Black Hills 90210

Actor Jason Priestley is behind the scenes of the Okanagan’s top cult wine.

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.