The Canadian comic actor had to wait until shooting The Blues Brothers before he really started to appreciate fine wine, he tells TONY ASPLER
Ottawa-born Dan Aykroyd’s first taste of wine was at the dinner table. Aykroyd père, a federal government employee, had a penchant for litre jugs of Colli Albani and Kressmann Red (‘all he could afford on a civil service salary’).
‘My first job was as a mail-truck driver,’ says Aykroyd. ‘I was able to buy wine for myself, which was restricted to Mateus Rosé when I went out on a date. I also drank Baby Duck and Baby Deer in the late 1960s – until I went to New York.’
The fine wine epiphany for Aykroyd happened in 1980 when he and the late John Belushi went to California to shoot the movie The Blues Brothers. In an LA nightclub, the erstwhile Blues Brother, Ghostbuster and Conehead was the opening act with Belushi for their Saturday Night Live buddy Steve Martin.
That night, their guitarist Steve Crawford opened a bottle of wine for him. ‘It was a big Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon,’ says Aykroyd, though doesn’t remember which winery or vintage. ‘It changed my whole perception of what I wanted to drink for the rest of my life.’
Crawford, who also played guitar in Otis Redding’s band, had a house near Universal Studios, and sometimes after shooting, would invite Aykroyd up there for wine dinners.
‘He turned me on to these big, bold Napa reds,’ Aykroyd recalls.
Crawford also introduced Aykroyd to grand cru Bordeaux, Supertuscans, and ‘those big, thick, yellow, velvety Corton-Charlemagnes. He began to educate me and ruin me for life.’
The weekend that John Belushi died from a drug overdose in 1982, Aykroyd went to London. His friend and business partner Isaac Tigrett, founder of the Hard Rock Cafe and cofounder of The House of Blues, met him at Heathrow Airport in a Daimler with a bucket of Taittinger Champagne on board.
‘We went straight to his mews house and he moved me in,’ Aykroyd reminisces. ‘Isaac’s father rented a house from the Queen in Regent’s Park and that house had a cellar that was full of spectacular old clarets. And Isaac said: “Let’s go down to the cellar and I’m going to get him back for what he did to me. He drank $1m of my wine with his buddies. So we’re going to help ourselves and fill that mews house with everything we like.”
‘We went down and grabbed the Haut-Brions and Brane-Cantenacs, the Cheval Blancs and the Talbots. So now, that’s where my taste is. I don’t want anything but the best.’
But despite his love of top-end Bordeaux, Aykroyd admits that he doesn’t really concern himself with en primeur purchases, or wine auctions: ‘I buy cases, bring them home, and my friends and I drink them with food. It’s just entertainment wine. I don’t have a cellar, it’s all empty except for one bottle of Brane-Cantenac 1982 and a Pomerol 1987 that River Phoenix gave me.’
A far cry from his childhood days in Ottawa. ‘When I was an altar boy,’ he confesses, ‘I used to take a swig of communion wine. It was always Chablis. The priest loved it.’
Primarily a red wine drinker, Aykroyd’s taste in wine is more refined, it would seem, than his appreciation for food. ‘I will take a swordfish and slather it with mayonnaise, butter, mustard, ketchup, HP sauce, honey, Tabasco, slap a little Florentine oil on it and let it marinate. Then throw it on the grill and it comes off tasting like a steak. That, you’ve gotta have a red wine with.’
Aykroyd, a glass of Simi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon in hand, is speaking to me on the phone from a restaurant in Los Angeles. The Canadian actor/comedian/entrepreneur is a busy man.
His company, House of Blues Entertainment, owns 10 nightclubs in North America which serve up Creole cuisine with every musical genre from rockabilly to rap. In 2005, he acquired the Canadian rights for ultra-premium tequila Patron.
The Canadian importing agent for his brand is Toronto based Diamond Estates, a company that controls five wineries in the Niagara region. Aykroyd sunk $1m (£570,000) into Diamond Estates, and now has his own wine label.
Soon he will have a custom-built Dan Aykroyd winery to go with it. In the planning stage is a $12m (£6.8m), 4,000sq m facility not far from Niagara Falls. He is also in negotiations with Jean-Claude Boisset, president of Boisset-America, to make wine at DeLoach, a Boisset-owned winery in Sonoma.
‘What I’d like to do in the States,’ says Aykroyd, ‘is what we’ve done in Canada with the Dan Aykroyd label – build a supermarket table wine for around $20 a bottle that will give you a $50 Bordeaux experience.’
Written by Tony Aspler