Patrick Dempsey is best-known as McDreamy, né Derek Shepherd, from the ABC medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. His many film credits range from romantic comedies (Maid of Honor, Sweet Home Alabama) to science-fiction flicks (Transformers: Dark of the Moon). And the Golden Globe nominee’s passions outside of film are no less diverse: He’s raced sports cars professionally for a decade (in events such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Rolex 24), has founded a cancer treatment center and has a serious passion for wine.
Helping his mother, Amanda, through multiple bouts of ovarian cancer inspired Dempsey, 48, to found the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in his hometown of Lewiston, Maine, in 2008, which provides support and wellness services to patients, survivors and caregivers. He also launched the Dempsey Challenge, a run, walk and cycle fund-raiser for cancer research. Amanda passed away this past March.
Lately, Dempsey has found ways to combine his passions for racing and fighting cancer with wine. Earlier this year, he competed in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup in a car sponsored by Martini. On Oct. 18, with Napa’s ZD Wines, Dempsey will host the Crush Challenge: a 35-mile bike ride, wine tasting, lunch and dinner. The event benefits Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer, the deLeuze Family Endowment for the Non-Toxic Cure for Lymphoma and Dempsey’s own treatment center.
Wine Spectator: How did you get interested in wine?
Patrick Dempsey: We never really had wine on the table when I was growing up. It wasn’t until my first trip to Europe that I finally understood how important wine was to meals. The rituals around wine are an important part of communication, and connecting. I finally understood that a glass of wine was transformative—it reflects where you are and what region you’re in.
I find myself drawn to local wine and sourcing local food. It’s always much more interesting in eating and drinking locally. When I travel—I was in Germany and France earlier this year—I allow myself to be open to seeing what the locals are offering. Wine allows me to be adventurous. I like to try a local dish and local wine, and be bold and brave going into that.
WS: Do you collect wine?
PD: I’ve been training a lot for racing, so it’s best not to have it around [laughs]. If I have it around, I’ll enjoy it! The ritual around opening a bottle of wine is very calming. It’s wonderful to open a bottle, and relax with it.
WS: There’s a bit of overlap with race-car drivers and winemakers. Do you think you’ll ever make wine?
PD: I know, Scott Pruett is a terrific winemaker. I wish I had time to do that—and I wish I had the space. I live in Malibu, and there are a lot of people making wine here. I really enjoy looking at the vineyards. They are really beautiful this time of year.
WS: What kinds of wines do you like to drink?
PD: I really enjoy Champagne. I like Gosset. I’ve had an opportunity to visit Opus One, and that was a fun, architecturally interesting location. And Silver Oak—I’ve visited there and hung out.
WS: Do you visit Napa or Sonoma regularly?
PD: I wish I did more! You have the best of both worlds there—so close to San Francisco, all the vineyards, you can connect to the earth and have space. I wish I was racing up there more, too!
When I first came to California as an actor, my first show was in San Francisco. I’ve always connected to Northern California. The land speaks to me.
WS: Are you a home cook?
PD: Yes. We have a very big garden, and we believe in seed-to-plate for our kids. It’s a very nice outdoor garden and kitchen area. We’re just harvesting apples—Fujis—we had a really great crop this year.
WS: What’s your signature dish?
PD: Right now it’s chopped chicken, minced in lettuce cups. Really fresh. Just put everything in the Cuisinart, chop it up fine, whatever seasonal vegetables we have. It’s very fresh and clean, and the kids love it. We play a lot of soccer, and we can do that on the go. I’d serve that with a nice white, like a Pinot Grigio. Or a nice Champagne.
WS: How did the Crush Challenge come up?
PD: We have very similar agendas, and Dustin [Moilanan, ZD Wines hospitality director] is also from Maine. It’s a really good fit. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. And it’s going to help us better provide for the families that need it.
I like that we are promoting cycling. It’s all about prevention: eating right and being active. We’ve put it together so it will be a celebration of wine, and a celebration of life as well.