Katie Leonardini’s family has owned Whitehall Lane Winery and Vineyards for the past 20 years, but Leonardini first moved to Napa Valley in 2004, after working in the financial services industry. Today is she is director of retail sales at the business.
“People come from all over the world to be here,” she said. “I feel personally responsibility to make sure they have a good time.”
What drew you into the family business?
I never imagined I would some day be working for our family’s business. I took off running to the opposite side of the world after graduating college. After having three children, the idea of raising a family in Napa Valley sounded appealing. The family business welcomed me with opportunities when I arrived here.
What is it about Napa Valley that you enjoy so much?
It’s the scenery, the air, the tranquility. It can be raining or foggy — no matter the weather, it’s a beautiful place. I knew when I moved here this would be home.
What’s a common question or misconception you get about your business?
What people don’t understand is that it’s a business. It is a tough business. From the outside it looks fun, but behind the scenes we are working seven days a week.
What’s new at your business?
We came out with a new brand, Tre Leoni, which means “three lions” in Italian. It’s a red wine blend. It’s a 2009 vintage. We released it March 1.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Our ongoing challenge is working through the bottleneck of the three-tier distribution network. A small family-owned winery like ours doesn’t have the clout or marketing and advertising budgets to push wine through the distribution network like the big wine companies. We must pull the wine through the distribution channels by traveling the country and pouring our wines to wine retailers, restaurant sommeliers and the public in an effort to win fans and make sales. It’s exhausting, but it works for our sales team and we have lots of customers and fans across the nation, and in other corners of the world.
What’s your advice to someone who wants to get into your industry?
You need to start from the bottom and work your way up. Work hard. Put your hours in.
Are you working on any new projects?
I have been nominated as Woman of the Year for LLS, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society North Bay chapter. I will be working over the next three months to provide LLS with the exposure it needs in the Napa Valley. I’m planning a handful of fundraising events. I’ll be meeting patients that have benefited from LLS research. It’s a great organization to get involved in.
What’s on your to-do list?
I would like to get through the four dozen or so books I have on my “must read” list. I was an avid reader before I had my children (I joined my first book reading club in seventh grade). With raising children and working, my unread stack keeps growing!
Any favorites that you have read lately?
“The Buddha in the Attic,” by Julie Otsuka.
“The Giver,” by Lois Lowry.
Which other Napa County business person(s) would you like to see featured in “10 Questions for…”?
Brent Miller, local graphic designer, photographer.
Elizabeth Vianello, Carterra.
Which three people would you most like to have dinner with?
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the 14th Dalai Lama, and my paternal grandmother who died when I was young.
What job would you like to try/not like to try?
Try: I would be a curator in an art museum.
Not try: I could never work in a hospital, no matter what the position might be. As a child, I remember visiting a grandparent in the hospital and being horrified. The smell, bright lights and sadness left a lasting impression on me.
What was your first job?
In high school I was a hostess/waitress at a restaurant called the Skinny Gourmet on the Peninsula. I lost my job when the restaurant abruptly shut down upon the discovery that the owner was involved in money laundering.
What’s the worst job you ever had?
I’ve never had a job that I’ve really disliked because I gained experience from each one. I always knew what I was getting into, and when I grew out of it, I moved on. I went from the restaurant business to working with children, to the financial industry, to the wine business.
Whom do you most admire in the business world?
I admire my parents most because with all of the financial successes they have achieved through hard work, they have taught me to be thankful and humble. They have instilled in me the responsibility to support those causes and charitable organizations close to my heart. My parents support many causes and prefer little or no recognition.
What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?
This sounds simple, but I wish to see my children grow into independent, loving, generous and soulful adults. If one takes an interest in the wine business, then that would seem only natural, but I have no expectations that they will.
If you could change one thing about your business, what would it be?
I would add sparkling wine to our portfolio. Although if we did so and could consume our own sparkling wine, Roederer Estate would see its sales decline!
What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
You will never catch me in the ocean more than 10 feet off of the shore, let alone scuba diving among the coral reefs. I hesitate going much deeper in fresh water either. I directly attribute this to the horror-thriller film “Jaws” and my parents, who allowed me to watch it when I was still single digits!
What was your childhood ambition?
I never dreamt of a particular profession as a child. This carried into my college career when it was time to select a particular area to study. I earned a degree in political science because I enjoyed writing, history, art and philosophy. As a child I was always interested in other places and countries, so I knew that when I had the opportunity, I would travel to as many places as I could around the world.
If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
I would be at home with my three children and close friends watching a San Francisco Giants game. Sometimes simple pleasures are the most satisfying.
Reach Leonardini at email@example.com, 963-9454, or follow @WhitehallLane on Twitter.