Money & Career

How she became a winemaker consultant

Ms. Chatelaine: It was love at first sip when swimwear designer Kristjana Curry tasted a Bordeaux that changed her life

Angus McRitchie

Age: 39
Occupation: On-premise wine consultant for E. & J. Gallo Winery
Hometown: Montreal

Kristjana Curry is as effervescent as her favourite wine (Kreglinger Brut Rosé from Tasmania, in case you’re wondering). The bright, blond 39-year-old is a student of the grape and a wine consultant for the E. & J. Gallo Winery, one of the world’s biggest winemakers.

Named after her Icelandic grandmother, Kristjana was a competitive swimmer during her teenage years . So when she finished the fashion-design program at the Academy of Design in Toronto, she put her skills to use as a bathing suit designer. She launched three of her own collections and worked for a Canadian swimwear giant, but she quit when the work turned out to be less creative than she’d hoped.

Seven years ago, Kristjana still hadn’t found her true calling when she went on a cruise with her family in the Caribbean. One night at dinner, her uncle, a wine connoisseur, ordered a Bordeaux from the region of Saint-Julien that changed the course of her life. “As soon as I tasted it I wanted to know more about wine,” she says. The ship’s sommelier took the family on a tour of the out-of-bounds wine cellar, sharing his knowledge with the group. “I fell in love with the world of wine,” she says.

Kristjana needed some hands-on learning, so at age 33 she headed to Florence to attend a wine-expertise program. With that under her belt, she convinced Il Borro, the esteemed medieval estate and winery of fashion’s Ferragamo family, to take her on as an intern. Kristjana, who was born in Montreal and raised in Georgetown, Ont., calls the 18 months she spent in Italy la dolce vita. “I’d open my shutters and look out over the rolling hills. I couldn’t believe how enchanting it all was.”

Kristjana made an equally strong impression on her employers, and when her internship ended, she was offered a position based in New York managing the Il Borro brand. And while she was sorry to say goodbye to Italy, in some ways the next step had its advantages. “I was leaving on a high, when everything still felt fresh and new. Italy never lost its magic for me,” she says. She was happy to be on the same continent as her relatives again, too. “Over the years I’ve realized the importance of family. I’m very close with my brother, my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins.”

Now she’s returned to her birthplace, Montreal, to work for the E. & J. Gallo Winery. She admits to being a workaholic, but she loves her job and the fact that she’s always in restaurants teaching people about what she loves. “It’s all about sharing—discovering different wines and food pairings,” she says.

So does she ever tire of drinking wine and ask for the cocktail list on a night off? “Never!” she says. “I love wine. I couldn’t get sick of it.” And she doesn’t stop encouraging others to try it, either, making whoever she’s with pick the bottle. “People always hand me the wine list, which is flattering, but I want other people to experience wine, too! That’s how you learn—by choosing.”

Kristjana’s telling details

My favourite moment of the day is… having my morning tea, sun shining through the window, feeling fresh and ready to take on the day.

I define downtime as… going for a walk in Upper Westmount, Montreal.

The last time I lost my temper was… when my ex-boyfriend was misbehaving.

I wish I was better at… negotiations.

I’m currently reading… Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson in French to enhance my vocabulary: 667 pages!

I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about… It’s very rare, but usually about missing an early-morning flight.

The biggest mistake I ever made was… not trusting my intuition.

5 things Kristjana can’t live without

Perfume: “I wore Anaïs Anaïs and Poison in grade 8, but now Narciso Rodriguez for Her is my go-to.”

Earrings: “I feel naked without them! My maternal grandmother was Mohawk Indian, so I have some great Native styles from her.”

My sketch pad: “If I’m having a bad day, I find sketching women’s fashion really uplifting. It keeps my creativity flowing.”

Brunch: “I love the poached eggs with wilted spinach, wild mushrooms and duck confit at Panache in Quebec City.”

Vision board: “I stick visuals on my fridge that represent my goals. They change all the time but help me stay focused and bring things into my life.”