She flew straight from D.C. to Napa. After all, there were new employees to train. Most players went home, especially given the stresses of a major such as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the beat-you-over-the-head difficulty of Congressional Country Club. Some made one-day appearances at pro-ams, and a couple took a day to tour the nation’s capital. Almost universally, the early part of the LPGA Tour’s off-week was a time to unwind.
But not for Cristie Kerr. Kerr Cellars recently leased a tasting room in downtown Napa, California, right next door to the Oenotri restaurant and across the street from the Andaz hotel. Kerr, who served as operations director for her eponymous wine company for two years before bringing on additional help, flew across the country to make sure the staff was trained up before anyone set foot inside the facility.
“That’s just my personality,” the 44-year-old, 20-time LPGA Tour winner said last week from her home in Arizona. “We just added a couple of new hires and I was up there – not really training, but kind of training – our new operations director on all the different systems and procedures for (order) fulfillment and talking over the new space.”
“I wouldn’t say we’re interlopers, but we weren’t born into this business. So it’s interesting how much we’ve grown.” – Cristie Kerr
The business license just went up in the window of the tasting room. She also has hired her good friend and former player Kelli Kuehne as an event and promotional director. As Kerr said of the new spot, “It’s a slightly bigger space than we needed, but in 30-to-60 days we’ll be able to hold a tasting there. We’ll likely be by appointment only. But it worked out because right as you walk in there’s this fantastic bar and lounge area to the left and right. In the back is the private room with a long table.
“We’re working to get some of the electronics in now. There will be a soft opening, but the hard opening won’t be until probably a year. We’ll need some construction and design work done before then.”
You can guarantee that Kerr will be just as engaged in that process as she has been in the hiring and training of staff. Unlike some professional golfers who have become gentleman vintners, Kerr knows every aspect of the business, from grape to glass.
“I wouldn’t say we’re interlopers, but we weren’t born into this business,” Kerr said. “And we don’t live (in the California wine country). We will eventually have a property there that we can rent out some of the time and live there all summer next year. So it’s interesting how much we’ve grown. People don’t realize that we’ve been in business since the 2006 vintage. My favorite saying in the wine business is, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it.’”
It’s normal for golfers to have other interests. Some learn broadcasting. Others license their names for apparel and equipment. Some, like Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw, immerse themselves in the minutia of golf course design, so much so that they can tell you the grade ratios for a greens complex. Going back a couple of generations, Ben Hogan went into the office of the equipment company that bore his name every day and tested every new product before it went to market. But those obsessions are, for the most part, within the golf industry. Kerr has taken the same dogged level of commitment that won her two major championships and applied it to a non-endemic industry, one she and her husband, Erik Stevens, learned on the fly.
“Erik and I are very hands-on, but I more so than he,” she said. “I really like to dive into the nitty-gritty and know every detail of the business. I want to know trucking lines and every aspect of everything.
“My passion and attraction for wine got me into this. We had this tournament – the Samsung World Championship of Women’s Golf – that was one of the best (events) in the ’90s and early 2000s. I really played well there. And we always stayed in Yountville at a place that is now called Vintage House. So we drove almost an hour each way (to the golf course) looking at vineyards.
“The vibe was electric. It was an environment that was so alive. My friends and I would play practice rounds early and then go on wine tastings. Then I would start studying and touring wines whenever it fit into my tour schedule. Whether it was Spain or South America and Northern California, France, Switzerland, all over the U.S., wherever I could go to learn about wine and local cultures and cuisines, I would do it.
“We developed relationships in the Napa Valley over a 12- to 14-year period of time. At first, we first tried to get into the business with Tony Terlato, may he rest in peace. We went back and forth with them for a couple of years and our visions never really seemed to align. So, I took matters into my own hands and contacted a couple of different wineries. Pride Mountain Vineyards was intrigued, so I asked when we could come out there.
“Suzanne Pride was very much like me – she knows what she knows and is very level-headed. She tried to dissuade me (from getting into the business) for the first 30 minutes of our first conversation. Finally, when I said I really wanted to do this – especially after golf, because I can’t play golf forever – and that I wanted to make a small quantity of very high-quality wine and support breast cancer research and treatment with the proceeds, she was a believer. Suzanne was a breast-cancer survivor. I did not know that at the time. She and her father were getting cancer treatments at the same time – he for bladder cancer, and she for breast cancer. She made it, and he didn’t.”
A business deal ensued. The brand Curvature Wines was born.
“We suffered and learned along the way and have built a thriving business,” Kerr said.
Today, Kerr Cellars makes small-batch, premium wines.
“In 2021 we were at 5,750 cases, and in 2022, God willing, and we avoid the fires, we’ll be at about 6,200 cases,” Kerr said. “So it’s growing, sometimes faster than we can sustain. Production fluctuates by the quality of the fruit you’re offered. It’s so hard to find the quality fruit now, that you take it when you can get it.
“In 2020 we made one red wine from the central coast, a Syrah for Curvature because of the grapes we could get. We made nothing for Kerr Cellars that year.”
Then she paused for a moment to take a breath, something Kerr rarely finds time for these days.
“At our level, you absolutely cannot make anything that’s compromised,” she said. “We have to produce the best. That’s our business.”
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