It’s midday and the crew at Black Hills is busy with the unglamorous task
of running a winery. Tanks are cleaned, floors mopped and back orders are being
filled. A gleaming sedan pulls through the winery’s front gate, past the
more-or-less permanent "Sorry Sold Out" sign (a testament to the popularity
and hence scarcity of the winery’s offerings). The driver is undeterred
by the sign. As he emerges, the assembled staff light up at the sight of his face,
instantly recognizable even under a Grizzly Adams beard. For him the sold-out
sign is good news, because he-and about 265 of his close friends-have
just bought the place. Meet Jason Priestley, winery owner.
Priestley makes sure that everyone knows he is not the owner but merely a member
of the investment group that has just purchased the cult winery. But make no mistake:
when one of your group is among Canada’s most famous faces, he’s going
to get shackled with the title "winery owner" whether he likes it
or not. (Just ask Dan Ackroyd.)
Priestley became a serious oenophile starting in the halcyon days of Beverly Hills
90210, and his interest in this region stems from time spent in the Okanagan in
2006 for his Star TV show Hollywood and Vines. The show followed Priestley and
fellow Canadian "cork dork" Terry David Mulligan as they traipsed
across North America interviewing celebrities and searching for great wine. The
Okanagan made a convert of Priestley and he started scouting for property. Unwilling
to don the overalls and pull a full Green Acres, he decided that participation
in an investment group was a more sensible outlet for his ambitions.
"It was a no-brainer," says Priestley. "I knew Black Hills’s
reputation and I couldn’t believe this winery, one of the area’s best,
might be available." It’s this Black Sage Bench terroir, and Priestley’s
appreciation of it, which sets him apart from fellow Cancon stalwarts-turned-vintners
(like Mike Weir and some kid named Gretzky). Black Hills’s Nota Bene is
Canada’s Screaming Eagle: a cult blend, one that’s brilliant vintage
after vintage and near-impossible
to locate if you are not on the mailing list.
On this inaugural visit, Priestley seeks out Black Hills’s founding winemaker
Senka Tennant to express his admiration for her craft. Tennant’s daughter
Melissa pays back the compliment when she unexpectedly appears with some vintage
Brandon Walsh 90210 memorabilia, which Priestley signs with a chuckle.
Priestley still keeps a residence in Vancouver and strong ties to the West: he
points to the nearby Burrowing Owl Vineyard guesthouse and announces that his
dad, "the mattress king of B.C.," outfitted the place. Priestley is
a dad now too and this helped channel his passion for wine-given that his
other great passion, racing cars, is on the verboten list for new fathers.
The sun takes its early leave and Priestley goes with it, telling the troops that
he will be back as soon as he can. He has a bottle of Nota Bene under his arm,
a reminder of his old roots and his new ones.