Competition – Kathy Merchant


Kathy Merchant is a wine writer and educator based in Cincinnati. This is her unedited entry in our seminal wine competition. The (truncated) picture was taken in San Gimignano. 

Friday, July 8, 1994. That was the day I fell in love with the experience of wine and began an amazing journey that continues to unfold. 

I had the coolest job ever. That summer, I got to spend 8 weeks indulging my passion for place. I visited 21 American cities in search of fragile neighborhoods to participate in an $8 million initiative. Why not slip a weekend in Napa Valley into the tight schedule between meetings in San Francisco and San Diego?

I had no idea what to expect. As a young teenager, I spent summers with former neighbors who moved to Los Angeles from our sleepy Midwestern state of Indiana. I was instantly smitten with SoCal. My vision of California started with sunshine, oranges and palm trees, and ended with surfer boys on Huntington Beach, movie stars in Hollywood, and many visits to Disneyland.

That was puppy love. As it turns out, the real thing was in NoCal.

Morning fog in San Francisco is mostly just a nuisance. But as soon as you drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, past Sausalito and Mt. Tam, you begin to see why it matters. The undulating pattern of ocean influence on ribbons of coastal hills, then valleys, then mountains, and finally hillside vineyards, is mesmerizing. I knew the definition of terroir. Now I could see it.

Be still my heart! My colleague and I stopped at Gloria Ferrer for a glass of bubbly on the veranda. I didn’t realize at the time that I was sitting on the curve that turns to Sonoma. This welcoming stop halfway to Napa has since become a tradition to greet wine country with joy and respect.

By the time we reached Napa and headed north on Highway 29, I was ready to plant myself there for eternity. Summer vines, heavy with grapes beginning to color in the glorious sunshine, were seductive even before we tasted any wine. We had time to visit only a few of the really big and well known wineries, but I was amazed to discover that so many others existed. I made a pledge to come back for a proper taste — which have done, again and again, at least 30 times.

My true love is also my BFF. As a lifelong learner, my international travel centers on experiences in the world of wine. Travel led me to want to learn even more about “vitiviniculture” (even while serving as chief executive of a U.S. charitable foundation). It was a not-to-be-missed privilege to attend the WSET graduation ceremony in London for Diploma in January 2012. Since then I have added French Wine Scholar and (soon) Italian Wine Scholar certifications.

Love has no boundaries. I am actively awakening the next phase of life’s journey through wine.