Heron Hill's Kitty Oliver with her son Augustus
By Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief
This edition of NYCR Q&A focuses on someone I consider a leader in social media promotion on the New York Wine world -- Kitty Oliver from Heron Hill Winery.
Kitty joined the Winery in January 2009 after working in design, marketing and PR at one of the most esteemed architectural firms in Los Angeles as well as teaching graphic design at Finger Lakes Community College. Since joining Heron Hill, she has embraced social media as a way to get the word out about Heron Hill's wines and -- in my opinion anyway -- really "gets" it. She's a real person on Twitter, expertly mixing her real personality with her job promoting the winery.
Kitty is a native to Keuka Lake, went to high school in Penn Yan then got her Associates in Graphic Design in Pittsburgh then finished her Bachelors in Santa Monica, CA. She's been married for 4 years and had her first son, Augustus last year and is expecting another baby this June.
And now, our standard questions:
What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
When you grow up on Keuka Lake, the local wine industry is just something that you become acquainted with along the way. It's a way of life; wine is a staple in everyday activities and celebrations. Some of those times become ingrained, creating memories that get associated with wine. I think about the first time I went to a winery on Keuka as a kid -- my family tasted wine and the kids tasted grape juice. That's a special occasion for a young one!
Many other life events included wine as the celebratory component. Opening a bottle of Krug Champagne when my grandfather turned 80. When my brothers and I first swam across the lake together and the family celebrated with BBQ, roasted sweet corn and local wine. My dad gave me a special bottle he had made years prior and saved for the day that I graduated college. The most recent celebration was toasting with local sparkling wine for my son's first birthday. Wine is always marking an occasion and if it's not marking an occasion, it's creating one.
What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking?
My grandfather used to make wine and I remember sampling his handiwork. Mostly I remember the labels, "Sycamore Point Wine", named after the huge bark-flaking Sycamore tree on the point at his cottage. I still have some unused labels, but I don't think any of the wine survived.
Which of your current wines is your favorite and why?
Right now, I'm expecting our second child so there is no current day-to-day favorite. I do (did) enjoy Heron Hill's 2006 Ingle Vineyard Cabernet Franc.
The 2009 summer never really warmed up to strictly white wine drinking weather for me. I generally stayed with reds and continued with them into the early fall. The Ingle Vineyard Cabernet Franc has a cedar, woodsy taste that I really enjoy. It's relaxation in a bottle for me and there is nothing better than enjoying a glass of that on my deck on a late summer night.
I love Keuka Lake Vineyard's Leon Millot when it's in stock. This wine is opaque, almost black in the glass and voluptuous. I found myself stopping by quite a bit on my way home during the summer to stock up.
What has surprised you most about being a member of the Finger Lakes wine community?
The sense of community, that continues to grow over the years, is amazing. We're a region of partners, working together, sharing ideas and helping each other out.
There's definitely a network of PR/Marketing folks that easily bounce ideas off of each other -- whether it's a question about the logistics of social networking, recommending a good press contact or simply talking current Finger Lakes wine events. I know I'm among helpful colleagues that can direct me in the right direction if I need it. This also applies to the wine writers that are devoted to getting the word out about Finger Lakes wines.
Yes, this is my career and I'm making contacts, but more importantly, I'm making great friends.
Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
I love a vodka martini with green olives. I believe they were invented with moms in mind...
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy?
I don’t spend too much time obsessing about pairings so I had to spin this a bit to make it more my style and talk about a pairing that I recently fell in love with -- Port and chocolate.
On a recent road trip to Erie, PA I discovered my all time favorite dessert pairing. We visited a handful of wineries and were on the hunt for a delicious Port. Mazza Vineyards Port stopped the search. It's aged in bourbon barrels and has an intense but satiny style. We bought a few bottles and went back into Erie but on our way back decided to stop at Romolo Chocolates.
I don't eat a lot of sweets but do enjoy a square of dark chocolate on occasion. They had a hot chili dark chocolate and I just knew that the Port and spice would go perfectly. This is a match made in heaven. I've been ordering the Port and chocolate online ever since.
Wine enjoyment is about more than just the wine itself. Describe the combination of wine, locations, food, company, etc. that would make (or has made) for the ultimate wine-drinking experience.
We built our home in 2009, and the site and floor plan was geared for gatherings and get-togethers. I love getting people together at our house for eating, drinking, cooking and playing the occasional game of frisbee.
I love cooking, but I enjoy it more when people bring dishes to pass. It brings character and diversity to the table (and gets me out of the kitchen for the prior week). I usually set up huge tables (read: coarse milled 15' oak planks on top of saw horses) on the deck and invite enough people to help fill it with food!
People bring wine from the store, some bring local brews and some bring homemade wine. Whatever is brought into the equation makes for a good outcome. There are so many "ultimates" concerning wine. Wine with old friends, wine with family, wine with the husband in front of the fireplace, wine after a kayak or snowshoe. It's a reward, celebration, topic of conversation and staple in a good life.