Many remember actor Jason Priestley as the golden boy Brandon Walsh on the original version of the hit television series Beverly Hills 90210. But wine lover? He’s that too. After having cultivated an interest in wine during the early 1990s, Priestley slowly amassed a wine collection that tops out at over 4,000 bottles, and now co-owns and serves on the board of directors at Black Hills Estate Winery in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Currently starring in the hit television comedy series Call Me Fitz and also involved in directing episodes of SyFy’s supernatural drama series Haven, Priestley spoke to Wine Spectator about how wine became the unexpected plot twist in his off-screen life.
Wine Spectator: How did you become interested in wine?
Jason Priestley: My journey began with this young lady that I was involved with back in the early 1990s. We started taking a lot of trips up to the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Back then, I was on a hit television show [Beverly Hills 90210], and that gave me access to places and winemakers. I found myself barrel tasting in the aging caves at Caymus and Silver Oak Cellars. I was put on the fast track, which I probably wouldn’t have been on otherwise, and that led me to desire to learn more and discover other regions, winemakers, winemaking techniques and varietals. All of a sudden I found myself building a wine cellar in my house and buying wine at auction, and before long I had amassed a cellar of 2,000 bottles. A couple of years later that became 3,000 bottles, and then 4,000 bottles. It just became this passion; it became a whole living and breathing thing in my life. I think that happens to a lot of people when they discover wine.
WS: When you decided to purchase a winery, what interested you about the British Columbia region in particular?
JP: I was born and raised in British Columbia, and a friend and I were looking for a small vineyard to buy in the southern part of the Okanagan Valley. It’s actually the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert, and in my estimation it is the premier winegrowing region in Canada. I got a phone call from a man who was putting together a small group of gentlemen to try and buy a vineyard called Black Hills Estate Winery, which was already established in the region. My friend and I were both very familiar with the winery and we were big fans of their wines, and we became part of that consortium of gentlemen that got together to buy Black Hills Estate.
WS: How involved are you in the running of the winery and the winemaking itself?
JP: There are a few of us that actually sit on a board of directors, and we actually run the winery, so I’m very involved in the day-to-day business operations. We have a winemaker named Graham Pierce who takes care of the winemaking operations.
WS: Do you have any wine influences that have helped to shape your wines stylistically?
JP: We make our wines very much in the Bordeaux style. Our flagship red, called Nota Bene, is a classic Bordeaux blend. Our white wine, Alibi, is a Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blend.
WS: Between starring in your television show, Call Me Fitz, and directing Haven, how often do you make it to the winery?
JP: It’s difficult, but you just have to find the time. We shoot Call Me Fitz in Nova Scotia, Canada, but I try to get back to Okanagan as often as I can. Anyone who’s ever been there knows what a beautiful place it is, and even though the trip is arduous, once I get there I’m glad I made the journey.
WS: Do you find winemaking to be as rewarding as acting?
JP: I think I reach different audiences. The thing about winemaking is that, when you’re selling wine, you’re not only selling what’s in the bottle, you’re selling the story behind the wine. I think that as an actor and as a director you’re also selling a story, so there are a lot of parallels.