Kevin Morrisey’s career in the wine industry certainly took a circuitous route.
“After college, I’d been trying to make a living as a cameraman for a dozen years in Paris, New York and Los Angeles, and I needed a serious change of scenery,” explained Morrisey.
“I used to go to Napa all the time to discover cool wineries with my foodie friends, and so somehow I think I always knew what I wanted to do,” he said.
After friends and mentors pointed him toward graduate school at UC Davis, “I made the leap to pursue a master’s degree in enology and have never looked back.”
Today, Morrisey is the winemaker and general manager of Ehlers Estate in St. Helena.
1. Which three people would you most like to have dinner with?
I’d really like to have a simple dinner with my wife and my daughters around one table for a change! (We have high-schoolers...)
But another idea would be to sit down with Leonardo da Vinci, Robin Williams and my dad, who I never really got to know.
2. What job would you like to try/not try?
Try: Running all the live sound for The Rolling Stones for the rest of their world tour. Plus, I think I’d actually be pretty good at it!
Not try: Fly 747s. That’s far too stressful and I can only take so much airplane food.
3. What was your first job?
Washing dishes at The Lobster Pot in Media, Pa. That was high school and they eventually trained me to work as a cook. Everything I know about work I learned at The Lobster Pot.
4. What’s the worst job you ever had?
Selling hot dogs at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego during the summer of 1981.
The Major League Baseball players went on strike for two months and all of the food in storage just sat rotting. When we opened up for the first game after the strike the place was overrun with green mold, rats and roaches — absolutely horrible.
5. What is the biggest challenge the wine industry has faced?
The Napa Valley is a place that requires many hands to make a great bottle of wine. We’re pruning in the winter, green harvesting in the summer, and night-picking by hand in the fall.
This is not mechanized work. It is extremely labor intensive, and it requires skilled workers. While we are a small estate and have a full-time crew, I see the shortage of available vineyard and production workers as our industry’s greatest challenge.
The current immigration squeeze and high cost of living locally are two forces putting a strain on our industry and community.
6. Who do you most admire in the business world?
I’m drawn to people who lead with principals. There are so many. Currently I’m liking Michael Bloomberg and Hamdi Ulukaya (CEO of Chobani yogurt) though I don’t know them personally.
7. What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?
Fluency in Spanish.
8. If you could change one thing about the wine industry what would it be?
These Napa Valley wines are expensive and not always accessible to everyone. I wish we could get more people to enjoy our beautiful hand-made wines, but everyone is not in a position to buy them – so their only alternative in the U.S. is huge volume industrial product.
In Europe, you can find original hand-made estate-grown wines at every price point. That system doesn’t exist here, so wine is becoming a bit too elitist. Great food/wine is universal — it’s for everyone.
9. What was your childhood ambition?
I had a bizarre fascination with acoustics – concert halls, speakers, sound systems, etc.
10. What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
When I was a kid, I was so afraid of the needles at the dentist office that I would endure the pain of getting my teeth drilled without any Novocaine. This went on until I was like 20 or something. I can’t believe it myself.