury in life and why?

Time with my son is really a great luxury, doing something we both love whether it’s digging a hole in the sand. He’s 12, but we’ve gone from digging holes in the sand to wanting to build a whole underground fort. Anything where he’s engaged. It could even just be cooking in the kitchen. To be honest, that’s been part of my experience during the quarantine, having those moments more available and more possible. If there’s a silver lining, that would be it.

Follow Kyle on Instagram HERE 

Follow Pursued by Bear on Twitter HERE 

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