Corison Winery’s Cathy Corison shares five lessons she would tell her younger self.

By Cathy Corison
Updated May 23, 2017

F&W's #FOODWINEWOMEN series spotlights top women in food and drink in collaboration with Toklas Society. Follow the hashtag on Twitter (@foodandwine). Here, Corison Winery’s Cathy Corison shares five lessons she would tell her younger self.

I have had the great good fortune to make wine in the Napa Valley for nearly four decades, first for others and then, after a while, for myself. The 2011 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, my 25th vintage to market, was released this fall. Phew! Not sure how that happened. It’s been quite a ride. Raising two lovely, now nearly grown daughters, I have often thought that the greatest gift I could give them is to pass on some of the things I’ve learned. I’m hoping they’ll be old enough soon to hear me. (When they entered puberty, old Mom got pretty stupid. Now, slowly, I’m getting smarter and smarter. By the time they’re 25, I hope I’ll be restored to my parental pedestal.) Here’s a stab at distilling what I’ve discovered:

1. Life is not a dress rehearsal. It is short, so do something you love. Don’t overthink every step. It’s easy to become paralyzed by choices. Choose a path and just start walking; there will be many more forks in the road. There is no way to know where you’ll end up.

2. Integrity is the only thing that anyone has to sell. We’re in this for the long haul.

3. Don’t take no for an answer. Convictions are powerful. As I left UC Davis nearly 40 years ago with a master's degree in winemaking, my major professor advised me that, as a woman, I would never get a job in the Napa Valley. He was trying to be helpful, but in my head all I could hear was: “Watch me.”

4. You can’t have everything. You will drive yourself nuts if you try. You can have a lot—it’s all a matter of priorities. Life can feel like one big triage session. Juggling family, growing the grapes, making the wine, selling the wine and running the winery threatened health and sanity at times. The balancing act continues.

5. Keep throwing spaghetti at the wall—something will stick. Stay nimble. Life isn’t fair, but it has cycles. Just when you think things can’t get worse, they start to get better. In over a quarter century I’ve survived (sometimes barely) tainted corks, floods and droughts, the vagaries of fashion in wine, near collapse of the world economy and huge sea changes in the wine business.