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Women Winemakers Toast Their Success with Celebration at Museum of Natural History

The inaugural event featuring food, drink and discussion serves as a preview of the Santa Barbara Wine Festival, celebrating its 35th year on June 25

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History communications director Sherri Frazier and President/CEO Luke Swetland attend the March 20 museum event designed to bring together women winemakers.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History communications director Sherri Frazier and President/CEO Luke Swetland attend the March 20 museum event designed to bring together women winemakers. (Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Winemaking may still be considered a male-dominated industry, but on the Central Coast, there is a large and growing tradition of women taking leadership roles in the cellar. In recognition of the trend, Meridith Moore, special events manager for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, organized an educational forum and celebration of sorts on March 20 to bring local female winemakers, caterers and community members together for a day of chatting, sipping, tasting and dialogue.

Luke Swetland, president and CEO of the Museum of Natural History, welcomed the 120-plus guests to the inaugural event.

“In 2016, we are celebrating the remarkable 100-year mark in our history," he said. “Today’s celebration is just a preview of our signature event, the Santa Barbara Wine Festival, now in its 35th year. And we have winemakers who have been with us for all 35 years!”

The 2016 Santa Barbara Wine Festival will be set along the banks of Mission Creek at the Museum of Natural History from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. June 25. The contributions of attendees, wineries, vendors and volunteers support the museum. All of the net proceeds from the Wine Festival will support science education for adults and children.

Participating in the honest and sometimes raucous panel discussion during the March event were Morgan Clendenen, winemaker and owner of Cold Heaven; Chrystal Clifton, winemaker and owner of Palmina Wines; Kris Curran, winemaker and owner of D'Alfonso-Curran Wines; Tara Gomez; winemaker for Kita Wines; Kathy Joseph, owner and winemaker for Fiddlehead Cellars; Karen Steinwachs, winemaker from Buttonwood; and moderator Laurie Jervis, a Noozhawk columnist.

Chefs and food vendors provided a variety of delights, including salmon and dill hors d’ouevres from Industrial Eats; spinach won ton from Nectar Eatery & Lounge; a wine-laced dish from Michael Hutchings; assorted goodies from Christine Dahl Pastries; two choices of chocolate delicacies from Jessica Foster Confections; as well as samples from Pete Clements and Savoir Faire.

Several of the winemakers had mentored each other or were mentoring women coming into the field.

“When people ask me about getting into winemaking, I tell them that you won’t get any sleep and there is no money,” said Curran of D'Alfonso-Curran Wines, who, unlike some of the other women winemakers present, said she didn’t have a background in science or biology but goes by her taste.

Clendenen of Cold Heaven said, “I love the art of winemaking and the science behind it.”

Other women winemakers pouring at the event represented Cebada, Casa Dumetz, Falcone, Gypsy Canyon, William James Cellars and Rancho Sisquoc.

Pouring at one booth was Deborah Hall, winemaker for Gypsy Canyon Winery in the Santa Rita Hills near Lompoc, where she makes world-class, handmade chardonnay, pinot noir and ancient vine Angelica. Illustrating the diversity of the female winemakers represented, Gypsy Canyon produces just 1,000 cases annually.

“I am a one-girl operation,” Hall told Noozhawk. “My husband, William, and I wanted to leave L.A. for an early retirement in 1994. We saw an ad in the paper for a place in foreclosure in Lompoc — we didn’t even know where Lompoc was! It was down a two-mile dirt road. At the end of the road, there was a falling-down barn and house with lima beans growing out front. There was something about the place, and we decided to buy it.

“Then we realized we were in wine country! We started from scratch. Cleaning up, we discovered an old vineyard covered in sage brush. It turned out to be a historic Mission grape that was planted in 1887. In 1997, my husband passed away. He never got to see the vineyards planted, which I did in 1999.

“The first harvest was in 2001. I sold pinot grapes to other winemakers until 2003, when I kept enough for myself to make a barrel. Now, I keep all my own fruit to make my wine. The vineyard became known as Dona Marcelina’s Vineyard, in honor of the first woman winegrower in Santa Barbara County.”

Later, Swetland told Noozhawk that another very special symposium is planned for Oct. 23 featuring the pioneer winemakers of the Central Coast, including Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Fred Brander of Brander Winery, Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines, Rick Longoria of Longoria Wines and Bob Linquist of Qupe.

Founded in 1916 with a collection of bird eggs as the Museum of Comparative Oology, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has grown to interpret other aspects of natural history.

Throughout the years, the museum has established major collections in anthropology, earth sciences and zoology, producing major scientific works and offering educational programs to children and adults. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the museum played a leadership role in the emerging field of environmental action when museum scientists helped establish the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and participated in the California Condor Project.

The museum boasts a collection of 3.5 million specimens and artifacts, ranking high among its peers nationally and internationally. The museum added the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf as an off-campus facility focused specifically on the coastal and ocean environment in 1987.

Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, or call 805.682.4711. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk contributing writer Rochelle Rose can be reached at [email protected]. This article includes reportinf Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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