Kurt Russell was in between takes on the set of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof when he eyed the vineyards of Sta. Rita Hills. A year later, he started his first wine venture at the same spot off Highway 246. Russell's passion for wine started nearly three decades before that, tasting wines with his wife, Goldie Hawn, in Napa, Germany, Italy and France, where he developed a weakness for grand cru Burgundy. In the latest episode of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, the veteran actor and founder of GoGi Wines spoke with Wine Spectator senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec about adopting Burgundian vineyard practices, why blending drives him crazy and the parallels between movies and wine.
For Russell, Burgundy was always in the back of his mind, especially the wines of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Convinced that the vineyards of Sta. Rita Hills bore a resemblance to his favorite French terroirs, Russell spoke with celebrity photographer and vintner Greg Gorman, who convinced him to take a stab at making wine and introduced him to Peter and Rebecca Work of Sta. Rita Hills' Ampelos Cellars.
"I had to go through the process of 'cellar-ratting,' asking as many questions as I could, walking the vineyard with Peter and beginning to understand the process in terms of farming techniques," Russell said about partnering with the organic, biodynamic and sustainable-certified winery to launch GoGi. "The sustainability practice I later learned would be a big part of what I was going to hook into to recreate in my mind the Burgundian style."
Russell says it took four years to get his first wine out the door, but he understands there's no shortcuts when it comes to good wine. He uses chickens to control insects and keeps machinery out of the vineyard, to avoid compacting the soil.
"I think it becomes very important to understand the farming connection if you want to make a Burgundian style of Pinot," he said. "You're gonna find yourself making wine in an old-fashioned way and it becomes a mindset."
As a partner/winemaker, Russell's favorite and most nerve-wracking day is blending day. Out of the numerous lots, many highlighting different Pinot Noir clones, just a few go into the final blend. Russell compares the annual process to a chess game in his head.
"You begin to put it together and blend it and look to the future and say, 'When this gets married and settled down, is what you're putting in this bottle what you want someone to have as an experience five, 10, 15 years from now?'" he said.
Ultimately, Russell is proud to create a label that represents his family. Each Pinot Noir or Chardonnay bottling is named after a family member, mostly through their nicknames (Russell's is GoGi). He's also felt a connection between winemaking and his life in movies. "There are those who critique movies and they know a lot about them, and there are those who love to go to the movies and they know a lot about how they feel about them, and then there are those of us in the trenches making them," he said. "In wine, I found that to be quite true."
Watch the full episode with Russell on Wine Spectator's IGTV channel, and tune in to catch Straight Talk with Wine Spectator every week. On April 28, senior editor Tim Fish will chat with actor-vintner Kyle MacLachlan. And on May 5, senior editor Bruce Sanderson will talk to Le Bernardin's wine director Aldo Sohm.