Celebrating women winemakers

The month of March was a crazy month as our lives changes and we were forced to social distance. But just before we went into lock down, I had the pleasure to attend an event in Santa Barbara Wine Country with more than a dozen women winemakers as we celebrated International Women’s Day. Santa Barbara has a higher percentage of women winemaker than most wine regions in the world which I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and am sharing here.

When we look back a year from now at how our lives changed drastically, we will remember March 2020 for the coronavirus, “social distancing” and “sheltering in place.”

But March 2020 is also Women’s History Month, which kicked off with International Women’s Day on March 8. And what better way to celebrate than with 24 women winemakers and a dozen female chefs gathered for the fourth annual “Women Winemakers Celebration: A Toast to Women in Wine and Food” at Roblar Farm in Santa Ynez, California and benefiting the Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County.

The wine industry has historically been male dominated. Yet throughout history, there have been women of significance. Madame Clicquot was first woman to run a Champagne house in the early 1800s; Hannah Weinberger was the first female winemaker in Napa Valley during the 1880s; MaryAnn Graf became the first woman to graduate from the viticulture and enology department at UC Davis (majoring in fermentation science)in 1965; Madeline Triffon was the first American female Master Sommelier in 1987; Sarah Morphew Stephen was the first female Master of Wine in 1970.

Despite these pioneering women, the number of women in the wine industry is still low. Of the 172 Master Sommeliers in the United States, only 28 are women. Of the 396 Masters of Wine in the world, 138 are women. And while women make up 42 percent of the graduates from UC Davis’ Viticulture and Enology Program, it is estimated that women make up only 15-20 percent of the winemakers in California and only 10 percent in the global wine industry.

In Santa Barbara County, there is a higher percentage of female winemakers than in most of the world’s wine regions. According to Karen Steinwachs, co-founder of the annual Women Winemakers Celebration, “Santa Barbara County not only sees a much higher percentage of women winemakers than most regions in the world – with nearly double the average – but 2020 also marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, making this event, and this year, that much more special.” What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month than with a talented, passionate, and driven group of women who are making history as they set the path for future generations.

Karen Steinwachs, Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard and Seagrape Wine Company

Karen left the fast pace of the technology industry to enter the wine industry in 2001. She started as a cellar rat but by 2007, she became the winemaker at Buttonwood Farm Winery, a 39-acre vineyard that stretches across a sun-drenched mesa on the eastern portion of a 106-acre property in the Santa Ynez Valley. In addition, Karen started Seagrape Wine Company with her late husband Dave. At Seagrape, she sources fruit from vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills to produce wines with coastal influence.

Lane Tanner, Lumen Wines

Lane Tanner’s first vintage was in 1981 at Firestone Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley. She was the first independent female winemaker in Santa Barbara County and always made wine in an old-world style with low alcohol and sulfites. Following Firestone, Lane made wine for Zaca Mesa and the Hitching Post and then her own label from 1989-2009. Lane and Will Henry partnered to make Lumen Wines, focusing on making wines from the best cool-climate vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

Kathy Joseph, Fiddlehead Cellars

Kathy Joseph established Fiddlehead Cellars in 1989 with the intention to capture the pure essence of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. As the “Head Fiddle” she oversees the handcrafting and care given to each vine and to each barrel. With a focus on producing place-driven wines, Kathy produces Pinot Noir from her Fiddlestix Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills and from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and makes Sauvignon Blanc from the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara.

Brooke Carhartt, Carhartt Vineyard and Winery

Mark Carhartt was raised on his family’s Rancho Santa Ynez ranch. He grew up raising cattle and horses and years later, with his wife Brooke, they planted a vineyard. Today their son Chase works with them. The vineyard is farmed sustainably and have been making wine for more than 20 years.

Clarissa Nagy, C. Nagy Wines

After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science from Cal Poly, Clarissa worked harvest in 1995 at Edna Valley Vineyards. She spent the next 10 years working through the Central Coast before beginning her own label in 2004. Sourcing fruit from vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley, Clarissa makes Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Pinot Blanc and more.

Sonja Magdevski, Casa Dumetz Wines

Sonja is a journalist by training and a winemaker by passion. After studying ethnic issues and the paths towards peace as a Fulbright Scholar in The Republic of Macedonia, Sonja chose to find the path to peace through wine. She started making wine in her garage in 2004 and began commercial production in 2008. Sonja sources premium fruit from Santa Barbara County and produces vibrant, balanced wines that tell the story of the grapes and the place.

Alison Thomson, Lepiane Wines

Time spent in Siena, Italy during her sophomore year in college is when Alison fell in love with Italian wine, specially Barolo and Barbera, and food. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara, she worked in tasting rooms at wineries and decided to go to graduate school at UC, Davis where she studied Horticulture and Agronomy with a specialization in Viticulture. After working as assistant winemaker at Palmina and Samsara in Santa Ynez Valley, she started Lapiane. Named after her great grandfather Luigi Lepiane, Alison produces Barbera, Nebbiolo and Grenache.

Brit Zotovich, Dreamcôte Wine Co.

Brit Zotovich is the head banana at Dreamcôte Wine Co. which was born in 2012. Dreamcôte was created by Brit, her husband Ryan and their friend Anna Clifford. A creative collaboration project, Dreamcôte is a craft wine and hard apple cider project. Fun, and unpretentious, Dreamcôte makes 600 cases of small-batch wines and ciders that change each vintage.

Helen Falcone, Falcone Family Vineyards

Helen and her husband John purchased their 8-acre vineyard on the eastern edge of the Templeton Gap in 1999. Naming it Mia’s Vineyard after their daughter, they planted Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Falcone Family Vineyards is a family business with John overseeing the farming, Helen making and marketing the wines and their daughter Mia helping in the winery when not studying at college.

Marisa Clendenen Matela, Bevela Wines

Marisa Clendenen Matela created Bevela Wines with the desire to work with unique varieties. Marisa decided that she wanted to be a winemaker when she was 15. She was drawn into the wine world by her uncle Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and traveled with him and his family to France when she was sixteen. Marisa started working at Au Bon Climat in 2008 and became the assistant winemaker at Au Bon Climat in 2014. Marisa made her first barrel of Teroldego in 2010. She met her husband, Kris Beverly, in 2012 and together they have grown Bevela Wines.

Tara Gomez, Kitá Wines

Kitá, which means “Our Valley Oak” in the Santa Ynez Chumash native language of Samala, is a small winery in the Santa Ynez Valley founded in 2010. Tara Gomez, a member of the Chumash tribe, joined as winemaker when the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians purchased the Camp 4 Vineyard. Tara, who studied enology at California State University Fresno and then worked in Santa Ynez Valley, Paso Robles and in Europe, was happy to give back to her tribe by returning to make Kitá Wines. Producing only 2,000 cases per year, Tara’s understanding of the site, soils and grapes allows her to produce elegant, balanced wines.

Mireia Taribó and Tara Gomez, Camins 2 Dreams

Founded by winemakers and married partners Mireia Taribó and Tara Gomez, Camins 2 Dreams represents the routes and paths we follow to achieve our dreams. Mireia and Tara first met in 2006 through work in wine which led to a friendship which sparked a love story. Together they are making terroir-driven, hand-crafted wines from grapes sourced from the Sta. Rita Hills.

Sandra Newman, Cebada Wine

Sandra Newman owns Forbidden Fruit Orchards, a 100-acre farm in the Santa Ynez Valley where she grows some of the best blueberries you will ever taste. In 2007, she planted five acres of Pinot Noir and one acre of Chardonnay. Located only 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the Cebada Vineyard enjoys warm days and cool night which is perfect for the grape varieties.