With a warm laugh and kind demeanor that make you feel like fast friends, Katy Long is a welltraveled, wine-loving, delight of a human being. Born in Oklahoma, raised in Southern California, with an adventurous nature and knowledge-seeking spirit, Katy has traveled across the globe to 34 different countries and counting, attended The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York, earned a communications degree from NYU, and continues to pick up wine studies accreditations – including the CSW, and WSET III , she’s currently working towards the WSET Diploma. Not just book smarts, Katy’s an industry veteran, having worked in various roles at Napa Valley wineries and resorts over the past 15 years. As if that wasn’t enough to pad a resume, as a side project, she and her winemaker husband also produce their own wines, The Aerialist and Jonas. Two distinct representations of Cabernet Franc that are as different as they are delicious. Sidenote: look forward to trying Katy’s wine in an upcoming Kitchen & Vine shipment!
Over lunch, laughs, and her occasional outbreak into humming the Indiana Jones theme song, Katy discussed her current role in the wine industry as well as her life spent falling in love with food, wine and travel.
Katy, when did you get into wine?
My earliest experience with wine was when I was 16, traveling in Germany. I was outside the Hoffbrau House (beer hall) in Munich and all my friends were down at the bar. Instead of joining them, I went to a museum and a wine bar where I had my “ah ha” wine moment. I was so taken with the wine after one sip I gazed at the glass and in happy astonishment asked the server “what is this?” Turns out it was a German Pinot Noir, I had no idea such a thing existed. It sounds so cheesy, but I swear it happened.
You love to travel. When did you get the bug?
During my time at NYU, I vowed to use every opportunity to savor both education and travel. My first summer, I studied abroad in Amsterdam. There, I met a friend from Istanbul, so we traveled to visit her family. The following year, after having such fun we got a few friends together and extended the tour of cultures hopping through Egypt, Turkey, Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, and The Czech Republic.
What country has your heart?
Italy – I’m about a third Italian and have traced my genealogy to the Naples area. But also, Turkey. I was so enamored by the fact that Istanbul (Constantinople) was once part of the vast Roman Empire, and the first time I visited it seemed foreign and exotic. Then, after visiting Egypt – and getting a bit more global perspective – Istanbul struck me as so European. I’ve been lucky in travel – I’ve met such wonderful people along the way.
What has been your most interesting job in the wine industry?
I seem to gravitate to those “outside the box” jobs. After culinary school I came out to Napa to learn more about wine. I started at Far Niente as a harvest intern. I fell in love with Napa and wanted to stick around so I did a stint as a flight attendant on a tiny corporate jet that sat eight people, had an oven the size of a shoe box, an espresso machine, but no real bathroom. I would be cooking steaks in this tiny little shoebox oven, and still, there was no bathroom! The gig parlayed into a full-time position at Nickel & Nickel when they opened their doors to host visitors. I helped throw the opening party for 2,000 of my closest friends – that was neat!
What is your current role in the wine industry?
It’s a little of everything – and it suits me perfectly! I get to use all my degrees and training on a daily basis with everything from writing tasting notes, to expanding my colleagues (and my own) wine knowledge with informative tastings, creating food pairings, hosting visitors at our various properties, working with media folks to spread the good word about our wineries and working with some of the most amazing collaborators I could imagine. Every day I get to challenge my skill set and I feel like I’m a part of an incredible team – it’s kinda surreal.
And you also make your own wine, tell us about it.
It started with my husband, Zach, he’s definitely the inspiration for it. He loves Cabernet Franc and wanted to experiment with extended on-skin barrel fermentations. He produced his own label, Jonas. Trying to get me involved, he asked me what kind of wine I would enjoy creating. I told him I wanted something I could enjoy a couple bottles, I mean glasses, of on a weeknight. So my wine is also a Cabernet Franc, but it’s lighter, fresher and more fruit forward. His is minerally, earthy and more boldly structured.
Why is your wine called The Aerialist?
Inspiration strikes in the strangest places. I got into Aerial Silks after a visit to Argentina where I saw a tango show and was amazed at the strength and fluidity with which the dancers moved. I set a new year’s resolution to learn how to use my body in a new way, so I took up Aerial Silks. It’s pretty much what it sounds like – a piece of fabric, strung from a high ceiling. You climb up the silk, roll yourself in it, dangle from it with intricate holds and folds of the fabric. It’s challenging, but when it’s done right it looks effortless and graceful. That was my inspiration to get into silks, and I looked to those same qualities in crafting my wine – I wanted a wine that had both grace and strength, with style points to spare.
You’re a trained chef. What kind of meals do you entertain with?
I love to eat and to be surrounded by great people when I entertain. I want to spend as much time with my guests as possible so I gravitate towards dishes that are more rustic. My dishes are crafted around seasonal ingredients (preferably grown in my own garden) that can be prepared ahead of time. In winter that means soups, stews and braised dishes. Right now I’m loving an easy and colorful dish of braised chicken thighs with red bell peppers and onions served over creamy polenta. The best part is you can stretch it to feed a crowd, and it’s very budget-friendly. In general I avoid fussy dishes and decor – so even if I’ve had a glass or two of wine, the meal won’t go awry. I want to attend my parties and join in the fun.
So, what’s next?
My husband and I dream of planting our own vineyards. I want Italian varietals, he wants Bordeaux…we’ll see who wins when we learn more about our soil, aspect and water holding capacity. In the meantime, we’re focusing on our vegetable garden and growing heirloom tomatoes, squash, corn and giant pumpkins. I have a thing for collecting seeds and trying to cultivate new plants – 2016 was all about Calabrian chilies and strawberry corn – hopefully I’ll be more successful in 2017. I pickle, dry, freeze and preserve what our land offers – with over 40 heirloom apples, pears, peaches, persimmons and figs it’s a big job. Plus we have a 2 year old dog, princess Charlotte – she’s the orb around which we circle.