(Pictured: Kyle MacLachlan and Eric Dunham sip some Baby Bear wine straight from the barrel. The L.A.-based actor and Walla Walla winemaker have teamed up to make high-end wines.)
RICHLAND If you want to see stars outside of Hollywood, head to a Northwest winery. Across the region winemakers are increasingly courting rockers, artists and movie stars to help market premium wines. In the down economy, they hope a little rub of star dust will add some cache to the fermented juice. In part three of our series on wine in the new economy called "The Crush," Correspondent Anna King reports on how big names are investing a little cash down on the farm.
Three Rivers Winery, just outside of Walla Walla, used to be a Baby Boomer Mecca. It has a Northwest-lodgey look, a mini golf course and even one of those huge, jowly old butler statues outside the main entrance. Nowadays...
SOUND: "Walk in the Shadows" song by Geoff Tate of Queensryche.
With new owners, Holly Turner and her husband Andy Slusarenko (pictured here), the butler is still outside the door, but Geoff Tate with the Seattle band Queensryche, is on the winery's redesigned web page. Turns out the long-haired rocker is a big fan of wine. After Tate got involved, the first vintage of his Insania wine sold out. Three Rivers' winemaker Holly Turner is not someone you would take for a wicked rock fan, as she crushes white wine grapes at 6 a.m.
SOUND: Crush pumping sounds
Even so, Turner says Tate's star power is working to brush up the once-struggling winery's image.
Holly Turner: "Certainly pairing up with Geoff has brought a lot of different people to wine and to our winery that had never heard of us before, you know his fan base. And so it's been fun."
Just down the road a piece...
Kyle MacLachlan: "Let's try that Baby Bear."
SOUND: Bung pop
... another star with Northwest roots is making wine too.
Kyle MacLachlan: "That's a big sarah."
SOUND: Wine glasses, pouring wine
Eric Dunham: "Ohhh yii yii look at that. That's inky."
Kyle MacLachlan is famous for his work on Twin Peaks, Sex in the City and Desperate Housewives. He's now making wine with Eric Dunham of Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla. They pull some wine out of the massive French oak barrels for a taste.
MacLachlan's first wine was a big red blend called Pursued by Bear. It's a Shakespeare reference. Now MacLachlan's making another wine named Baby Bear in honor of his new son. In person, the actor has the same perfectly coifed, but tussled hair and a giddy sense of humor. He says the wine project hasn't made him a lot of money yet. But the venture has tugged him back to Eastern Washington more often. McLachlan grew up in Yakima and his father still lives there.
Kyle MacLachlan: "I'm down in L.A. and over in New York as well. And I found that I was putting off my trips up north. Maybe the timing wasn't right, or it was going to be difficult, or I was waiting for a holiday or an excuse. So having done this with Eric, I need to be here every couple of months, so tomorrow for instance my father is driving down from Yakima with his wife and we will have a couple days of hanging out."
For winemaker Eric Dunham, the matchup has been a good deal too. He says MacLachlan's fame has won him grapes from exclusive vineyards that he wasn't able to get before. And he says associating with star power gives Northwest wines some added street cred in big markets like New York.
Eric Dunham: "You know nowadays you say Washington State and they go, 'Oh neat, where at?' And they've actually heard of Walla Walla and it's not just on Looney Tunes the cartoons."
Looney Tunes: "Little giant vacuum company of Walla Walla Washington."
Sometimes celebrities court winemakers - like when former Super Bowl Quarterback Drew Bledsoe pursued famous Leonetti winemaker Chris Figgins to consult at his new winery.
Other times, it's winemakers who chase the stars. Trey Busch runs Sleight of Hand Cellars. He's a die-hard fan of Pearl Jam.
SOUND: Pearl Jam song "Johnny Guitar"
Busch named his winery after one of the band's songs. When he travels to catch concerts, he hauls along cases of wine hoping to convince the band to into invest in his winery. They haven't agreed to deal yet, but he's ever hopeful.
Paul Gregutt, is a wine columnist for the Seattle Times and an prominent author. He says even with rock stars and movie celebs hanging out at Northwest wineries, the industry is challenged in the current economy. And celebrity alone isn't going to save a label.
Paul Gregutt: "There is going to be attrition in the wine industry. In Washington State we do not have a tremendous amount of expensive wines. But everyone that has a business, whether you're growing grapes, or buying wine, or making wine - if it's a business you have to respond to market conditions."
And part of that response is developing a symbiotic relationship with celebrities. Even Gregutt (pictured here) helped blend a wine once, called Rockstar. And the wine writer has his own rock star dreams.
SOUND: Gregutt singing his song "I want to drink it today."
I'm Anna King, sitting on Paul Gregutt's cottage porch in Waitsburg, Washington.
Copyright 2009 Northwest Public Radio