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Friday
Sep152017

D2D Interview: Kyle MacLachlan

I'm not going to hold back here: I'm a huge fan of Kyle MacLachlan's work over the years, beginning with The Hidden as a small child devoted to horror and sci-fi, but especially the film and television projects he's worked on with director David Lynch like Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and most recently Twin Peaks: The Return on Showtime. However, it wasn't until I was searching for news about the potential return of Special Agent Dale Cooper that I discovered Kyle was into wine. Not just into wine, mind you, but actually the owner of a successful private label called Pursued by Bear made in conjunction with renowned Washington producer Dunham Cellars. I tracked down a bottle of his Columbia Valley Cabernet for the big Twin Peaks premier earlier this summer and, after fully enjoying every sip, I decided I would reach out to Kyle and see if he wanted to work with us at K&L on selling the wine. By the end of August, we had worked out a deal not only to bring his Pursued by Bear Cabernet and Baby Bear Syrah into the stores, but also his very limited rose for those final summer evenings when a glass of something cool and refreshing still hits the spot. My one condition, however, was that he agree to deal with my fanaticism about Twin Peaks and answer a few burning questions about his drinking relationship with David Lynch. He happily obliged and our most recent conversation is posted below:

David: Let’s start with an easy one: how long have you been interested in wine? 

Kyle: I started in high school with a glass of wine at the dinner table with the girl I was seeing at that time. Her family had the ritual of a sit-down dinner with everyone—she had two older sisters, so it was a large group and they would have their boyfriends there, too. I was dating the youngest one. When I joined for dinner, I had a glass of white wine—that’s what you did. That started it. From then it was a very slow progression getting to the point where I could actually decipher between a good wine and a not-so-good wine. I drank a lot of not-so-good wine in the beginning (laughs).

David: This is back in Yakima, I’m guessing?

Kyle: Yeah, this was in Yakima. It was before any real wine presence in the valley. Leonetti bonded in Walla Walla in 1977, the first winery to do so in Eastern Washington. Prior to that you had the big guys—Chateau St. Michelle, Columbia Winery and Columbia Crest…behemoths like that making wine. 

David: When did you get to the point where you actually wanted to start making wine and not just drinking it?

Kyle: It was the culmination of a friendship with Ann Colgin, who was and still is a mentor of mine, recognizing the quality of wine coming out of Washington state, being from Yakima originally, and then a desire to learn more and the feeling that the best path to do that was to actually get my feet wet. Taking the jump into making wine was only possible after meeting Eric Dunham from Dunham Cellars and having him agree to partner with me. 

David: How did you two meet? Were you originally looking at Washington when thinking about a potential wine project?

Kyle: No, it started with an eye on Napa and a little bit of research, which quickly turned into dismay because it was incredibly expensive and just felt impossible. It was my wife who said, “Why don’t you look into Washington?” She was aware already of the possible story about the business going on in my backyard, so to speak. It made sense to me on another level because I would be able to get back home to visit my dad who was still alive at the time, as well as my brothers. It gave me a reason to go back a few times a year, as opposed to just Christmas vacation. He was getting older and I wanted to spend more time with him, so this was a great thing we were able to do together. 

David: What developments have you seen with the Washington wine industry since you started? Are you surprised by how much it’s growing?

Kyle: It’s growing quickly, the number of wineries. From the beginning, as I mentioned with Leonetti in 1977, it took a while before more serious wineries were established. Dunham opened in the mid-nineties. Before that, you had Woodward Canyon and L’École 41. In fact, I think Eric originally did his internship at L’École and learned to make wine there. Then it just exploded, even from when I started back in 2005. What’s interesting is how the quality is getting better as more people are figuring it out, not only with the winemaking, but also with the growing. The growers have learned pretty quickly which varietals make good wine and which ones don’t. Prior to grapes, it was all apples and cherries up there and in that world of farming more is better. If you’re growing apples, you want to grow as many as you possibly can, so the idea of planting grapes and then thinning down the crop on behalf of better quality wasn’t inherent. Then there’s the question of what are the best sites; where do the vines work best and with what varietal? So that’s coming along pretty quickly, too. 

David: You’re pretty heavily involved with the actual winemaking, too, am I right? I know when customers look at celebrity booze projects they tend to think most of it is marketing, but that’s not the case here at all from what I understand.

Kyle: I’m in charge of selecting the fruit and then I’m there for all the blending trials. I consult with Dan Wampfler who’s my winemaker, as well—he now works over at Abeja, but he still makes my wine. Dan and I talk about specific sites and we try to be proactive when certain fruit comes online. In fact, I’m really excited because this year for the first time I’ve got some fruit coming in from Champoux Vineyard, which is really hard to get and very expensive, but it’s such a quality site. I’m also involved in making barrel choices, sampling the wine from barrel, blending, let’s see what else…

David: I think that’s a lot more than George Clooney has ever contributed to Casa Amigos Tequila.

Kyle: (laughs) I was intent on learning, so I wanted to be hands on. I’m continuing to become more involved and the most recent shift involves moving out of the partnership with Dunham and becoming sort of my own stand-alone winery. I’ve purchased five two-ton fermenters now and I’ve got everything that I need to do more of a custom crush.

After twenty five years, Agent Dale Cooper emerges from the confines of the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks: The Return

David: Wow, that’s a big jump to start investing in infrastructure! That’s when things start to get real, right?

Kyle: Oh my gosh, yes. It’s going all the way. I didn’t anticipate it to be quite as overwhelming, but it’s still not too bad because the Dunham facility does most of the work, but I’m now gaining more control, moving out of the vineyard and into the winemaking itself. Processing, fermentation, speed, and delivery are becoming more important, so as I get into it more and more I realize the minuscule steps are just as important as the big ones.

David: Right, we realize that on the retail end as well. People spend a lot of time learning about the specifics of wine and the education side, but you still have to know how to use a POS system, run credit cards, and take inventory! There’s no better way to learn than to do every part of the business yourself. Speaking of going back home to Washington, how does it feel to return to Washington as Special Agent Dale Cooper?

Kyle: It’s incredible to be able to do it for a second time. The first time around was back in 1989/90, not that long after I graduated from college in ’82, so it’s always fun to be back. Most recently with the new show, we were up there last year during September and October, but to be honest I was only up there shooting for a little over a week for what I guess we would call season three. But there’s definitely a recognition and there are people who get a kick out of the fact that I’m originally from the northwest. I also just finished my run as the mayor of Portlandia in Portland and that was an interesting experience because I’d never had that kind of local recognition before. There was definitely a bit of a buzz around town while we were shooting, whereas I’m used to being a little bit more under the radar. 

David: That surprises me because you were in a lot of cult television shows from Twin Peaks, to Sex and the City, to Desperate Housewives. I would think people would be stopping you on the street all the time. Those are shows people watch over and over again and binge on. 

Kyle: Yeah, people definitely recognize me from Sex and the City, also from How I Met Your Mother. I’m pretty grateful for having been able to do this for as long as I have, being in some worthwhile productions. 

David: Which role do you get recognized for most often? Like people stop you and say, “Oh my God, I loved you in…..?”

Kyle: I would say primarily as Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks. A close second would be as Trey in Sex in the City because as you said people return to that show time and time again. That one’s still pretty relevant.

David: Heck yeah it is. My wife still quotes some of your best lines on that show around the house quite often. 

Kyle: (laughs) Yeah there were some good ones. Embarrassingly good.

David: The part where Trey takes the medication and says it felt like it might “rocket right off” is a classic. I was rewatching The Doors the other day as well and had completely forgotten you played Ray Manzarek in the movie. I think you, Val Kilmer, Frank Whaley, and Kevin Dillon did such a good job in that film that I failed to recognize you as actors. 

Kyle: That’s good. That means I disappeared. I like that!

David: Speaking of Twin Peaks, David Lynch is a big wine fan as well, right? 

Kyle: Yeah, in fact we share a couple of connections. When I went to audition for Dune in Los Angeles—not even a year out of college—I screen tested for David and when I got back to the hotel there was a bottle of Lynch Bages and a thank you card from David who was hoping everything would work out. He sent me a bottle of Bordeaux, which we talked about during our first meeting. That was probably my first experience with a great bottle of wine. I think that’s what started me on the European wine path. David and I continue to this day to gift each other bottles, either wines that I make or older vintages of Lynch Bages. We definitely have a mutual appreciation for red wine. 

David: How does he like your Pursued By Bear wines? Do you keep him well stocked?

Kyle: I do, and he does like it. I think his preferred wine would be Bordeaux, but he has had very nice things to say about the Pursued By Bear wines, which I appreciate.

David: So he’s really being himself as Gordon Cole on Twin Peaks then? In one of the last episodes he sits down with Albert and says something about “enjoying this fine Bordeaux.” 

Kyle: Right (laughs).

David: So currently your Pursued By Bear label is producing a Cabernet, a Syrah, and a rosé. Do you have any plans to expand the range with the new facility?

Kyle: Not yet. I think I’m probably going to rally around those three and increase production a little bit, while still keeping my fruit sources. I’m getting more grapes from new sites like Champoux, Sagemoor, Heather Hill—that’s a site than Dan turned me onto, I love it. I’m almost like a negotiant, I’m buying different parcels from different places and still learning. The blend is always going to be Cabernet dominated. When I started it there was a Syrah component in it, but I ultimately became interested in the classic Bordeaux model, so we’re bringing in some Cab Franc for the first time in the 2016 blend. We’ll see what that does. 

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Sep142017

A Well Necessity

We sell a lot of El Dorado 3 year at K&L. For about the last five years, anyone not specifically asking for rhum agricole blanc has been given that particular bottle when asking for a white rum suggestion. That's about to change, however, because there's a new face in town that's making a hard push for best rum value on the shelf. My friends Rich and Joel over at Pacific Edge have taken a bold new step into the category with their new Royal Standard blend, a remarkable marriage of rums from Trinidad, Barbados, and Jamaica that clocks in at the same price as the El Dorado, but for an entire liter. Not only does it have the same clean flavor profile and remarkable texture we love about the Guyanese edition, it has the accent of the Jamaican pot still shining through on the finish; just a little bit of funk for that Daiquiri you're thinking about having when you get home from work. 

Rich and Joel are the importers and distributors for Hayman's gin and that led to a relationship with E & A Sheer, the ancient rum blending house in the Netherlands that helped put the Royal Standard together (they've only been doing this for a few centuries though). ABV bar owner Todd Smith, who was once my sales rep for Pacific Edge (Rich and Joel's distribution business) at K&L, helped as a taster for the project, as did our friends Martin Cate from Smuggler's Cove and Thad Vogler from Bar Agricole. Everyone, myself included, wanted a flavorful, easy-to-love, inexpensive rum that had character and a heritage. Rich also worked directly with Noah Ellis, an ex-Michael Mina food and beverage director, to create a number of different blends before the final specimen was chosen. I've dusted two sample bottles already myself mixing up a variety of various libations, enjoying all of them with equal relish. High proof chasers in search of power will still want to give this a shot, despite the 42% ABV. It definitely has a kick and the rum character cuts through the lime and the sugar when I make a Daiquiri.

And then there's the price: $17.99 for a LITER. It's every bartender's dream come true. Inexpensive, profesionally-blended, cocktail-oriented rum in a great package. Let your own personal happy hour begin!

Royal Standard Blended White Rum $17.99 (1L)

-David Driscoll 

Thursday
Sep142017

New Product Feed

Finally here! On the front page of our website you can now look at our live inventory feed for a real time look at what's just arrived into inventory. Think of it like a Twitter feed for our warehouse.

This is the best possible way to get the jump on what's new and with spirits allocations as miniscule as they are these days, this might be your best shot to get that bottle of Blanton's or Weller you've been lusting after.

Link directly here!

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Sep132017

The Spirit of Collabor&tion

Part of my recent trip out to the Bardstown Bourbon Company in Kentucky involved a bit of consulting and needless to say I was happy when the gang from both BBCo and Copper & Kings called me back to say they wanted K&L to be one of the exclusive retailers for the new Collabor&tion Bourbons: a pair of 10 year old MGP-distilled whiskies finished for an additional year and a half in two different types of Copper & Kings barrels. While we don't yet have the bottles at K&L, the big announcement from Bardstown is scheduled for today, so I decided to offer these out on a pre-arrival basis for those of you who want to get the jump on securing your bottles. There are only 200 of each for the moment and there are no bottle limits, so take what you need. I'll give you my honest opinion: they're both very, very good and completely different than anything else in the market right now. I wouldn't have signed on for this if I wasn't totally impressed with both the Bourbon and the guys from BBCo. Obviously, we love Copper & Kings. Their official press release is pasted below:

Bardstown, KY (September 13, 2017) – The Bardstown Bourbon Company (“BBCo”) and Copper & Kings American Brandy Company (“C&K”) announced today the release of “Collabor&tion,” two distinct products made with 10-year-old straight bourbon whiskey – one finished in Copper & Kings’ American Brandy barrels and the other in Muscat Mistelle barrels for more than 18 months in the Copper & Kings basement maturation cellar. The project is intended to embody the spirit of friendship and partnership, and celebrates great craftsmen working together to produce exceptional products as kindred spirits.  

“Collabor&tion is the first of many original releases from the Bardstown Bourbon Company,” said David Mandell, President & CEO, the Bardstown Bourbon Company. “We’ve built our company by working together with many of the leaders in the spirits industry, and our philosophy of collaboration is reflected in the brands we’re developing, the companies we partner with, and the Kentucky communities that we represent.” 

Started in late 2015 by two Kentucky-based distilleries, Collabor&tion is a culmination of nearly two years of work. Steve Nally, Bourbon Hall of Fame Master Distiller for BBCo, and Brandon O’Daniel, Head Distiller for C&K, hand-selected the bourbon for the project, meticulously blended it until it achieved the right flavor profiles, and chose the barrels for the finishing process. 

“Coll&boration is not made to be collected; it’s far more special than that. Its heart is friendship, enjoying company, and bringing out the best in each other,” said Joe Heron, President & CEO of Copper & Kings American Brandy Company. “It is an exceptional bourbon that was made by friends for friends and is designed to be enjoyed with friends.”  

“Exceptional bourbon will always carry beautiful dark fruit notes (figs, raisins, dates) as well as apple and pear to complement the classic honey, spice and butterscotch. Aging in brandy barrels not only accentuates these notes – it layers more on top of that foundation to create an incredibly rich, smooth and complex whiskey,” says Bardstown Bourbon Company Master Distiller Steve Nally. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and this is an amazing spirit – something I will share and with my good friends with real pride.”

“A Mistelle barrel is a unique vessel. Mistelle is unfermented grape juice (in this case Muscat) fortified with un-aged brandy (Muscat eau-de-vie) and then aged in bourbon barrels for 18 months. The empty barrels are deeply and highly caramelized with the grape sugars and fruit essences. The whiskey exiting these barrels is pure joy. A completely novel sensory experience; deep, deep rich whiskey – very soft and supple, mellow, and the taste goes on forever. The whiskey notes are amplified by a softness and smoothness that is singular – to say the least. I could literally sip this for the rest of my life,” said Brandon O’Daniel, Head Distiller of Copper & Kings.   

The bourbon used to produce Collabor&tion was distilled in Indiana in 2006 by Lawrenceburg Distillers, now MGP, and is made from 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley. The Collabor&tion expression aged in Copper & Kings American brandy barrels is bottled at cask strength of 113 proof. The Mistelle barrel finish is bottled at cask strength at 94 proof. 

Collabor&tion is a very limited release that’s only available in select Kentucky retail stores, at the BBCo and C&K gift shops, and a small selection of fine retailers across the USA.

You can reserve your bottle of Collabor&tion below. Hopefully, there will still be enough bottles left to sell in the store once they actually arrive!

Bardstown Bourbon Company "Collabor&tion – Brandy Barrel Finish" Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey $124.99 (PRE-ORDER) - The Collaboration series is the first release of whiskey from Kentucky's soon-to-be star Bardstown Bourbon Company, a project done in "collaboration" with Louisville brandy specialists Copper & Kings. Using 10 year old stocks of Bourbon distilled at MGP in Indiana, BBCo finished each of the whiskies for an additional 18 months in two different types of casks: American brandy and Muscat Mistelle. Made from 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley, the Collabor&tion expression aged in Copper & Kings American brandy barrels is bottled at cask strength of 113 proof and offers classic, yet bold Bourbon flavor with vanilla, oak spices, and a concentrated richness that speaks to the age of the whiskey. We tasted this on our initial visit to the distillery this past summer and instantly fell in love with the additional fruit and subtle sweetness added from the brandy barrel finishing. It has all the classic flavors of great Bourbon but with extra lift and roundness on the finish. In the spirit of collaboration, the teams at BBCo and Copper & Kings really knocked this one out of the park. NOTE: Due to the shape of the Collabor&ation bottle it cannot be consolidated with other bottles shipping and must ship in its own individual package.

Bardstown Bourbon Company "Collabor&tion – Mistelle Barrel Finish" Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey $124.99 (PRE-ORDER) - Made from 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley, the Collabor&tion expression aged in Mistelle barrels has an incredible viscosity and chewiness to its texture from the time spent in the used casks. Mistelle is unfermented grape juice (in this case Muscat) fortified with un-aged brandy (Muscat eau-de-vie) and then aged in Bourbon barrels for 18 months. The empty barrels are deeply and highly caramelized with the grape sugars and fruit essences and the Collabor&tion whiskey aged in these barrels is pure joy. It's a completely novel sensory experience; deeply concentrated, rich whiskey that has a supple, fruity, and absolutely delicious finish. It's both an incredibly unique and divine tasting experience. Bottled at 47% cask strength ABV. NOTE: Due to the shape of the Collabor&ation bottle it cannot be consolidated with other bottles shipping and must ship in its own individual package.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Sep122017

La Alteña

As you enter the town of Arandas, about a two hour drive into the Jalisco Highlands from Guadalajara, you pass by a few recognizable facilities on the way to La Alteña. There's the Vivanco distillery right after the first roundabout, and then there's Cazadores with its big Pernod Ricard placards as you move around the border. While those distilleries are right in the town center, getting to the home of Tapatío requires a trek into the sticks. There are a number of winding country roads and narrow pathways before you see the brick facade of the distillery walls in the distance. I've always found that Tequila has much more in common with wine than whiskey, and in visiting the various agave distilleries of Mexico that comparison holds true on the production side as well. Some distilleries are like sterile custom crush pads with nothing more than the proper equipment and truck loads of material being dropped off for preparation. Others are actual estates, surrounded by their own vineyards (or agave fields, in this case), with an atmosphere and an aura all their own. La Alteña is definitely the latter. It's like the Ridge or Stag's Leap of Jalisco, a heralded property that has continued to make quality liquid despite its growth and enhancements over the years. 

Any great wine's reputation will (and should) always begin with the quality and the location of its vineyards. In the case of La Alteña, the agave is planted in the vibrant red soils of the Jalisco Highlands, which create a much different flavor profile than those planted in the Lowlands. Whereas Lowland agave produces a greener, more vegetal and herbaceous style of Tequila, Highland agave piñas tend to be larger, fruitier, and sweeter in flavor due to the difference in both soil types and climate. I've heard people compare Highland Tequilas to Highland single malts, but I've never liked that analogy. The classic Highland single malt profile has much more to do with stylistic choice than terroir. The difference between Highland and Lowland Tequila is more like the different between Napa mountain and valley-grown Cabernet. Due to the recent shortage of agave, many large producers (especially those using diffusers) don't distinguish between the geographical origins of their piñas, but that's no different than buying a bottle of red wine that says "California" on the label and one that very specifically indicates "Howell Mountain." When you buy a bottle of El Tesoro, Tapatio, or Ocho, you know you're getting Tequila made from Camarena family estate Highland agave.

Carlos Camarena needs no introduction to those familiar with fine Tequila, but for those of you who are still getting your feet wet: he's the man behind a number of outstanding brands on today's market; those baring the NOM number 1474 on the side label. His father first founded La Alteña in 1937, so as you can imagine there were a number of banners celebrating the 80th anniversary of the distillery around the property yesterday. Like any great winemaker, he's always been much more interested in the agricultural side of production rather than the distillation and began his career in the fields. We spent a good hour out in the Highlands with him, learning the intricate details of agave reproduction and the delicate ecosystem that supports their growth

Like most wine enthusiasts shun the excessive extraction or manipulation of top quality fruit, serious Tequila drinkers want to know exactly what's being done with their Highland agave after it's harvested. With all of the tricks, shortcuts, and hijinks happening behind the scenes of our modern alcoholic world, it's tough to know for sure if anything is still real these days. Rest assured, however, that the production at La Alteña is pretty straightforward. The agave comes in from the field, it gets chopped up by these guys, and then it goes on a conveyor belt into the oven.

There are two guys who collect the piñas and stack them in the oven for the steaming process, which cleans the bitter and somewhat waxy residue off the agave, while cooking and concentrated the sugars inside. Every Tequila made at La Alteña starts this way. Once the agave is removed from the oven we can start breaking down the differences between El Tesoro, Tapatío, and Ocho.

If you've never heard the guys at St. George distillery talk about their fateful foray into agave distillation, have them start by showing you the bill for all the equipment they ruined trying to break the cooked agave down into a fermentable pulpy juice. Agave piñas, even when steamed, are treacherous and densely fibrous plants. That's why the original distilladors had to use a giant stone wheel or tahona to crush those cores into submission. While most modern facilities have moved onto to more efficient power shredders or roller mills, La Alteña still uses the tahona for part of its production. In the case of El Tesoro, however, 100% of the agave used is tahona-pressed, which in the wine world would be the equivalent of foot-stomping.

The roller mill is what most producers use today because it's far more efficient and not in a bad way. I know there's a certain romanticism to using the giant stone wheel, but the cleaner and brighter Tequilas I often enjoy today are generally run through the roller mill—the agave industry's version of a bladder press and a shining example of where efficiency leads to a better flavor. In order to create distinctions between the brands, Carlos uses different percentages of tahona-crushed and milled agave for the various brands. As I mentioned before, El Tesoro uses only the tahona, while Tapatio is a blend of 30% tahona/70% milled, and Ocho is 100% milled. Those distinctions can be even further distinguished during fermentation.

Winemakers can dictate the concentration of their wine by choosing to ferment with or without the skins, while repeatedly punching down the cap that eventually forms at the top (or not) to further increase skin contact. Carlos makes the exact same stylistic decisions when fermenting his agave. Some fermentations are done with the liquid only, while others keep the agave fibers in the juice. Some are punched down so that the fibers continue to mingle with the liquid, while others are allowed to bubble up naturally. Every little variance creates a different tasting Tequila. Decisions, decisions!

Carlos said two things to me when talking about distillation that stood out: 1) smaller copper pots are better, in his opinion; and 2) every distillation is itself a blend. Tequila is double distilled in copper pot stills much like single malt whisky, but whereas a number of Scotch producers will talk about the importance of the height of the still, Carlos believes a more concentrated and flavorful Tequila results from a smaller still due to the increased contact with the copper. As many of you already know, copper creates a number of reactions that result in various flavor profiles and it also eliminates any of the sulphurous components released by the fermenting yeast. There are a number of different sized stills at La Alteña, but not one of them is all that large. When we asked him about blending the spirits after distillation, he said: "Every distillate is itself a blend because the spirit tastes different every minute it comes off the still." I thought that was fantastic. In essence, you could cut each minute of every singular run into its own batch and each would taste slightly different from the next. To categorize a spirit as singular because it's from one single distillation is to ignore the fact that it's still a collection of liquids with various flavor profiles. Poignant!

Perhaps the most poignant story Carlos told me, however, was about water. We hear a lot about water sources when it comes to whisky, but not so much with other spirits. When talking about the natural spring water that La Alteña sources for its fermentation, Carlos explained that his father and his partners actually built a second distillery in the town of Arandas back in 1938, but eventually closed it when customers complained that the Tequila tasted different than Tapatío. "The only difference was the water," Carlos said. 

We eventually made our way down to the barrel room (which you can actually see through one of the grates upstairs) and tasted some of the El Tesoro reposado selections from single casks. If you hadn't already guessed, I wasn't at La Alteña yesterday simply for professional development. We'll be bringing in a few lovely single barrels in later this year for your enjoyment. Now we all know a little bit more about how they were made!

A very special thank you to Carlos and the Beam-Suntory team for hosting us yesterday. 

-David Driscoll

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