Dan Aykroyd Talks Wine and Spirits (Literally)

While many younger Saturday Night Live viewers are reconnecting with its vintage sketches, one of its original players Dan Aykroyd is exploring vintage wine. The actor/musician is currently expanding his wine and spirits empire. He partnered to create the Dan Aykroyd Winery in Canada, is owner of Crystal Head vodka and co-founder of House of Blues. This year, he is focusing on the U.S. roll out of the Dan Aykroyd Discovery Series of Sonoma County wines. The affordable collection was created as a partnership with the DeLoach Vineyards. Aykroyd (who doesn’t use e-mail) spoke with Brandweek‘s Kenneth Hein about his desire to star in Ford ads, his appreciation of the supernatural and whether he plans to include a free Bass-o-matic with the purchase of his wines.

Brandweek: Tell me about your wines?
Dan Aykroyd: The wines come out of Sonoma’s DeLoach Vineyards supervised by Jean-Charles Boisset who is a great burgundy maker out of France. He took over the DeLoach Vineyard and repurposed it. I’m very proud of my Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that we came up with together. He executed my taste and my palette sort of. It’s a premium, high-value product at a good price. Today’s consumer is looking to spend their dollars wisely. They want the most for their money. I think this a good time for this product.

BW: What kind of brand equity does your name carry?
DA: The equity of my name is familiarity and an association with good times, laughter and entertainment which is what food and drink is. I bring a credibility [that says] don’t be afraid to approach my wine. I’m not a snob about it. I’m not a real connoisseur, but I know what I like. I’m not a sommelier. You don’t even have to know how to pronounce that word to drink my wine. We use snob free grapes, as we like to say. It’s approachable but I have worked with the best winemakers in the world to put juice in a bottle that drinks double what you’re buying. It drinks like a $40 or $50 bottle of wine but it only costs about $20.

BW: Does it come with a Bass-o-matic?
DA: I would like to be able to put Bass-o-matic back into production so we could use it a special point-of-sale item. Maybe I should talk to Sears or Cuisinart or whichever blender I used. They don’t make those nice glass blenders anymore.

BW: What was the story behind Crystal Head vodka?
DA:The vodka originates from an idea my friend artist John Alexander had. He’s been going to the Mexican “Day of the Dead” celebration for some time. He has been putting skulls in his artwork for years. He wanted put tequila in a glass skull and I said that’s a brilliant idea but I’m the importer of Patron into Canada. [Aykroyd got involved with Alloy Brands four years ago]. So I’m involved with the greatest tequila in the world. I don’t want to be associated with another tequila. That would be like Pepsi salesman drinking Coke. He drew the skull on a napkin and it was beautiful and it hit me. Let’s bring back the Mitchell-Hedges skull that was found in the Yucatan. There is the legend of the crystal heads found around the world that were referenced in the Indiana Jones movie. I said let’s use a liquid that is a pure spirit. Let’s go back to the old style of rural white lightning and good old-fashioned moonshine. I said I think I’ll sacrifice the satiny, velvet feel that other vodkas have. For smoothness you pay a price by adding impure and caustic substances to the beverage. I said guys none of this. We took deep aquified glacier water from Newfoundland and they added the sunset wheat and some St. Thomas, Ontario peaches and cream corn. It adds a sweetness to it. So what you have is a pure old-fashioned mash triple distilled over charcoal poured over semiprecious stones to form the last psychic touch of the legend of the Crystal heads. It’s doing well.

BW: When I watched your explanation at Crystalheadvodka.com I wondered if it was an elaborate ruse?
DA: I am a spiritualist, a proud wearer of the spiritualist badge. My great grandfather was a correspondent with Arthur Conan Doyle who was an author involved with the mediums and channeling activities that were going on at the time. [My grandfather] was also a member of the Lily Dale society…Medium and psychic research has gone on for many, many years. There are people who feel like they could communicate with the dead whether the dead wanted it or not. I am a long-standing believer that there is more to these  four dimensions that we live in.

BW: Have you pitched any other real brands in the past?
DA: I pitched the Financial Times quite effectively when they launched their Web site. We did a massive newsprint and television campaign, which I wrote and did voiceovers for. That was very successful in getting them established as a Web presence and getting their profile up as a publishing presence in America. I’ve also worked with Charter Cable. My friend owns the company and asked me to do some work with them. Other than that I haven’t really had that much association with the world of commercial branding. It’s exciting.

BW: Is there a brand you’d like to work with?
DA: Ford Motors. Absolutely. I love Ford Motors. I am driving one now and I have three of them at home. I think they are the greatest cars on the planet. It’s very sad that they are suffering during this economic downturn. I would like to pitch my family as the perfect Ford Motors family. We are early age baby boomers with a variety of vehicles that are needed in this family with two teenage driving daughters. I think I would make a great pitchman for Ford motors. I’ve done work for Harley mostly for their anniversary and in-store promotions. I usually get paid in machines, which I like.

BW: Did you learn anything from your days of spoofing these brands?
DA: Probably not. I’m learning as I go along here. I guess we’re just going to have to feel our way. But the bottom line is the celerity name, the association, the beautiful package, the branding launch and campaign will only go so far for you. You have to have a product that really performs or else you don’t have a business. Branding can be very successful like Pets.com, which was a great idea, but it just wasn’t executed.

BW: What was your favorite ad parody?
DA: The dessert topping that was also a floor wax that Michael O’Donoghue and Chevy [Chase] wrote. That was the best.