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When most of us were watching those coming of age movies – you know the ones – depending on your generation – Animal House, Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, Breakfast Club, and one of my favorites, Clueless – a not-clueless-at-all 16-year old girl from Cincinnati, OH, started her own catering business.
“I think I was a born entrepreneur. I was peddling pies, cookies, and brownies around the neighborhood when I was about 11 years old,” says the adult Catherine O’Brien. “My parents took us to Greece for three weeks when I was 13, and that’s when I had my awakening to other cultures and international foods. I was smitten.”
So smitten that as soon as she made it back home, O’Brien searched the library for Middle Eastern cookbooks. With her parents’ blessing, she began to experiment in her Mom’s kitchen. Two years later, Catherine’s parents took her to Portugal and Spain, where she sampled her first Fino at a bodega. Again, O’Brien came home inspired, and with Dad’s help, a little word of mouth, she launched her career.
“The more I got involved with catering food, the more I learned about food and wine,” says O’Brien. “In 1979, I opened a small restaurant in Cincinnati that also housed catering. That’s when my wine knowledge and interest really began to develop because I was selecting wines for the restaurant.”
Fast forward to the ‘80s, Catherine decided to open a wine bar with a friend, which she would cater. In doing so, she closed her own restaurant, but after a while, the wine bar – be it location or timing – wasn’t working out. She decided to pursue other interests, including traveling, food, her growing love of wine, and most important, raising her daughter, Hilary.
“Growing up, it was just the two of us – she was a single mom, entrepreneur and a business woman,” says daughter Hilary. “She was my mom and dad, my chauffeur, supporter, cheerleader, personal chef, and teacher. She taught me how to cook and how to be a good person.”
By 2011, Catherine had taken her interest in wine to another level. With the help of her daughter, Hilary, friend Sarah, and son-in-law, Ross Hollebon, O’Brien launched her own wine website and called it Pursuing Pinot. But she didn’t stop there.
O’Brien traveled to vineyards all over, including France and Italy, and wrote about them. But she didn’t stop there. For her, the pursuit of pinot is serious.
Catherine went to Willamette Valley, and for six days, she harvested grapes at Tanager Vineyard and operated the punch down machine at Ken Wright Cellars. At this writing, O’Brien is attending another Wine Blogger’s Conference, this one in Santa Ynez Valley in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country. As they say in the NFL, she doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk.
Now a resident of Charleston, S.C., O’Brien’s wine interests are as keen as ever because of Charleston’s great wine scene. Here’s a fun story she shared on her website that occurred at the 2014 Charleston Food and Wine Festival:
My favorite experience during the event was being reprimanded by Señora Elisabetta Fagiouli, of San Gimignano (a town I visited in Tuscany). I declined her white wine and she firmly informed me that, “Yes, I would try her Bianco Toscano,” and it was delightful. For reasons unknown to me – because I know that you never rinse your glass with water while tasting – I took a bottle of water and rinsed my glass. Senora Fagiouli snatched it away, chastising me, and rinsed it with red wine before pouring me some of her Rosso Toscano. What fun!
So, my fellow wine lovers, what makes wine so exciting in so many ways? It’s all of the wonderful people you meet – like Catherine O’Brien (and Señora Fagiouli) – who want to share with you their heartfelt experiences, great wines, and wonderful stories.
And as Hilary says, “I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without my Mom. She is the most important person in the world to me, and I’m proud to be her daughter.”
Bet she’s proud to be your Mom.
You can follow all of Catherine’s wine adventures on her website, www.pursuingpinot.com.