Growing up in Florida’s panhandle, Carolyn Murphy, 39, never expected to become one of modeling’s brightest stars. Murphy, who currently hosts Lifetime’s Project Runway All Stars, also never planned on falling in love with wine. But a red wine dazzled the Estée Lauder, Coach and former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model years ago, and it triggered an affinity for the fruit of the vine. Wine Enthusiast recently spoke with Murphy about a plethora of wine-related things.
WINE ENTHUSIAST: When did you first discover the pleasures of wine?
CAROLYN MURPHY: It was on Block Island [Rhode Island]. I had a lovely dinner there at a renowned restaurant, accompanied by the most buttery-smooth red, and I was hooked. But I still kick myself for not saving the cork. I would love to remember the name of that wine.
W.E.: How has your career as an international model afforded you memorable wine-drinking experiences?
CM: It has led me down a selective and snobby path in that regard. For example, I’ve had wine in Tuscany at a hotel owned by the Bulgari family that was once a monastery. The cellar was something to behold, like the Holy Grail. The first time I drank good rosé was at a private home on the beach in the South of France; it was actually a lighthouse where wild horses roam.
W.E.: Among all the places you’ve been, which has the best wine culture?
CM: For me, it’s Tuscany. I stayed there two summers during my 20s, and the wine was not only endless, but every drop delicious. Never have I enjoyed such lengthy dinners, with a different wine to go with every plate. I also had my first taste of grappa during that time.
W.E.: What is your favorite wine-and-food pairing?
CM: I long for the fall and pairing duck with Pinot Noir. I like to get my duck breasts from the Union Square Farmers Market in New York [City], cook them simply in an iron skillet, and then serve them with fingerling potatoes and chard.
W.E.: Any wild and crazy wine stories from your days as a runway model?
CM: I recall one fashion season years ago, when I was finishing the shows in Italy. Donatella Versace had a party at her home in Milan. I think each of us models had our own bottle of Krug Champagne to drink from. There was a time when, backstage before shows, it was common for the designers to serve us little individual bottles of Dom Perignón with straws in them.
W.E.: Any other models, designers or celebrities with whom you regularly drink wine?
CM: Stella Tennant [a British model] and I always enjoyed a good glass (or a few) while staying in Paris for fashion shows. I recall some long nights at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz.
W.E.: Tell us what you are doing these days with Project Runway All Stars and other things.
CM: I just finished taping my first season as host of the show. It was an incredible experience to see fashion from a different perspective, not only as a consumer, but as a critic. I’m also a bit of a nerd. I like to push myself to read and learn more. Besides being a mom [daughter Dylan is 12], I like gardening, riding horses, sculpting, painting, cooking, fishing, camping and needle felting with wool. I also collect first-edition books and original oil paintings.