Was there a specific wine, moment or place that unlocked your passion?
Kelsey Albro Itämeri: I actually caught the wine bug via beer. When I was in college in Washington, DC, I started going to happy hour at this restaurant with an amazing beer list full of rare and imported beers called Pizzeria Paradiso. The pizza is also excellent, but the happy hour was something like half off of all beers, so that’s where I focused my energies. At first, I just went because it was a super cozy bar and the happy hour deal was so good! But then I really got into the different beers and read a bunch of books about brewing and fantasized about becoming a brewer. Eventually, I went out and got a “normal” job, put that idea on the back burner, started drinking wine and eventually circled back to that fantasy with wine in the place of beer.
What did you study in school and what were you doing before you started in the wine industry?
KAI: Well, I’ve now had the distinct pleasure of paying for, and graduating from, college twice. My first degree is a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. I had planned on working at a think tank or international organization, but had the bad luck graduating during the throes of the 2009 recession and ended up coming home to Seattle to work on a political campaign. After that, I did some hard-core career dabbling: I moved to Los Angeles and worked in reality TV and then at a major movie studio, moved back to Seattle and then San Francisco to work in natural foods, and finally worked in the bar industry in SF, where my thoughts really turned back to the idea of wine and coming home to the state of Washington.
After I moved to Walla Walla, I enrolled at Walla Walla Community College’s Institute of Enology & Viticulture and graduated in 2019.
How has being in the wine industry changed you?
KAI: I definitely smell and taste things differently now! Whenever I’m experiencing a smell or flavor, I’m always thinking about how it came to be. What reactions occurred to produce those compounds? Is it inherent to the raw material, or the methods used to process the raw material? It’s nerdy but it’s fun. Also, do you even know how many things can be corked?? I have a neighbor with a corked garage – it drives me crazy when I walk past it.
What’s your favorite part of being in the wine industry?
KAI: The people and the wine. I’ve found that wine people tend to be a pretty good time, and in Walla Walla there’s a wonderful sense of camaraderie in the wine community. The other thing I’ve found about wine people is that they often make and have good wine, and like sharing it with other wine people 😃 So that’s a win-win-win.
Looking back, was there something in your past that led you to wine?
KAI: My parents were certainly integral to my interest in wine. When I was a kid, I remember going on vacations and being so, so, so bored while my parents tasted wine. Once I got older, my parents let me try wines that they were drinking and they’re the ones that led the charge to Walla Walla and bought farmland that we’re working on developing into vineyard and orchard over the next decade or so.
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