From child actress to head vintner at Taos winery - Albuquerque Journal

From child actress to head vintner at Taos winery

Katie Hagan                                                                   (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Credit “crazy curiosity and determination” for the lives Katie Hagan has already lived — and she’s only 32.

Hagan rose to the role of head vintner at La Chiripada Winery after working at the family business in Dixon for two years.

Her working life started earlier than most people’s when she became a child actress at 5. She was good enough that her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 7. She says her most well-known role was as Elijah Wood’s little sister, Jane Biederman, in the movie “Deep Impact.” (“I look exactly the same,” she says.)

Hagan, who lives in Taos, also has worked as a cosmetologist, a singer in numerous bands, a certified whitewater river guide, a craft bartender, and a swiftwater and paddle board instructor.

“I’m a bit of a renaissance woman with a curious mind,” Hagan says.

She still offers a mobile cosmetology service, and she’s still interested in acting. In fact, she won rave reviews several years ago for her leading role in “Cabaret” with the Santa Fe Playhouse.

But Hagan’s true love these days is her job at the winery, where she uses her talents to work with “all the girls” (the grapevines) and to make and blend wines.

“Winemaking, as much as it is a lot of science, there’s a lot of creativity in the aspect of you never know what your grapes are going to do from year to year,” Hagan says. “And then there’s a lot of creativity when you start getting into blending wines. You stand there over a beaker with a dropper and you’re like, ‘OK we want three parts this, four parts that … you’re thinking, ‘there’s something wrong here.’ And so there’s a lot of discernment and creativity.”

What part of your job do you like best?

“Besides drinking? I love wine, yes. I don’t really discriminate too hard. But there’s a lot of things I love about my job, so it’s kind of hard to pin that down. I will say that Pat and Mike (Johnson), the owners of the winery, are the most fair, compassionate, community-oriented people that I have ever met in my life, and that in itself makes it worthwhile to come down here every day and work. I love that it’s a small business, that it’s family-owned. I’ve never felt as appreciated as I do here. I’m very lucky.”

What’s the hardest part of your job?

“The most difficult part is probably the lifting of barrels and lifting of heavy machinery. It’s a lot of physical labor that you have to do. But I love incorporating my body, working with my hands, being outside and being in touch with nature.”

Do you have a favorite among the wines you make?

“Do you have a favorite child? We make great wine here, and a lot of different types of wines and styles. So that’s hard. But I will say that if I could only take one bottle with me to my private island for the rest of my life, it would probably be the Tempranillo.”

Why did you decide to leave acting?

“That is a very challenging world for anybody, but especially a child. For me, puberty was not easy. I was not what I felt like the industry was expecting of me, of a girl my age. So I found things to be a little more challenging, especially when you get the feedback of she’s too tall, too fat, too old, too brunette, too this, too that. So I just made the decision … that I wanted to take a break. My break involved studying music and theater because I felt like there was plenty … for me to learn during that time, while I was awkward and didn’t have confidence and all of that. And then it turns out there’s a lot of other things that I love and that I’m good at. People would kill to be a winemaker. I’m not having a sad life without acting.”

What do you do in your free time?

“What’s free time? … I seek out river trips. This year, we went on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River (in Idaho) for a week. Really incredible. Sometimes I go bowling. I like to hike, and I ski in the winter. I’ve got a couple of dogs, so I spend a lot of time with them and my husband.”

Is there anyone you look up to?

“There are a whole lot of patient and pious people that I look up to because those are things that can be difficult for me. Patience is something I’ve been working on a lot these last few years. So just people who stay humble, kind, generous, who don’t let little things upset them or rile them. They stay compassionate. And I see it every day. I see it in famous people, sure, people in books, but I see it in people walking down the street, too. The people who continue to do positive, humbling work throughout their lives are the people I strive to be like.”

What makes you laugh?

“This morning, I found humor in the fact that I had just finished doing the dishes, and my husband decided to press his coffee right next to them. The coffee splattered all over my clean dishes. I told him, ‘I think we have to laugh at this.’ I laugh a lot; I think it’s healthy for you. Sometimes I also laugh at the frustrating, uncomfortable things because every once in a while, you just get burned out on getting upset.”

Do you have advice for people looking to build a career or transition to a new one?

“I think persistence is key. I think if you are interested in something, pursue it in any way you possibly can. If it’s winemaking, go to all the wineries, see if you can talk to the winemaker. Email them, call them, interview them, see if you can help. You’re never going to get anything sitting in a corner or just like, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that.’ You gotta do it, you gotta try, you gotta put yourself out there and know that rejection is part of it and constructive criticism is part of it, and just try to keep focused that you are doing the best you can.”

What are your goals?

“As much as I dream of the future, I really try to live in the now because many things have taught us over the last couple of years, especially, that anything can completely change at the drop of a dime. My goals here are to relieve duties from the owners. They’re in their 80s. They’re not retired. I know it’s partially because this is like a child to them. But I want to try to alleviate their stress and work. Also, I want more people to be aware of who we are, where we are, what we’re doing, because it’s really true to the craft. There’s no gimmicks. It’s funny. I feel like I never thought I would really be happy with where I was professionally. I’d always want to be the best, the most, … the person everyone looks up to at whatever I did. But I really love just being in a humble environment and making wine, tasting wine, talking to people. Showing people there’s a very beautiful, poetic side to wine itself. It’s a very romantic thing.”


THE BASICS: Katherine Elizabeth Hagan, 32; married to Evan Kolberg since October 2020; two dogs, Coconut, a labradoodle, and Mesa, a black lab mix; graduate, Orange County School of the Arts High School; graduate, vocational cosmetology school, Golden West College.

POSITIONS: Head vintner, La Chiripada Winery, since 2020; has held various positions at La Chiripada since 2018; whitewater rafting guide, since 2015; assistant bar manager, Santa Fe Spirits, 2017-2018; bartender Secreto Lounge, 2015-2017; cosmetologist at various locations.

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