As Santa Barbara County’s wine industry continues to flourish, so do the various local businesses that are byproducts of winemakers’ success.
One such enterprise is Gypsy Studios, which calls itself “the art studio on wheels.” It’s the brainchild of longtime Santa Ynez Valley resident and artist Christi Schaeffer, who combined two passions — art and wine — into a hands-on company.
Since founding Gypsy Studios in January, Schaeffer has guided experienced and novice artists in painting classes situated in outdoor “classrooms” — mostly in the vineyards now in bloom across the county.
“We conduct painting classes all over the Santa Ynez Valley and mostly in a plein air environment, meaning outside, capturing the landscape as it is on that given day, often accompanied by great wines from the valley," said Heidi Riehl, Gypsy Studios’ event manager. "This is such a cool pairing, if you will, especially during our 'Painting in the Vineyard' sessions, where we use the parallel between the artistry and unique approach of each winemaker to how each individual has a unique style and approach to art.
“Oftentimes, that winery’s winemaker or tasting room staff will share about the vineyard’s history, the vision for their wine and vineyard, and the style of the wine. It really brings the whole experience together.”
Schaeffer grew up in South Orange County, but at age 16, moved with her family to Santa Ynez and graduated from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.
“Christi is a working artist and grew up drawing and painting," Riehl said. "She studied studio art in college at Santa Barbara City College and at Cal State-Fullerton, and took a semester in college to study art history in Florence, Italy.”
Before deciding to pursue her passion as an artist, Schaeffer worked in graphic design, social work, marketing for nonprofits, project management and in the local wine industry, where she worked for in tasting rooms for both Kaena Wine and Kalyra Winery.
Riehl, a native of Tillamook, Ore., now pours wine at Stolpman Vineyards’ Los Olivos tasting room, and previously worked for Oregon’s Lumos Wine Co. She spent nearly 22 years working for a marketing agency, where she focused on publicity and fundraising for nonprofit organizations.
“Photography is more my speed, so (now) I mostly stick to that and marketing, writing and event planning,” Riehl said.
Gypsy Studios’ “Painting in the Vineyard” events accommodate groups of up to 30 people, as well as private classes, company team-building painting sessions, six-week series of classes geared toward small groups, and birthdays/special events, Riehl said.
Speaking of California’s thriving wine industry: According to the Wine Institute, California wine shipments in the United States were 225 million cases in 2014, up 4.4 percent from the previous year. The case figure translates to an estimated retail value of $24.6 billion, up 6.7 percent. California wine sales to all markets, both domestic and international, increased 3.7 percent by volume to 269 million cases in 2014.
“California has had three excellent harvests in both quantity and quality in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and these vintages are receiving global recognition,” said Robert "Bobby" Koch, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Wine Institute in a May 20 news release.
According to Nielsen, a global provider of information and insights into consumer preferences and purchases in U.S. food stores, total wine volume sales grew 1 percent, while total revenues increased 4 percent.
In measured U.S. off-premise channels, the most popular wine types by volume were Chardonnay (19 percent share), Cabernet Sauvignon (13 percent), Red Blends/Sweet Reds (10 percent), Pinot Grigio (9 percent) and Merlot (8 percent), followed by Moscato (6 percent), Pinot Noir (5 percent), White Zinfandel (5 percent), and Sauvignon Blanc (4 percent). Red blends accounted for the strongest volume gains, along with Moscato, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.
U.S. wine exports, with 90 percent from California, reached $1.5 billion in winery revenues in 2014. Volume shipments were 443 million liters or 49.3 million cases. The European Union was the top destination for U.S. wine exports, accounting for $518 million; followed by Canada, $487 million; Japan, $101 million; China, $71 million; Hong Kong, $69 million; Mexico, $24 million; and South Korea, $22 million.