Whether you know him from Saturday Night Live, the Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters or the myriad films in which he has appeared, Dan Aykroyd’s DNA is found throughout the blueprint of pop culture. Now, three decades after exploding onto the scene as an SNL cast member, he has turned his attention to winemaking with the launch of Dan Aykroyd Wines. IntoWine recently caught up with Dan to learn more about his wine venture.
What first got you into wine?
I really got interested in wine when I started working on Saturday Night Live. Up to that point my level of sophistication was mostly drinking Mateus Rose to impress various young ladies on dates or back at their place, if I was lucky. However Steve Cropper the legendary blues musician who played in the Blues Brothers band and on the show took me under his wing and taught me a lot about wine. He was the one who introduced me to Grand Cru Bordeaux and Burgundy and the wonderful big reds of California. While he’s the one who got me started it was really my friend Issac Tigrett who was one of the founders of the House of Blues who gave me my graduate course in fine wine.
See Dan Aykroyd's Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay Reviewed on IntoWineTV
Issac’s father was an investment banker in London, in fact his place was owned by the Queen and he leased the land from her. He was away for a couple of months and left Issac and I alone with the run of the place one summer. Issac was mad at his father over something and to get back at him he decided to teach me the finer things in fine wine. Over the course of a month we drank most of his Grand Cru collection of Bordeaux and Burgundy and I came to appreciate the finer nuances of the best wines.
What inspired you to start making wine under your own label?
Over the past 25 years my passion for wine has grown. Wine represents to me sharing and good times and a celebration of life. It is always around happy occasions with family and friends and centered around joy. What better item to be involved in then something that represents all these wonderful things.
Your first wine venture was an Ice Wine with Diamond Estates in Niagara. How did this come about?
I first got involved in the beverage alcohol business several years ago with Patron Tequila. My good friend J.P. DeJoria, owner of Patron Tequila, were at a party and he was telling me how hard it was to get his Tequila listed in Canada. Shortly after this conversation, I volunteered to become the Canadian importer for Patron Tequila. In my quest to get Patron Tequila listed with the various Canadian Liquor Boards, I met a wine and spirits agency called Diamond Estates. Diamond Estates owned 4 small wineries in the heart of the Canadian wine growing region, Niagara Peninsula. I soon invested in Diamond and the rest is history. Now we have 4 VQA award winning wines from Diamond Estates that are 100% Canadian as well as an ultra premium Ice wine from Canada. These wines are selling exclusively in Canada.
You chose to partner with DeLoach to produce your Sonoma wines. What drove this decision?
I actually first met Jean Charles Boisset (owner of DeLoach) about 18 months ago in Toronto at a restaurant. He had come up to me to congratulate me on my Ontario wines. Jean Charles also owns a Canadian winery called Clos Jordane. Jean Charles introduced himself and told me that if I was ever interested in working on a project in the US he would be happy to work with me.
I am a big fan of California wines. Last year I started to notice that while Napa wines were very good, they were also getting a little expensive. I started reading and tasting wines from Sonoma and couldn’t believe the great value you got from there. The wines were wonderful and they were at fair prices. I decided that if we were going to do another wine then Sonoma would be the place to do it.
DeLoach as you know is in the heart of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma, arguably the top Chardonnay region in the entire US. Right beside them is also the Alexander Valley in Sonoma, which is producing some great Cabernet Sauvignons (my favourite grape of the reds). So I decided to meet with Jean Charles and see his operation. When I got to his winery I couldn’t believe how environmentally responsible they were. They are one of only a few wineries that have their own Bio Reactor. This allows them to reuse and recycle 100% of the water that they have. They have the put into place the latest sustainable farming practices in their vineyards and the 2008 vintage of their grapes will be 100% organic.
It seemed to me that they were the perfect partner. Responsible, caring of the environment and damn good winemakers!
Your wine bottles carry slogans such as "Made from 100% Snob Free Grapes" and "We can't pronounce Sommelier either". Why the deliberate lack of pretense?
My goal has always been to offer very good wine for a fair price. I love wine, but I do not like to over pay for my wine. I love finding little unknown gems. There are fewer and fewer of those. I think part of the problem that consumers have with wines is that there is still a lot of pretension. People are intimidated when it comes to wines and wine labels. When really all that most people want is to know that they are getting something good for their money.
I want people to be comfortable with my wines. I want them to not have to worry about whether they are getting a good wine or not. I don’t want the consumer to worry if they are over paying for my wines. I don’t want them to be intimidated by my wines.
If we can take that intimidation away then it opens up a whole new wonderful experience for the wine consumer. It can and should become fun for the consumer to experience all different wines and taste profiles.
I am in this for the long run. This isn’t another celebrity lending his/her name to a bottle. This is my passion. I thoroughly enjoy the work that I do with my wines and spirits up in Canada and I am looking just as forward to the US version of my wines. So far it has been all positive working with the Deloach people to develop my own wines. And I think you will be impressed once you taste what we have created.
Most importantly, where can your wines be purchased?
We didn’t make a lot to start. The key for me has always been quality. As a result, we are going to release it only in limited amounts in January to select markets, like CA, NY, CO, MI, IL, FL, MN. The retail price on my Sonoma wines will be under $20. I don’t want it to hurt when you buy a bottle of my wine. You shouldn’t have to break the bank to enjoy a good bottle of wine.