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Trader Joe’s 'wine guy' is globe-trotting, prolific writer

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Tony Kilgallin

Trader Joe’s “wine guy” Tony Kilgallin will speak at the April 9 meeting of the Napa Valley Writers at Hatt Hall in the Napa River Inn. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m., with Kilgallin’s talk from 7:30 to 8:30. The meeting is open to the public, with an $8 admission fee. Submitted photo

You might know the charming white-haired fellow at Trader Joe’s as “the wine guy.” His wine knowledge and recommendations are so popular that the store has created a section of “Tony’s picks” for the days when he isn’t there.

But Tony Raymond Kilgallin, while the “spiritual adviser” at TJ’s, is so much more. He pushes away the notion that he’s any kind of Renaissance man, but he likes the idea of constantly trying new things. He has studied law, cannibalism and local history; coached basketball and tennis; worked in marketing and advertising; has been a teacher and a sommelier; and has penned at least six books that are in print and a few novels and plays that are still in progress.

Born in England, Kilgallin remembers as a child being evacuated to Wales during Word War II. After that his father, who built airplanes, was reassigned to Canada. Kilgallin grew up in Toronto and became a professor of literature and communications at the University of British Columbia. His adviser was none other than Marshall McLuhan, media visionary. Kilgallin taught and wrote about Canadian literature.

Kilgallin was always interested in writing and travel; life conspired to give him plenty of both. Interested in the life and writing of Herman Melville, Kilgallin did extensive research in Fiji and Tahiti. Getaway Magazine bought his work and later offered him a job in marketing and advertising. Kilgallin spent time in Europe learning about wine, including a trek on the Camino de Santiago route of pilgrimage and wine tasting in Spain. Dailey and Associates, which represented a number of foreign countries, hired him to write about New Zealand and the Philippines, where he met those close to President Ferdinand Marcos. As a result of a query to Canada’s Financial Post, similar to our Wall Street Journal, about its need for travel coverage, he became its U.S. marketing director. Delta Air Lines heard about him from a colleague and offered him a two-month stint on a cruise ship to write about ports of call.

When Kilgallin came to San Francisco in 1979, he felt right at home, as his neighborhood grocer had the same last name as his Italian mother and the pub was run by another Kilgallin. He set up shop as Kilgallin and Associates in an office above City Lights Bookstore, whose founder, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, knew Kilgallin’s work as a Canadian writer. Kilgallin reduced his marketing workload to focus on writing novels while he worked as a sommelier at Vannelli’s on Pier 39.

In 1979, Kilgallin had an assignment to write a story about the Silverado Country Club in Napa. He called it “San Franapa,” seeing Napa as a close getaway for San Franciscans. Napa eventually became a second home for Kilgallin and his wife. He produced a book on Napa with photographer Nanci Kerby called “Napa Valley: Picture Perfect” in 2000. He had an office in the Chamber of Commerce, where he was considered a writer in residence and did public relations work. In 2001 he published “Napa: An Architectural Walking Tour,” in the historical series by Arcadia Publishing, and in 2013 the same publisher released his “Tomales Bay.” These books are available at Copperfield’s and online.

In addition to his writing, Kilgallin has hosted “The Tony Kilgallin Show” on local TV channel 28 for the past 15 years, interviewing locals about a variety of topics, most recently rabbits. Kilgallin, his wife, Patricia, and their cat, Kiki, still live on Russian Hill in San Francisco, where he enjoys mingling with the literati, but he’s in Napa on weekends to enjoy wine country and fill that role at Trader Joe’s. In his spare time, Kilgallin coaches tennis and teaches historical writers. He is reworking a play about historical figures in San Francisco in the 1860s.

Kilgallin is a lively speaker with many stories to tell. He will present a program on “Fifty Shades of Black on White” at the April 9 meeting of Napa Valley Writers at Hatt Hall in the Napa River Inn. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m., with Kilgallin’s talk from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. The meeting is open to the public, with an $8 admission fee.

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