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Tara Gomez

Paul Wellman

Tara Gomez


Chumash Winery Is No Joke

Tribal Descendent Tara Gomez Impresses and Inspires with Kitá Wines


Tuesday, June 17, 2014
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Given the sudden rise from abject poverty to relative wealth that the Santa Ynez Chumash experienced via their controversial casino, people are quick to assume that the tribe’s recently launched Kitá Wines is just another expensive hobby for the nouveau riche. Or, these aspersions continue, that winemaker Tara Gomez — a 41-year-old woman of Chumash heritage whose father is a major tribal figure — is a johnny-come-lately with more symbolism than skills.

Both notions are quite untrue, particularly the latter, for Gomez is far more qualified and experienced than many of her colleagues in the Santa Ynez Valley. The Santa Maria native graduated in 1998 with a winemaking degree from Fresno State (where she also got better in touch with her Native American roots). She interned at Fess Parker Winery during college, worked an enologist at J. Lohr Winery in Paso Robles for nine years, started her own label in 2001 (which she named Kalawashaq’ after her family’s historic village), and spent time working harvests in Europe before returning to Santa Barbara County in 2010 to start the Kitá project.

While Kitá Wines, which celebrated its first release about a year ago, does appear to be a well-funded operation — most evident in the increasing amount of square footage that it occupies in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto’s new Zotovich Building — it is certainly not an all-pomp, no-circumstance vanity project. The 3,500 case-per-year brand is very well considered (thanks to the meticulous methods of Gomez and her soon-to-depart assistant Tymari LoRe), truly ground-to-glass (thanks to the tribe’s ownership of the Camp 4 Vineyard, which was planted along Baseline Road near Highway 154 years ago by Parker, who sold it to the Chumash in 2010), and inspirational to other tribes across the state that are now developing their own brands (some of which are hiring Kitá for custom crush jobs).

Most critically, the Kitá project — which translates from the native Samala language to “our valley oak” — is producing an excellent series of wines, which range from a racy grenache blanc and creamy sauvignon blanc to a serious pinot noir, lip-smacking syrah, and can’t-keep-enough-in-stock cabernet sauvignon. And the awards are steadily piling up, most recently two gold medals for the 2011 syrahs and a silver for the 2011 pinot noir from the Los Angeles International Wine Competition.

Gomez attributes the accolades to her continual search for balance in the wines, a quest she feels particularly attuned to. “As Native Americans, being in balance with ourselves and our surroundings and living in harmony is something that comes naturally,” explained Gomez, who must refine that search with each vintage. “You never know what nature is going to give you. For other winemakers, that may be stressful, but that’s what I enjoy.”

When the tribe bought Camp 4 in 2010, Gomez began studying the 256-acre vineyard under the tutelage of the crew at Coastal Vineyard Care, and was ready to manage it herself by 2012. It’s a popular source of grapes for wineries all over the state, with more than 60 clients buying fruit every year, an arrangement that Gomez plans to keep in place even as Kitá slowly grows. The allure is because Camp 4 sits in a sweet spot climactically, just to the west of the rather warm Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara appellation, so most grape varietals, aside from cool-loving pinot noir and chardonnay, do well, including Rhône grapes like rousanne and syrah, Bordeauxs like merlot and cab franc, and Italians like sangiovese. “They all thrive,” said Gomez.

But for many Santa Ynez Valley residents not in the wine business, the name Camp 4 conjures up fears of rampant, unchecked development, as the vineyard is just one part of the tribe’s larger 1,400-acre property, which the Chumash want to annex into their reservation and use for housing. Gomez regularly deals with the “backlash,” so other than selling the wine in the places that the tribe owns — namely The Willows inside the casino, Root 246 inside Solvang’s Hotel Corque, and at the Hadsten House, also in Solvang — and a few other places in Santa Barbara, the Kitá sales team is focusing more on Los Angeles area and through the casinos and resorts of other tribes. They are also still debating if and where it would make sense to open a tasting room, with ideas ranging from the Funk Zone to Los Alamos all on the table.

Interestingly enough, given the disastrous historical connections between Native Americans and alcohol, there’s been zero backlash in that regard. “Of course, wine is in moderation,” Gomez explained, “and that’s what we support.”

With LoRe set to leave for Burgundy this summer, Gomez is fostering a new generation of Chumash descendents interested in wine, including career-track employees like Chris Unzueta and the many tribal volunteers who come to the winery and vineyard to learn and help out. With Gomez as the teacher, they’re all getting quite a classic and experienced education. “It’s important for us that our wines stay true to the varietal to showcase that grape and to highlight the beauty of the vineyard itself,” said Gomez. “It’s a special place.”

Call (805) 819-1372 or visit kitawines.com.

Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

Such irony when one thinks of the damage the White Man did to The Indians via alcohol.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 1:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Wages of sin, now on top of gambling.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 7:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The circuit has been completed, the goal achieved; now the SYV had it's booze AND it's gambling all in one convenient spot. How far this area has come... from horses, flowers, the natural beauty etc., to Las Vegas of the West.

There are no words adequate to describe my joy at escaping from that place when I did.

Las Vegas, with faux Danish architecture, snobby winos, and no infrastructure for locals.

Yep... big improvement! Not.

Holly (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 8:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Just joining the crowd of white wine farmers.

Why, because it makes money, something needed to not live in poverty.

Maybe the Chumash should offer the same type of gambling that millions of white, black, brown people take part in every week - Lotto, MegaMillions, etc. Or maybe online gambling - but then one of the richest white gambling moguls would like to ban that. I have my money, eff you if you want to use that avenue - which would mean car-free, alcohol-free, accident-free gambling.

All of the poor underpaid gambling workers that dream of having more money than their rich bosses will pay them.

But, along the standard simplistic memes, boil down this complex white-originated problem, to bad Chumash bad.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 10:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"no infrastructure for locals."

So what you wanted a Walmart Center instead?

loonpt (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 10:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think it's great that Gomez had a goal in life, went to college to enable herself, and is working to make her vineyard productive.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 10:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think this is a great story.
I also find the comparison to fire water and gambling very funny.
At least with some of us both can exist peacefully...
And the Chumash, following the great preceding tradition, have proven themselves completely susceptible to the same corruption and megalomania of everyone before them; without differentiation between race, creed , or color...And this fact does not detract from Tara's accomplishment and hard work.

nomoresanity (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 1:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The more you drink, the more you lose your inhibition to gamble.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 2:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Gomez attributes the accolades to her continual search for balance in the wines, a quest she feels particularly attuned to. “As Native Americans, being in balance with ourselves and our surroundings and living in harmony is something that comes naturally,” explained Gomez, who must refine that search with each vintage. “You never know what nature is going to give you. For other winemakers, that may be stressful, but that’s what I enjoy.”

Why even attempt to play ethnicity card? No need anymore, your family is loaded with money and can do pretty much whatever they want. You don't have to stand on your feet all night in smoke-filled rooms waiting on people in your casino like the casino employees do. This is *not* in the spirit of Native American/American Indian culture any more than Al Sharpton's racist homophobic rants are in the spirit of Martin Luther King. The bottom line is Gomez and owners of the Casino are already rich beyond imagination, so it isn't as though they need to add yet another winery to their coffers to pay their rent and medical insurance so playing the sympathy card of ethnicity may fool some, but not others.

Their regular columns in the Bully Pulpit of the Santa Ynez Valley News where they brag about the millions they throw at various philanthropic causes (while making sure that we all know about their donations) is nothing more than self-promotion.

Their "Lompoc Employee" buses speed through the 246 with abandon, and there is no point of complaining about it because they own much of the valley so if you see one barreling up behind you, you better just pull over and get out of their way.

One other point that I will bring up is that I wonder what the Casino's arch enemy POLO (Preservation of Los Olivos) will say about this--if they say anything. POLO has been complaining for years about the Casino will giving tacit approval to the influx of drunks/wineries. If they DO complain about this, they show even more hypocrisy on their part.

The bottom line is that the valley is all about booze and gambling now, and of course, I will be told "it's called 'progress' ". To Loonpt: You're a drunk who thinks it's ok to drink and drive--as indicated by your many past comments, so it's only natural you'd make some snarky comment about Walmart,

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 3:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

sweet! i've got a college degree, a decade and a half of work experience in my field.... now if only i could find a way to buy some pristine land on the central coast...

StockiestCastle (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 3:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Chumash got high on Jimson weed before White Man imported grapes.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 4:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"To Loonpt: You're a drunk who thinks it's ok to drink and drive--as indicated by your many past comments"

I'm not a drunk at all, I'm a stoner. In fact I probably drink less than 95% of the population of Santa Barbara..I just like to defend unpopular positions that often don't get their fair rebuttal where our freedom can be severely diminished.

I actually encourage people NOT to drink and drive in my day to day life and encourage someone to DD or will myself DD if I'm with a group going out to an activity where there will be drinking. I'm actually very responsible about that kind of thing.

Where we disagree is that I think many people are responsible enough to drive near or below the legal limit. There are a few people who can safely drive above the legal limit as well, many of these people have what is called a "tolerance" to alcohol. It takes a higher BAC to start affecting their faculties. Everybody is different. But how safe you are on the road after having some amount of alcohol really depends a lot on how much self control you have. You knew somebody who got into an accident with someone who was mildly intoxicated and had 3 other people in the car who were most likely drunk. These drunk people in his car were VERY likely being distracting, as most drunk people tend to be loud and at least a little belligerent. If you can't control yourself in that type of environment with a .04 BAC then don't drive after drinking. If you can focus on the road and ignore the drunk people in your car, safely operate your vehicle and follow driving laws then that is fine.

I believe the best solution is education, less regulation on transportation so people have more ways of getting home besides driving themselves and I would prefer to see something like alcohol enhancements added to tickets or accidents where alcohol is involved rather than punishing everybody whether they are able to drive safely or not.

When people get worked up about drunk driving, our rights go out the window. You get these 4th amendment violating police checkpoints, and those endanger my freedom whether or not I am drinking. They also don't reduce drunk driving or reduce the problem of drunk driving.

Did you know that the woman who started MADD quit the organization when they started to lobby for .08 BAC as opposed to .10? The entire reason she started the organization to begin with was to combat DRUNK driving, where people drive inebriated and can't control their vehicle. She never imagined they would use the cause that she lobbied so hard for to take away our rights and use these laws to generate money for the state and ruin innocent people's lives who will never hurt anybody.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 4:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Did you know that the woman who started MADD quit the organization when they started to lobby for .08 BAC as opposed to .10? " -Loonpt-

Did you know that people under .08 can still be unfit to drive? How many times do I have to tell you about how my dad was hit by a guy who drank a couple of glasses of wine and was at .0069? There were no extenuating circumstances; the guy was driving buzzed, he ran into my dad, was found liable. Nice try Loonpt, but logic wins every time.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 6:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@billclausen: "Why even attempt to play ethnicity card?"

Because you keep whining like a two year old every time you perceive someone as playing the 'ethnicity card' (they typically don't, but your perceptions rarely reflect reality). Discussions about race clearly make you uncomfortable, which is why it needs to be discussed.

@billclausen: "The bottom line is Gomez and owners of the Casino are already rich beyond imagination, so it isn't as though they need to add yet another winery to their coffers to pay their rent and medical insurance so playing the sympathy card of ethnicity may fool some, but not others."

So you're saying that they should've stayed poor in order to be proud of their heritage. Yeah, you have no problems with race at all. Nope. Not one bit. I'm sure they're sorry that their success has made you so uncomfortable.

Have a drink and chill out, Bill...

EatTheRich (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 6:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Did you know that people under .08 can still be unfit to drive?"

I agree.

However, conversely, did you know that people OVER .08 can be perfectly fit to drive? Some of them can perform much better than your average driver on the road. At some point on the BAC, nobody is fit to drive, but that point is different for each person.

I'm not willing to take away other people's rights just because they are engaging in activities that I myself deem "immoral" if they aren't hurting anybody. Most people who drive buzzed or even drunk will never hurt anybody, SOME of them are perfectly fit to drive, others are not. Those who are not fit to drive should FIRST be pressured not to drive by their peers if possible, but if they do then they can be pulled over for reckless driving or breaking traffic laws and given additional fines and enhancements for being drunk and driving reckless. They could even have a scale so people who are more drunk get greater enhancements. But I'm not one of those people like teachers you had where they punish the entire class because of one or a few bad students.

I actually told the story you just told about your dad in my post, if I remember correctly there were other people in the car and if the driver was .069 (which is actually pretty close to the legal limit anyway) then the rest were probably well over .08+ and were being distracting. If you can't keep the people in your car calm, or ignore them, then you shouldn't drive. He should have pulled over or just told everybody to quiet down so he could focus on driving. But he didn't do that, did he? In fact, if I were to take a wild guess he was probably conversing with his drunk passengers and being a little belligerent himself. However if he were the type of person who could drive people around, stay calm and was responsible about it and didn't drive unsafely and never hit people, there is no way in hell I would feel I have the right to kidnap or extort them...and I'm certainly not going to hire the police to do it.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 6:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Loonpt: What are you talking about? Seriously, I have no idea what you're going on about. There was nobody else in either car.

EatTheRich: You are off topic, as usual, going on with your endless class-warfare rages but thank you for putting words in my mouth.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 7:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@billclausen: " You are off topic, as usual, going on with your endless class-warfare rages but thank you for putting words in my mouth."

You really need to read what you write. Or understand the meaning of your sentences. Preferably, both.

You suggested that the success of the Chumash means they can no longer show pride in their heritage. You even implied that they don't work hard (which is also... impolite).

You can't complain about someone 'playing the ethnic card' in the same comment as you complain about their successes without sounding like a... well... I'll be nice and call you a 'curmudgeon'.

EatTheRich (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 7:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

No no, please don't call me that! I beg you, I'm backing off, I'm sorry!

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 7:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You see, ETR, I'm not against anyone having success. Have I not mentioned that the Casino has a great buffet? They do. They also have a hotel. Yes, I patronize their buffet, and for their excellent service, I leave good tips. I choose not to gamble, but I go to their buffet, and moreover, on occasion, their all-nite diner. (Not as much selection as the buffet, but not bad) They also have an on-site hotel.

They have a good buffet with good people working there, and people go there and spend money, and they are a good example of how hard work can make the American Dream come true. They offer culinary delights that we like, we spend our money there, and leave good tips. Such are the perks of a capitalist system.

All I was doing was pointing out the irony of the role of alcohol.

Oh, and please don't call me a "curmudgeon" because that really hurts my feelings, and whatever you do, don't call me a racist, because as you know, I'm quite sensitive to criticism.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 8:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Your problem is U have "dolphin envy".

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 9:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Eattherich, Y R U so mean to billclausen today? He probably just wish to make friendship with U and now hes all sad and hearbroken. Clausen, U need to smoke a joint, so that people wont be hating on U.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2014 at 5:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I prefer the advocacy group no doubt supported by the Chumash to educate us about the other side of fire water, D.A.M.M.- Drunks Against Mad Mothers.

nomoresanity (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2014 at 7 a.m. (Suggest removal)

THE VINEYARD IS NOT TARAS, SHE WORKS FOR THE TRIBE AND THE VINEYARD BELONGS TO THE TRIBE NOT HER. SHE IS JUST ANOTHER EMPLOYEE OF THE TRIBE, BUT HER FAMILY IS INVOLVED IN ALMOST ALL FACETS OF THE TRIBES WINERY.

NDNMAN (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2014 at 2:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ndn...it's the button on the immediate left of the 'a'.

lawdy (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2014 at 3:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

agree EB, it's a good story, and I hope they sell a lot of wonderful vino up and down the coast, just like all the Firestones and etc. anglo wineries packed back in there... what's it up to now, 10,000 acres + in viticulture?
ETR's correct, BC, that you played the ethnicity card first [very first post in this thread: "Such irony when one thinks of the damage the White Man did to The Indians via alcohol."]. Then on second long post YOU literally bring up the ethnicity card but obliquely play it off T. Gomez. ETR's got you with "You can't complain about someone 'playing the ethnic card' in the same comment as you complain about their successes" -- you usually do this. Conflating it with dislike of gambling [which I hate] and excessive booze consumption, but keep those issues on the side here. I just don't drive in the area of the Chumash Casino in the evening or at night.
You could grow from this, BC, you are confused on the ethnic aspect of this, but then so am I... The Native Americans are very successful now in this area, that's great, yet it may take generations for all of them to forget the historic injustices of the past 300 years.

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2014 at 4:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@DavyBrown and ETR: Actually, it was Kettman that brought up the issue of "Native American Roots" and then Gomez who talked about “As Native Americans, being in balance with ourselves and our surroundings and living in harmony is something that comes naturally.”

Sorry people, but it's all about "all booze, all the time", and hiding behind one's ethnicity to justify it, or patronizing one's ethnicity to justify, and pretending that drinking wine makes one any different from the proverbial "Joe Six Pack" who gets buzzed on beer doesn't change the facts.

Living in harmony with nature means emptying out one's head of stressful thoughts, and enjoying God's gift of nature--without having to dull one's senses with intoxicants. My ex-alcoholic friends tell me life without alcohol is a good thing. Luckily for me, I never got hooked on it to begin with.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2014 at 6:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@DavyBrown: "The Native Americans are very successful now in this area, that's great, yet it may take generations for all of them to forget the historic injustices of the past 300 years."

Quoted for truth. In fact, this is really the issue far more than the casino and the winery. The Chumash had the audacity to pull themselves up and... well, some people aren't to fond of that.

@billclausen: "Sorry people, but it's all about "all booze, all the time", and hiding behind one's ethnicity to justify it, or patronizing one's ethnicity to justify, and pretending that drinking wine makes one any different from the proverbial "Joe Six Pack" who gets buzzed on beer doesn't change the facts."

None of this is true in anything other than your own conspiracy driven mind. Your point, whether you realize it our not, is that the Chumash should just shut up about their heritage so long as they own a casino and a winery. I mean - it's an idiotic point, but it's your point nonetheless.

@billclausen: "Luckily for me, I never got hooked on it to begin with."

I'm sure you're just intoxicated with your own ego. I beginning to wonder if you can post a comment without mentioning how great you think you are.

EatTheRich (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2014 at 10:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I guess that settles it ETR, you won the argument with your words of wisdom.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2014 at 1:25 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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