Wine, Wine Blog

Meeting the Women Vignerons of Santa Barbara County: A Heartwarming Experience


Women winemakers bring dedication and warmth to their craft

Over the Labor Day weekend, I drove to Santa Barbara County. I had set up interviews with women winemakers. Typically, I stay away from humming tasting rooms on weekends, preferring quiet weekdays, when the folks up at the counter have time to tell you all about the age of the vines.

But this was different. I couldn’t drop into any tasting rooms as Santa Barbara County is strict about visitor traffic around neighborhood wineries. Unlike Napa, I did not see vineyard, winery, tasting room, and owner home in one place. Instead, I drove for miles along winding roads to meet some of the women who make wines.

The countryside was stunning in its beauty: miles of rolling hills with vineyards sweeping up from the hollows. The vines heavy with grapes ripe for the picking. Little by way of traffic or buildings to obstruct the panoramic views.

I interviewed five winemakers and my feeling, leaving Santa Barbara County for my drive up north, was one of deep connection. I have never returned from my first visit to any place with the sense that I had been close to the throbbing heart of the place. But the warmth of the winemakers in meeting me, their openness about their lives and struggles, and the sheer intensity of their work taught me more about Santa Barbara and winemaking than any length of time I might have spent in a tasting room.

They are very smart, educated women, who meandered into the field after discovering a passion. The breadth of the work – vineyards, winemaking, bottling, managing staff, filing reports with the government. Weathering the elements, working the dirt, moving barrels, doing every single job required. Despite the toughness I detected no hardness. They care for the people they work with. They are lively. Though in agriculture, they are also in the hospitality business, where the consumers look for fun.

Meeting them I was aware of a deep humanity, a oneness with the Earth that I don’t see in my everyday life. Indeed, they offered me a peak into a life I had not known. I see the finished product – am on the other side of the counter. But there they were, creating something to enliven us, and enjoying themselves, they all said, despite the backbreaking work.

The winemakers

Whizzing down 101 South, I made my first stop at Los Alamos, a quaint little town with a main street on which stands the tasting room of the winery Casa Dumetz. I did my first interview with Sonja Magdevski, owner of the winery on the patio facing the street. Motorcycle riders passed by us. This was about as townsy as it got.

It was a drive from there to meet Brooke Carhartt, the winemaker at the family-owned Carhartt Vineyard.

The next day I met Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Cellars in her vineyards.

More winding roads led me to Sandra Newman of Cebada Wines.

Lastly, I met Angela Soleno of Turiya Wines in a warehouse in downtown Lompoc, where she is setting up a new tasting room with a couple of other wineries.

I will write a longer piece based on my interviews.


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