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What’s On My Desk: Kevin Morrisey of Ehlers Estate

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Ehlers Estate is a historic winery near St. Helena in the Napa Valley. Established in 1886, they’ve had just four owners in over 125 years. Kevin Morrisey is the winemaker and General Manager responsible for the business and the estate. It’s a big job, even though it’s a small company.  Each year the estate produces about ten thousand cases of ultra high-end estate-grown Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc.  Not to mention, all of the vineyards are certified organic and biodynamic.

Morrisey’s formal education is by way of a M.S. in Enology from the University of California at Davis, and his “natural head for leadership and taking charge” has continued to land him in management positions.  As Morrisey says, “Many of my friends think I have a dream job, and I guess they’re right.”

Whether Morrisey is out in the vineyards or inside his office, he keeps a fine collection of items nearby to get it all done.

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1.  A glass barrel-bung from my internship days at Chateau Pétrus.  As an object it’s simply beautiful. These are hand-blown glass barrel-stoppers, each one is unique, they’re heavy and solid, you can drop them on the cement and they don’t break (most of the time). And they’re a real throwback to the past; it might be 100 years old, or it might be two years old, you can’t tell, and you’ll never see them in California. It was a gift from the cellarmaster. I like it as an industrial piece of art, and I like it because it reminds me of all the terrific people and the good times from that amazing harvest experience at Pétrus.

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2.  The vineyard map. I love maps. I use this one all the time too.  I laminated it so I can draw on it with markers to manage the vineyard operations, and especially the harvest.  The vineyard parcels are color coded by grape varietal, and all details about acreage, year planted, type of rootstock, etc. is all there on one graphic. It’s amazing how much information you can have on one map. A good map is worth a thousand apps!

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3.  Hand-mades from the kids.  Our daughters grew up in Waldorf Schools where they have been forever making hand-made gems.  I have  a little collection of hand-felted pumpkins that has been added to each year with the new arrivals. I look at them and touch them every day. I think of the little hands that made them, and I feel lucky and grateful inside, which inspires me to work hard, push myself a little more, but also to finish my day so I can get home to be with my family.

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4.  A small dish full of corks. I like to touch them. It’s just like doodling. We use very expensive, top-grade corks here and there has always been a little dish of them on my desk, I don’t know why. But they feel good to touch and to fondle.  They’re made from the bark of the cork oak trees in Portugal, and when you handle them it’s a warm tactile reminder of the connectedness we in the wine business have with the Earth. Wine from grapes, glass from sand, corks from trees, very natural, very grounded, very basic and artisanal. It’s important for me to feel that connection when I’m at my desk, on the phone, on the computer, looking at numbers, churning the e-mail.

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5.  Eric Clapton’s guitar pick.  A fairly new and extremely exciting arrival! I’ve always messed around with musical instruments, playing by ear, but it wasn’t until recently that I got serious about studying the guitar. When my guitar teacher first asked me what I’d like to be able to play, of course I said, “just about everything from Eric Clapton’s repertoire.” So a few months back, one of our wonderful customers from Nashville was here at the winery with her mom, and the mom told me this tale about how her stepson had given her a guitar pick that he was given outside a concert venue back in the 70’s by Mr. Clapton himself! Well she sent me this pick as a gift, and I have it here on my desk. In my eyes, it just about glows with guitar magic. I’m waiting for Eric to come to the winery, teach me a few guitar licks, and show me how to use it! I guess I like to aim high: be it as a winemaker, or being a great manager, boss, and leader, or learning an instrument!

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New York February / March 2014
New York February / March 2014