You’d be hard pressed to find someone who has never heard of Kathie Lee Gifford. The singer, author, producer, actress, businesswoman and Today show co-host, with gal pal Hoda Kotb, is adding something else to her résumé: wine entrepreneur. The busy, wise-cracking but devout Greenwich resident, known for that signature glass of wine that is part of her morning show’s landscape, has partnered with Monterey, California’s Scheid Family Vineyards, lending her name and her opinions to a variety of whites, rosés and reds. The 63-year-old, who was married to the late football icon Frank Gifford, will make a couple of stops in Connecticut over the next few weeks to present a selection of the vineyard’s Gifft wines. On March 31, she will showcase her wines at a luncheon at Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford and then again on April 27 at Pinot’s Palette Stamford from 5 to 7 p.m. It was nearly time for Gifford to get back to the set recently, but she managed to make some time to talk widowhood, family, career and, of course, wine.
A wine line by “America’s Sweetheart” ... do tell! You have had so much success, but is this a case of getting better with age?
It has nothing to do with age, but an opportunity to do something new. I was approached about getting involved in working with the Scheid family and its wines, and I thought “why not?” But I am not the kind of celebrity who lends my name, takes the money and runs. I wanted to be a partner in it and be part of it. The Scheids make excellent wines, although honestly, I wasn’t familiar with them at first. I had given up on California wines. The California chardonnays that I had loved had become so oaky, thick and heavy, they looked like a urine specimen. When we talked about it, the Scheids said, “We can make a chardonnay wine like you remember.” They did and we came up with a label and then we went on to do something again, this time a red blend. And have just kept going.
Do you consider yourself a wine expert now?
No, not an expert, but I know what I love and I don’t compromise on that. It’s a hard business to break into. And most celebrity wines aren’t successful. I was excited with the pinot grigio we introduced last year and then a pinot noir that is very unique. The new craze is a white blend with like 10 wines in it, and that’s our new baby coming. The name will be Bountiful. It has a delicate, beautiful bouquet, fruity without being sweet, and I like to serve it very cold. I put it in the freezer for about 20 minutes. Because of the shortage of cork, our wines have screw tops. Our tagline is “Too easy to open, too hard to put down.”
You have been a Connecticut resident for a while now. What do you love and what do you not love so much?
I don’t like January, February and March because of the weather. And the only other bad thing is the taxes, which were non-existent when we first moved here. There was no state income tax. Besides that, I love the other nine months.
I have read that you had never envisioned another television career after Live with Regis and Kathie Lee and yet here you are, a master of the morning as part of the Today show team. What did you learn?
Everything is timing in life. I never knew when I joined Regis that we would be such a great success. I knew what environment I needed to be in. I needed to be useful, trusted my gut and never went into anything thinking I would be a success. My joy is non-negotiable. I want to be with people I enjoy and respect. It is not just about a paycheck. The secret to success is fun.
So are you having fun now after being on the Today show for 10 seasons?
After Regis and Kathie Lee, I was ready for a different kind of life and happy to be off the radar. When NBC pursued me I didn’t know there was a third hour, much less a fourth hour. I wasn’t interested. Finally I was talked into meeting Hoda, and I didn’t even know who she was. We had great chemistry and liked so many of the same things, and I told her, if I am going to go back to work, it is going to be with someone like you.
I don’t think there is anything more life changing than losing a spouse. You lost your husband Frank Gifford just a year and a half ago. Your strength was never more evident than when you were at work a week later, ready to go on. Where did that strength come from?
My faith. People say “you lost your husband.” He is not lost, I know exactly where he is and I will see him again. He is in a better place and wouldn’t come back here if he could. For every trial and tribulation, hold on to the hand of God. It will apply for every situation. It is not a new phenomenon. You can have joy and peace.
Your fans were right alongside you when it came to stories about your kids, Cody and Cassidy. Now they are all grown up. How is it being a mom to adults?
They mother me most of the time now. And soon they’ll be changing my diapers. My son is graduating in two weeks with a master’s degree from Oxford and my daughter is in Vancouver, Canada, doing her fifth film for Hallmark. They are great kids. As adults, they have chosen their own faith. They love the Lord with all their hearts.