She is the daughter of Fred MacMurray, one of Hollywood's great actors whose career spanned the apex of black-and-white cinema to the Golden Age of color television.
Her mother was the blonde beauty June Haver, whom 20th Century Fox reportedly was grooming as the next Betty Grable before she gave up her career to raise twin daughters.
But for Kate MacMurray, being the child of two accomplished performers doesn't mean that speaking before a crowd comes easily.
So when she was first offered the job as ambassador for Gallo of Sonoma's MacMurray Ranch wines, she had one surprising reservation. "Will I have to get up and talk in front of a lot of people? . . . It scares me to death getting up in front of people," she confesses.
After eight years on the job, the gracious hostess who seems to speak so effortlessly about winemaking, the terroir of the Russian River Valley, her famous and not-so-famous kin and the land where she spent so much of her girlhood, manages to conceal her performance anxiety as she eases into what she believes is the role of her lifetime.
That may be because this endearing woman in worn cowboy boots, with unruly orange curls spilling out from beneath her cap and the kind of soft low voice that would calm a crying baby to sleep, simply plays herself.
As hostess and spokeswoman for the breathtaking MacMurray Ranch, which her family sold to Gallo in 1996 with the promise it would be preserved in agriculture, she draws on the wisdom of her elders. She channels the solid Midwest roots and work ethic of both her parents, the faith passed down from her mother -- who spent time in a convent as a young woman -- and the appreciation of land and agriculture she learned from her dad.
"I was a week old when I was brought to the ranch house and I fell hard. . . . And if you fall hard with Sonoma, it's a love affair that never dies," she says in a voice with deep resonance.
Some people might sound practiced uttering such sentimentalities. But MacMurray, 52, a complete softy when it comes to family and history, has no affectation.
"I love her honesty and her realness," says her close friend Guy Smith, who used to come over to the ranch as a boy with his father George back in the 1960s to pick up newborn calves bred and raised by Fred. He remembers admiring the little redhead from afar, but being too shy to approach her.
Daughter of Sonoma
This daughter of Hollywood is also a daughter of Sonoma, splitting her younger years between both worlds. And for some six years while working at the San Francisco Tennis Club and studying English and humanities at the University of San Francisco in the mid-1980s, MacMurray spent many happy weekends at the Twin Valley ranch her father bought in 1941.
And yet, during several decades bouncing around among various schools and careers, she never imagined she would one day live there full-time.
"If I had written a letter to God and said, 'This is what I want,' I could never have dreamed this up in a million years," she says with a laugh about her job, which includes entertaining winery guests at the ranch and traveling around the country leading tastings of MacMurray Ranch pinots and talking about the wonders of Sonoma and the Russian River Valley. A devout Catholic and member of Healdsburg's St. John's Parish, MacMurray does not believe in coincidences.
"I believe things are meant to be. Of course, as a Catholic, I certainly believe if you keep your eyes and ears open, God is showing you the way if you pay attention," she says.
MacMurray is convinced she was led back to her old family home, a historic farmhouse and barn surrounded by 1,700 acres of vineyard and forested hillsides. Through the front windows of the redwood paneled dining room -- once her parents' bedroom -- she looks out on a softly misted landscape of greenery that her father always said reminded him of Ireland. With Kate's input, the home and ranch have been restored to look much as they did when her father was there raising prized black Angus cattle bred from a bull he brought from Scotland.
But it certainly was a long, circuitous journey back to Healdsburg for MacMurray.
She grew up in Brentwood, a leafy enclave near the UCLA campus. And yet, beyond the famous neighbors such as Henry Fonda and growing up with other famous offspring such as Jimmy Stewart's girls and Jamie Lee Curtis, she remembers it as a pretty normal upbringing.
"All the kids played in the streets and batted balls. We walked to school and walked home . . . pretty boring," she says with a laugh.
Adopted in 1956
Katie, as she is also called, and her twin Laurie, who is married and still lives in the L.A. area, were adopted shortly after their birth on May 7, 1956. It was through her mother's old boyfriend, an obstetrician/gynecologist at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, that the MacMurrays came by the freckle-faced babies after getting a call from the doctor that a "beautiful little Irish girl here is about to give birth to twins."