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Actor turned winemaker Kurt Russell proves he is a man of many talents.
Evidence of Russell’s extracurricular interests can be found throughout his home—whether it’s horses or wine.
Like most Roaring Fork Valley residents, Russell was drawn here by the outdoor life.
Home Run Ranch is a perfect fit for Russell and his family.
Anything but a Hollywood stage set, Russell and Hawn’s Home Run Ranch in Old Snowmass is the real deal.
Artwork at the couple’s home speaks of Western life.
The ranch life holds special appeal for Russell and Hawn, who treasure their time here with their children, friends, horses and a variety of lucky dogs.
Russell loves skiing and other Aspen pursuits, but says Red Mountain was not for him. After falling in love with the Old Snowmass area, he purchased 75 acres in 1984.
Russell named each vintage of Gogi wine after family members, and their nicknames.
Home Run Ranch is the ideal venue for a tasting of Russell’s own grass-fed beef and his delicious Gogi wines.
Traveling the world to make movies and wines—and always returning home to the mountains—makes for a great balance of the good life.
During an intimate dinner at Kurt Russell’s Old Snowmass ranch, the actor talks about the connections among movies, life and his newest passion—winemaking.
Janet O’Grady | Photo: Ashley Davis Tilly | May 21, 2013
Russell has been making his own Gogi wines since 2008 because, he says, “I wanted to create something that’s memorable.” With an oeuvre that ranges from Disney to Tarantino films, includings Swing Shift, Silkwood and Escape From L.A., Russell could probably rest easy knowing that he has already created many memorable moments in film. But something about winemaking is different, and equally satisfying.
“One of my favorite things about my wines,” he says, “is how people can identify them instantly. Like movies. I make them and hope someone will enjoy [them]. When you are a wine producer, it’s like acting and [film] directing and producing. The grapes you choose, and the barrel—that’s the screenplay and casting. Blending is like the editing process. And the released wine, and how people respond, that’s like a movie. You are hoping for the best and doing what you want to do.”
Last summer, I had a chance to meet Russell and taste his Gogi wines. So my palate was already prepped when, this spring, Russell invited me to his legendary Home Run Ranch for a leisurely gathering that paired his pinot noir, chardonnay and viognier with some of his favorite dishes. He shares the sprawling spread with Goldie Hawn, his partner since 1983, and their children: Kate and Oliver Hudson, and Boston and Wyatt Russell. Located in Old Snowmass, it’s not too far from downtown Aspen, but it’s just far enough to be away from it all.
Walking into the cozy two-story log home, Russell says with a huge grin: “Everything is me!” Keen that no example of his workmanship should pass me by, he points out the Russian-style arch that frames the door. He proudly tells me he handcrafted that arch, and he built the entire house himself.
Dressed in a tan Carhartt jacket and pants, broken-in brown cowboy boots and a big white feather-clad cowboy hat, Russell’s outfit even gives a nod to his brand, with a custom-made belt buckle that says “Gogi.” “That was my nickname as a kid,” he says, laughing. The ruggedly handsome actor turned winemaker has the robust physique of the outdoorsman that he passionately is. He wears metal-rim glasses and keeps his salt-and-pepper hair long. I believe him when he says: “I never was a mirror-looker. I accept who I am.” Aspenites are possessively proud and protective of Russell and Hawn, whom they treat like Aspen royalty.
Russell recalls a fateful phone call from his actor dad, now deceased, who was skiing here in 1977. “Hey, Gog: Get on a plane right away. This is what you are looking for.” Russell had just completed his third TV series, The Quest, and he was searching for a different kind of life in a place that would allow him to go back and forth to Hollywood while he did things he loved like skiing and hunting. “A realtor showed me something on Red Mountain, but I was interested in something less expensive [and where I could spend time writing].” He found it at what is called Gateway to Snowmass. Once he decided he loved it here, he looked for a ranch to buy where he could raise Appaloosa horses.
In 1984, he bought 75 rural acres and named it Home Run Ranch. “On the final stretch home, my dad would always say: “We’re on the home run now,” he recalls. The initials also translate as HR, Hawn Russell. The place is inescapably Western, homey and authentic. Just out the vast picture window, under big blue Colorado skies, the snowcapped peaks of the Elk Mountains tower in the distance. “I can look at these views forever,” he says. Though he and Hawn have multiple homes, Home Run clearly has a special place in his heart and memories.
It was another landscape view, many years ago, that inspired Russell’s biggest wine epiphany. During a Butterfield & Robinson bike trip that he took with Hawn in France’s Burgundy area, Russell admired the acres and acres of vineyards and fell in love with the wines. “I thought about buying a vineyard right then and there,” the actor recalls, “but France was too far away.”
Fast-forward to 2007, when Russell was working on a Quentin Tarantino film, Grindhouse. They were shooting in California’s Santa Rita Hills region for eight weeks. He had a lot of time off, so he investigated the area’s pinot noir wines. “I immediately loved the wines from there,” he says. “I saw they had something in common because of weather patterns and the terroir itself.”
Russell likes to tell the story of how he went the next year with his friend, the celebrity photographer Greg Gorman (now a winemaker himself) to a World of Pinot Noir event in California’s San Luis Obispo. “We had such a ball,” he recalls. “I drank so many great wines and learned so much that I went on a mission: I decided to make my own premier pinot noir.”
Gorman introduced him to his friends Peter and Rebecca Work, owners of Santa Rita’s Ampelos vineyards. The couple didn’t even know who Russell was; they immediately had to rent his films. In retrospect, Russell characterizes the initial meeting this way: “They were interviewing me!” So impressed was he with their wines, as well as with the couple themselves, that he asked them to be his collaborators. “They realized I was serious,” he recalls. “I was blown away by how conscientious they are about the integrity of the [biodynamic] farming they are doing.” Russell has a definite fondness for the byproducts of fermentation. “What I cared most about was the art of wine and the taste, not the chemistry. It was great to get with people like the Works who could translate for me what I wanted to taste.” Though a lot of celebrities attach their names to wines and spirits, not all put the passion and time commitment into the venture as Russell does. He has immersed himself and has become part of the vineyard’s annual agricultural rhythms, from planting to crush. “I get out in the vineyard with Peter,” he says, “and help determine when the grapes are ripe and ready to be picked. I even choose and buy our new Boutes oak barrels. And throughout the year, I barrel taste with the Works, and I get in my mind what the blend will be.”
I am eager to taste the fruits of Russell’s labor, but, first, he shows me around the property. The home is no interior designer’s set piece. Everything, every piece of furniture, has a personal story. Walls and shelves are filled with family photos and mementos. He takes us into a room filled with oversize antique furniture; the pieces once belonged to Clint Eastwood, and Russell bought it years ago in Carmel, Calif. This room is one of Russell’s favorite spots to lean back in a cozy chair and sip a glass of wine. A shrine-like shelf reveals his love of collectibles, such as spurs, pipes and tobacco, which vie for space with natural regional souvenirs. One collectible that Russell singles out fondly is a perfect replica of the Peacemaker gun presented to Wyatt Earp, which Russell used in his film Tombstone.
Russell’s attitude toward entertaining is as relaxed as his home’s charm is unpretentious. For him, eating well means good ingredients, such as the elk and deer that he hunts in the valley, paired, of course with his wines and celebrated with good friends, conversation and laughter. Hawn, he says, is a great cook, especially with birds. “She makes a fabulous meal with pheasant,” he says, reminding himself of the ones he shot with Kate, Wyatt and Oliver near Montrose, Colo., that are in the freezer. While Russell loves to cook— mostly on the grill—this evening, Aspen chef Randy Placeres is manning the stoves. On the menu are steaks from the grass-fed cattle Russell raises. As the chef admires the beautifully marbled beef, Russell and I chat about how he’s researching whether to sell his beef to select local restaurants, and that he may raise wagyu, too.
While chef preps, Russell leads us to one of his favorite spots, the barn. It houses five horses with names like Poco, Ticket, Thunder, Dakota and Giddy, and two goats. We poke our heads into his tack room filled with saddles, spurs and paraphernalia. In addition, two labs, a King Charles spaniel and a mix between a chihuahua and Jack Russell terrier call the ranch home. Russell exudes contentment and positive energy as we walk around.
Russell is one of those enviable men. He’s serious and intense, but also laughs easily and often. He really seems to have mastered the art of living well. And living in the moment, something one spots especially when he is in action in the outdoors. He’s also an accomplished licensed pilot (he has flown his own TBM 700 single-engine turboprop and is looking for a new plane). He’s a skier and plays golf. The 62-year-old actor has been hunting since he was a child. In an almost Aspenized Hunger Games moment, he sets up his helium bows and arrows. I watch him hold and release the arrow. Bull’s-eye, as he hits the center of the target, time after time.
We head back to the kitchen. While the family often eats at a more casual table adjacent to the kitchen, tonight we are sitting at a long, antique, formal wooden dining room table. I can just imagine the Christmas dinners and the people who sat around this table in the past. The table, he says, once belonged to the Denver railroad magnate David Moffatt, whose mansion was torn down years ago. As with just about everything Russell does, Gogi wines are a family affair, with each vintage named after a family member, and their nicknames. Russell designs the labels himself and writes charming notes on the back of the bottle. We begin with a crisp, aromatic viognier with floral flavors. “I make this one just for my mom, LuLu,” Russell says fondly. “I don’t sell it, but I want you to taste it.” Next he opens a bright, lightly buttered chardonnay with a gold top: Hawn loves chardonnay; she inspired this particular wine. The balanced acids of Russell’s whites are a natural complement to Placeres’ spicy grilled lobster, with crisp local vegetables, nutty quinoa and creamy avocado. He donates 10 percent of its proceeds to Hawn’s nonprofit MindUP organization. “We’re neighbors with Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg in Pacific Palisades,” he says. “They grow some vines in their backyard and have a pinot grigio made. One day Kate brought Goldie a bottle, so I gave her our viognier. She seemed skeptical.” He grins as he tells us that, a couple hours later, she called back saying, ‘This is incredible wine.’”
Then it’s time for the steaks that chef has rubbed with garlic ginger and local honey, then seared and topped off with Peruvian salt and fresh cracked pepper. Russell, a pinot fanatic, is visibly excited and animated as he uncorks his three vintages. We are tasting the 2008 pinot, dedicated to Baz (his sister, Jody); the 2009 to Bosty Boy (his son Boston, who joins us tonight); the 2010 to Jilly Bean (his sister Jill, a former race-car driver).
Overall, the deeply colored pinots show a lovely layering of cherry and dark fruit flavors, with a nice tension between acidity and structured tannins. My overall impression: Russell is making elegant, serious wines.
On the labels, Russell refers to himself as the Works’ “apprentice.” He may be a famous actor, but there is a certain humility when he speaks about wine and how he thinks great wines are made in the vineyard. “A great wine isn’t just great to taste,” says Russell, “it also sets the mood”—a mood that has indeed created memories and a story for all of us around that table that night in our Magic Valley. I hear the clinking of glasses, and, in my mind, I see a movie scene of a life well lived.