Katie OKell: Today’s Notable Young Professional

Today’s Notable Young Professional is boutique winery owner Katie OKell, whose Okanagan vineyard pulled her into the profession while making plans to attend law school. What was the inspiration for her career route? Find out in today’s profile…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.
I run a boutique winery in Naramata, BC. We focus on small-lot, handcrafted wines with emphasis on quality and tradition. We all have a passion for what we do and it shows in the quality of the wine.

Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
My mom was the one who started the winery, as a ‘semi-retirement’ project. Originally I was only supposed to come to BC for six months, between graduating with my Honours BSc in Biology from McMaster and starting law school. However, I really fell in love with being in the Okanagan. I was so excited about being a part of this tiny company that was at the precipice of becoming something truly great. I gave up my acceptance to law school, and now I have started my winemaking degree by correspondence at UC Davis in California. 

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
We are a small company so everyone does a bit of everything. That is both the best and the most challenging part. As each day unfolds, the original plans for that day may change dramatically. What may start out as a day of paperwork can shift quickly to topping barrels, tucking the vines, working on vineyard canopy, processing orders, fielding questions from sommeliers or giving private vineyard and winery tours. I love the fact that my day is always changing because it keeps things interesting.  However it is also very challenging because I frequently do not have time to finish a task before the next one needs to be started. Organization, multitasking and flexibility are key aspects of my job.

Where do you see your business going in five years?
We’ve really only been selling wine for three years, and it’s been amazing to help the company grow in such a short time span. From being a tiny winery that no one had heard of, to this year being the only featured BC winery in the Calgary Stampede, named BC Winery of the Year in NYC, and being featured at some amazing restaurants across the province, is really astounding. I see a bright future for Serendipity. Within five years, we expect to have a restaurant at the winery to fully showcase the gourmet culinary and wine pairing experience at Serendipity.

What does success look like to you?
To me, success is living a balanced life. Right now I’m at a place in my career where everything is new and exciting, with endless opportunities for growth. But with that comes incredible dedication, and it’s tempting to let your work life consume you. The people who I admire are the ones who find a way to have balance in their lives. True success is having time for your loved ones, time to pursue your hobbies, and also having the time, energy and focus to achieve your goals in your career.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
It may seem a bit silly, but the first time I saw our wine on a shelf in a liquor store was a big moment for me. It meant that this company we had created from the ground up was actually going somewhere – it felt like a really big turning point. Five years after planning and planting the vineyard and making the wine, our wine was finally available for sale and people actually wanted to buy it! I was so excited that I took a picture with my phone of the wine on the shelf. The people in the store may have thought I was a bit odd, but it was a really special moment that I’ll never forget.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
I found that it is really important to keep your mind open to new possibilities, within and outside of work. While this may sound easy, as young professionals we tend to spend all our energy building our careers rather than being aware of all the parts of us that also need expression. I was so focused on my childhood dream of being a medical researcher that I would almost never considered an alternate career. Serendipitous as it was, it was Serendipity Winery that opened my eyes to a career that was perfect for me.       

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I had the unique opportunity to spend some time at a school for monks and Himalayan children in Kathmandu, Nepal, during a time of great unrest for the country. It was amazing to be in a place with such warmth and peace, especially since right outside the gates there was such chaos and violence. The woman who runs SMD school is Canadian and she is very dedicated to what she does. I know that every penny of what I donate goes directly to the kids, to whatever they need most at the time.

What is Notable to you?
To me, passion is one of the most notable things someone can have. It is so inspiring to be around a person that has the energy, devotion, focus and drive to do their best. When you are around someone who truly loves what they do, one can’t help but be inspired by their energy.

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How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant?
I’ve recently started getting into roller derby, which is a great way to stay active, spend time with other strong, confident females and get out a little frustration at the end of the day. Lifting hundreds of cases of wine helps, too…


#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)

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