Many friendships bond over a bottle of wine, but actresses Julianne Hough and Nina Dobrev decided to take their passion to the next level and create their own brand Fresh Vine Wine, which produces “low-calorie, low-sugar wines” bottled in Napa, California. Sharing a few glasses on set at a townhouse in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, I spoke with Julianne Hough — star of the movies ‘Footloose’ and ‘Rock of Ages’ and two-season winner of ‘Dancing with the Stars’— and Nina Dobrev — star of ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘XXX: Return of Xander Cage’ — about their friendship and what made them want to go into the wine business.
You both grew up in very different environments. What was your first exposure to wine?
Nina Dobrev: Living in Bulgaria it was always present and prevalent. It wasn’t frowned upon to give sips of wine to younger folks at the dinner table, so I tried wines at an early age.
Julianne Hough: I wasn’t exposed to wine until I was about 21 because I grew up in Utah in a Mormon family. When I was 21 and of legal drinking age I had a boyfriend who knew about wine, so I was excited and curious about being able to go to different vineyards and have incredible experiences. It wasn’t about getting drunk, it was about tasting and differentiating between the different wines. Then of course Nina and I became friends…
ND: That’s when it went from exquisite to…
JH: Debauchery! I went from having a few incredible wines to willing to try anything. From one extreme to the other. That was great for my experience as I got to see the range from luxury wines vs. what is not.
Which wines were your first favorites?
JH: French wine.
ND: The same.
JH: I’m going to Italy tomorrow. And I’m so excited. Montalcino. The Brunellos. But I really love the minerality of French wines. A red Burgundy is the perfect wine for me because you can have it with anything.
ND: For me it was Zinfandel and Chablis.
What made you want to go from being wine lovers to going into the wine business?
ND: Wine brought us together in so many ways. We taste tested a lot in our 20s. We would laugh over a glass of wine and be each other’s shoulders to cry on over a glass. It was a bonding experience. We did it so much and loved it so much we wanted to create something that was premium at a great price point that wouldn’t hurt as much the next day. We want to enjoy our lives to the fullest but also feel our best. We didn’t feel like that existed in a premium capacity. We sought after winemaker Jamey Whetstone and created this wonderful team around us. Jamey is incredible — he’s the real brains behind this wine.
What did you learn about winemaking that surprised you the most?
JH: It’s a process you have no control over. It’s nature. It’s weather. Especially in California with the fires and heat.
NB: Grapes can be drastically affected by even a one degree temperature difference.
JH: It’s like a metaphor for life – you have to be adaptable and make the best out of what you have. Letting go of control and being an expert. We obviously were experts at drinking it. But the biggest thing was making sure we hire the right people around us. Winemaking is their passion and livelihood and we trust our team.
NB: We take a lot of trips out to Napa to taste —
JH: (laughing) What a life.
Which wines are Fresh Vine producing right now?
ND: We have a Cabernet Sauvignon, which is what we’re drinking right now, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and we’re just about to launch a beautiful Rosé Brut.
JH: We want to be able to offer variety. People shift between moods, season and celebrations and we want them to have options.
Is there one moment of sharing wine together that stands out?
NB: One of the big ones was COVID. We were in each other’s bubbles. We had a lot of time and and a lot of wine.
JH: Around 27 my body shifted. With red wine I would have that first sip and I was like ‘wow, I already have a hangover.’ And I thought Why? Why is this happening? I love wine so much. One night I just kept drinking anyway and I felt so bad the next day. What that did was inspire me and I thought there is an opening here. How do we create this? That’s why our winemaker Jamey is amazing.
Have you ever shared a glass of wine with one of your idols?
JH: I was just on Broadway doing a play called ‘POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive’ and Hillary Clinton came to see our show and we all got to have lunch a few weeks later. Obviously I brought our wine to share with her and that was really special and amazing. Even though I’m talking to a former First Lady, she’s a human being and we were just being women talking and that was so cool.
What did you talk about?
JH: (laughing) A few things I can’t speak about – but also normal things. Her daughter. Her grandkids. Her favorite restaurants in town. She has a new Apple TV show and she had to learn how to tango. A glass of wine is an icebreaker — it puts everyone on an even plane.
NH: I was in Switzerland with George Clooney — (long pause) — and a bunch of other people. (laughing) It wasn’t just me and George. He was the sweetest and most present person I’ve ever met. Very engaging, very inquisitive. He knew about me and my life, he was just a doll.
How is promoting your own company different than previous endorsements you’ve done?
ND: It’s different than being part of a brand where you’re just paid to do something. This is our baby. We’re talking about it because we’re excited.
JH: We’re contributing personally. We’ve been great at choosing things we believe in. We’ve never just slapped our named on something.
ND: If you’re hired to do a movie you can still love it. But it’s different when you’ve directed the movie.
Do you have plans to expand the brand to wines from other regions?
JH: California wines are our focus. That’s our brand identity. Who knows that the future holds, but the exiting part now is bringing the California lifestyle to the rest of the world.
Does your friendship make it easier or harder to be business partners?
NB: I’ve learned we’re both very particular and meticulous.
JH: It’s balanced. We’re able to delegate and divide and conquer. In business there’s a learning curve to working together, but we already bring out great things and challenge each other in our friendship, so we have a head start. We know how to communicate.