Lane Tanner, One of the First Female Winemakers of Santa Barbara Wine Country
Lane Tanner of Lumen remembers the old days. She remembers the early days of Central Coast winemaking when the process was a lot more laborious physically and femininity wasn’t a desirable trait in a wine—or a winemaker.
Frequently, Central Coast Syrahs are made big, bold, and in a style that Tanner calls “manly.” So she decided to make wines that were the antithesis of that: softer, gentle, elegant, or what she calls, “feminine” wines.
But don’t be fooled, Tanner is a heavy hitter, a pioneer in the wine industry.
She was one of the first female winemakers with her own label in Santa Barbara County. For 16 years, she was also the only winemaker who produced only Pinot Noir. Tanner said there’s a sensuality to Pinot Noir. For her Lumen label, she likes to produce Pinots with low tannin and velvety mouthfeel, and a long, lingering finish. She believes the Santa Maria Valley produces the ideal fruit for Pinots that reveal bright, strawberry, and cherry notes with herb over notes.
If there’s a sensuality to Pinot Noir, there’s just as much sensuality in the way that Tanner handles her production. For instance, for her Grenache, she does everything by taste. She does test Brix, but otherwise, taste rules. She likes to harvest when the grapes are just ripe, slightly past green. Then, it’s very little oak, and she doesn’t adulterate her Grenache with Syrah. It’s pure, vibrant, and youthful.
Though Tanner got her start almost by accident, it turns out she had a natural talent for winemaking. As proof of that, she’s worked with some of the most infamous names in winemaking. In the early ’80s, she worked at Firestone prior to being asked by Ken Brown to work at Zaca Mesa. From there, she began working with Frank Ostini who wanted something exclusive to his restaurant, The Hitching Post. She worked with him until 1989 when Ostini realized he wanted to make his own wine. They split barrels with Tanner starting her Lane Tanner label.
Still, Tanner hopes to see one more change in the near future…
Since those early days, Tanner has seen a lot change. Winemaking may still involve a lot of manual labor, but things have gotten easier, and females are now embraced by the winemaking community. Still, Tanner hopes to see one more change in the near future—she waits for the day when female winemakers are seen simply as “winemakers.”
Hear her full thoughts on women in winemaking and how the industry has evolved on the Central Coast in this month’s featured winemaker interview.
If you enjoyed reading this blog
If you enjoyed reading this blog, you’ll enjoy gaining more insight about Santa Barbara Wine Country winemakers after these fun reads:
Some things just make the perfect pairing. Like, a summer day and a fine breeze. Or a crisp, peachy, highly acidic Grenache Blanc and spicy Thai food. Similarly, winemakers Kris Curran and Bruno D’Alfonso of D’Alfonso-Curran wines are that complementary pairing.
The Recipe for D’Alfonso-Curran Success
It’s in their winemaking philosophy. Curran believes a winemaker must be flexible enough to treat each wine individually, taking into consideration, things like its ripening time or the size of the lot.
D’Alfonso sees a need to be rational. He believes a winemaker must anticipate the potential fails in order to be prepared to deal with such an eventuality.
Individually those winemaking styles give their respective labels identity. Together, they represent a union of strengths, forming the D’Alfonso-Curran line of wines designed to pair with food. And the Santa Ynez Valley is the perfect place for a culinary adventure as they determine the foods that pair best with the wines they are working on.
Our Interview with Kris and Bruno
D’Alfonso and Curran joined us recently to discuss their winemaking, their backgrounds, and their individual and D’Alfonso-Curran labels. Learn more about what makes their winemaking styles unique in this month’s video interview.
The History of these Two Established Winemakers
D’Alfonso, who’s earned a reputation for producing outstanding Pinot Noirs, celebrated his 40th year as a winemaker last year. His career started at Chalone in the Edna Valley in 1980. A few years later he joined Richard Sanford at Sanford Winery. D’Alfonso became a partner at Sanford where he spent 25 years, before starting his own Badge and Di Bruno labels.
Curran, whose name is often cited as one of Wine Spectator’s Top Winemakers, started her winemaking career as the assistant winemaker at Cambria Winery in Santa Maria right after college. From there she became a founding member of Koehler Winery. She went on to become the first winemaker at Sea Smoke and helped build that wine’s cult status. After producing seven vintages at Sea Smoke, she accepted a winemaking position at Foley Wines where she made wines under the Foley, Lincourt, and Two Sisters brands. She built her Curran label in 1996 and was one of the first vintners in California to popularize Grenache Blanc, which she started making in 2003.
Together, the two renowned winemakers started the D’Alfonso-Curran brand in 2006 producing ultra-premium vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from Sta. Rita Hills and Chardonnays from Santa Barbara County.
At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe we focus on providing a true wine country experience. Much of our produce for the Café is organically grown at our Café farm in Los Olivos. And our award-winning wine selection of over 500 mostly local wines compliments our fresh wine country cuisine. As a hub for the local California Central Coast wine scene, we love getting to know our local winemakers and sharing their stories with you! We welcome you to browse our over 30 interviews and blogs featuring local winemakers HERE.
A love of wine attracts a number of future winemakers to the industry, but for Tara Gomez, the winemaker for Kitá Wines, it was a love of science and a Fisher-Price microscope.
A love of science leads to a career in wine
Gomez said the microscope that she had when she was 4 years old fostered her love of science and nature exploration. As a child, she would tag along when her parents went wine tasting. The sight of the giant stainless-steel vats and aromatics of the winery cellars sparked her curiosity but walking by the lab set her career trajectory. The young Gomez saw people in white lab coats using chemistry to test the acidity in the wine and that created an instant connection with her.
With the financial help of her Chumash Tribe, she sought out a career in enology in high school and then went on to Fresno State to get her degree. She got her feet wet at Fess Parker and J. Lohr wineries, and then went on to work two harvests in Spain. When she came back to the states, the Chumash Tribe was in negotiation to purchase the Camp 4 property that produces the majority of the label’s grapes, and so she returned home. It was a fitting return, according to Gomez, because the Chumash had financially supported her educational efforts and now she gets to pay it forward.
Dedication to each varietal
A producer of small-batch, ultra-premium wines, Kitá Wines produces 19 varietals on the 256-acre vineyard that sits on Camp 4 at the eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. One of the hottest microclimates, it’s the farthest east Santa Barbara County AVA before transitioning into the Happy Canyon AVA. Kitá does produce Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay and Pinot Noir because of the cooler influences from that area and because the tasting room is located in Lompoc, in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.
As a winemaker, Gomez considers herself a purist. She believes in minimal manipulation to maximize varietal characteristics. While Kitá does produce three blends that allow Gomez to tap into her artistic side, the rest are 100 percent varietals. As proof of her dedication to a varietal, Gomez travels to Europe each year, picks a varietal she wants to work with, and learns everything she can about it. Armed with that knowledge, she returns to incorporate a blend of Old World and New World winemaking techniques in Kitá wines. Taste the result by the glass or flight throughout the month of August, or take one of this month’s featured bottles home!
Check out our exclusive interview with Tara!
At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe we focus on providing a true wine country experience. Much of our produce for the Café is organically grown at our Café farm in Los Olivos. And our award-winning wine selection of over 500 mostly local wines compliments our fresh wine country cuisine. As a hub for the local California Central Coast wine scene, we love getting to know our local winemakers and sharing their stories with you! Meet more of our featured wine makers here!
Curiosity guides the choices made in not only what wines she makes, but how she makes her wines. You may recognize her name, she’s one of Santa Barbara’s most prolific women in winemaking, Karen Steinwachs. Widely recognized as the talented winemaker behind the wines of Buttonwood, however, her private label wines of Seagrape Wine Co., express another side of Karen that will leave a stamp on the history of Santa Barbara County wine country.
Where did the name Seagrape come from?
Karen and her late husband were fond of their time spent abroad. While living in St. Croix they would marvel at the Seagrape trees on Grape Tree Beach. These grape trees, as the locals would call them, became the muse for their label, recalling a time of togetherness and fond memories from which their Seagrape wines were created. Karen is often asked if her wines are made with these sea grapes– they are not. They are made from grapes that grow beautifully from the Santa Barbara County’s ocean influenced vineyards. Initially, the focus of Seagrape was on Sta. Rita Hills, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as the primary varietals she produced. Karen continues with that tradition but has expanded to welcome room for exploration and with that, we are excited to promote her first release of Gewurztraminer. (Surely not her last, you’ll have to taste for yourself!)
This unique German grape may be intimidating to pronounce but in Karen’s skilled hands she made it into a lovely approachable wine. This grape is not commonly seen in this area and can be made in many different ways similar to Reisling. One may expect this to be a sweet wine. However, Seagrape’s 2017 Gewurztraminer is bone dry, with a nice balance of plushness and vibrancy with a zesty finish.
In our interview with Karen she shares what she enjoys about having her own label in addition to making wines for a bigger winery like Buttonwood– being able to explore a new varietal like Gewurztraminer is one of them.
We featured Karen’s unique story on how she and her husband fled their lives in the fast-paced tech world for a quieter life in Santa Ynez Valley and henceforth Karen found her calling as a winemaker, in our 2018 interview and blog. Her story is one about creating one’s own destiny, and her wines, whether Buttonwood or Seagrape, reflect her ability to go with the flow and know when to take the driver’s seat. This balance is one that all winemakers grapple with but Karen makes look effortless.
At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe we focus on providing a true wine country experience. Much of our produce for the Café is organically grown at our Café farm in Los Olivos. And our award-winning wine selection of over 500 mostly local wines compliments our fresh wine country cuisine. As a hub for the local California Central Coast wine scene, we love getting to know our local winemakers and sharing their stories with you! We welcome you to check out more of our interviews and blogs here.
At 18 Louisa knew winemaking was what she wanted to do…
Louisa Lindquist is the brains and passion behind her label Verdad Wine Cellars. At a young age, she worked at a prominent wine shop on Long Island where she was able to taste and learn about many different styles and varietals of wines. She became fascinated with the vibrant fresh flavors of Albariño wines from Rias Biaxes, as well as the bold and complex Tempranillo-based wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Louisa to learn more about what makes her wines so enjoyable and her personal story that influences her winemaking style. We think you’ll enjoy our April 2019 interview!
A true visionary: Louisa was the first to release Albariño in all of California!
In 1990 Loisa moved to California to work with a wine importer and distributor. A few years later she met her now husband and well-known Californian winemaker, Bob Lindquist. He encouraged her to follow her dreams and passion for making Spanish styled wines here in California. And she did! Louisa was the first to release Albariño in all of California.
For the first vintages of Verdad Louisa made her wines under the tutelage of her renowned winemaker husband but as the years and harvests went by Louisa began to take the helm of all aspects of Verdad Wine Cellars.
Most of the Verdad wines come from the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard which is a Demeter-certified Biodynamic vineyard. Biodynamic is a form of alternative agriculture very similar to organic farming. The main difference between organic and biodynamic is that biodynamic farming uses different principles which add vitality to the plants, soil and/or livestock, whereas traditional farming typically deteriorates the soil. The certification process to become Demeter-certified Biodynamic is extremely rigorous and requires a level of commitment to sustainability that goes beyond organic.
Louisa’s passion for making wines that express her love for Spanish varietals is expressed in every bottle that she produces. She strives to produce pure, expressive, and balanced wines that convey the flavors of the unique cool climate vineyard sites she sources from on the California Central Coast.
We are pleased to have Louisa as our Featured Winemaker for all of April 2019! We will be featuring three of here truly amazing wines by the glass and 20% to take home by the bottle. Don’t miss a chance to taste the Spanish styled Verdad Wine Cellar wines!
At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe we focus on providing a true wine country experience. Much of our produce for the Café we organically grow at our farm in Los Olivos. And our award-winning wine selection of over 500 mostly local wines compliments our fresh wine country cuisine. As a hub for the local California Central Coast wine scene, we love getting to know our local winemakers and sharing their stories with you. We welcome you to check out more of our interviews and blogs here.
Spear makes full use of the unique coastal geography of the Sta. Rita Hills. In one of the states only east to west valleys, foggy, cool winds prolong the ripening season and define the cold-climate terroir of the valley. Over 60 vineyards dot the AVA, totaling nearly 3500 acres of planted grapes.
Spear vineyard sits on the southern face of the main valley, facing highway 246. As a hallmark Sta. Rita vineyard, the primary grapes they grow are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The vineyard is uniquely one of the highest elevation vineyards in the AVA, topping out at 900 feet above sea level. With a vineyard-forward approach to winemaking and a CCOF organic certification, Spear prides themselves on sustainable, eco-friendly wine farming. Spear wines are made in a gravity flow facility, gently flowing downhill. No oak flavoring, no new French oak. The vineyard was planted in 2013 with a winery and tasting room (appointment only, please!) Wines are meant to be a taste of the whole vineyard, essentially blends of different areas of the vineyards.
Kat Gaffney joined Spear after a world tour, that began in her native Colorado at a hotel wine bar. After a brief stint as a sommelier in training, Kat wanted to take a more active role in the winemaking industry and sought out apprenticeships and harvests to work, going from our Central Coast to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and out to New Zealand for practical winemaking experience in the flourishing Kiwi wine trade.
Humility in Winemaking
After heading back stateside, Kat worked at Spear under winemaker Greg Brewer, before taking over operations as head winemaker in 2017. Kat’s winemaking style is about removing all intention in the winemaking. “I don’t want people to taste the wine and say…’ Kat your signature is all over this wine’… I want the vineyard to be front and center”.
This month, we are featuring three Spear Wines from the high-elevation estate vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills. The Estate Chardonnay is Spear’s bread and butter (forgive the pun), sourced from blocks at varying elevations around the vineyard, north facing in sand and clay loam. Spear’s Estate Pinot Noir is one of Kat Gaffney’s first vine-to-bottle creations as winemaker, with blocks from the tip-top of the Spear estate to down near the 246, this all-estate/all-blocks Pinot was 15% whole cluster fermented. Rounding out our Featured Wines, the Spear Syrah is a Jeb Dunnuck 91-point rated estate creation featuring Alban clones and a white pepper and pomegranate nose.
Sonja owns Casa Dumetz, a wine Haus in Los Alamos, California, about 50 minutes north of Santa Barbara. Under the umbrella of the Casa Dumetz label, she also produces the single-label brand, The Feminist Party and Clementine Carter, focusing on Rhône & Grenache wines (both are being poured and sold as our featured wines this month).
Making world peace one bottle at a time…
“Making world peace one bottle at a time,” is the mantra that Sonja highlights on her website. A mantra she’s turned into a reality at her Los Alamos tasting room. Every Friday night, Sonja invites the public to join her as she opens the tasting room as a public forum, open to the free discussion of ideas, politics, wine, the environment, and other topics providing a neutral ground for cooperation and contemplation.
Sonja describes in one word the aspect of herself that gets infused into her wines,”Purity.”
Sonja is the brains, backing, and boss of Casa Dumetz. Sonja says that the expressions, effort, and emotions shown in her wine start with “Purity.” By blending the effects of the natural earth, the pure expressions of the vineyards, and her hands-off approach Sonja allows the wine and the vineyard to take a front seat on the nose and palate over any of her actions in the winery. “There’s not just a formula…” explains Sonja, on working with Grenache and other new varietals. “…you really have to understand. What is this varietal? What does it want to say? And, how do you want to usher it and chaperone it…?”
Casa Dumetz started like many other Central Coast small-batch manufacturers as a single varietal label. Pinot Noir was the focus – the only label — but through the years Sonja slowly grew Casa Dumetz and was able to branch out from the safety of Pinot Noir and began exploring new varietals and terroir to work with.
While today Los Alamos is starting to turn a big corner as a small but exquisite gastro-hub. However, when Sonja first opened her tasting room in the little farming town, frequently bypassed on the 101, Sonja was warned against it. “The idea was to really commit to winemaking and not be afraid of it,” says Sonja, who fortunately ignored the naysayers and opened the Los Alamos tasting room in 2011. Now others have followed suit and Los Alamos is on the map as another Santa Barbara Wine Country destination stop.
Rancho Sisquoc- Steeped in history and still keeping things fresh.
Over the last four decades, Rancho Sisquoc has become a household name in local winemaking and wine tourism. Located at the end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in Santa Maria, the property of Rancho Sisquoc is a destination every wine lover must experience to fully appreciate.
As a major stop on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, the winery is a 300-acre slice of a roughly 38,000-acre working ranch, mine, and farm. As one of the oldest wineries in Santa Barbara County, Rancho Sisquoc’s name is an important piece of California history. The San Ramon Chapel (the label art of Rancho Sisquoc’s wines) has been a staple on the Ranch for over 140 years and became the county’s first State Historic Landmark in 1977.
Vines were first planted on the Ranch in the late 1960s, with the first vintages produced in 1972 by a Ranch Manager, rather than the traditional Head Winemaker of today. The unique Sylvaner wines come from the former Ranch Manager, who fell in love with the grape while serving under General Patton in Europe. We’re pleased to offer the 2016 Sylvaner vintage of these same vines as one of our featured wines this month!
Sarah Holt Mullins, our Featured Winemaker, was born and raised on Rancho Sisquoc. Her parents moved to the Ranch in 1976 as farmers, working their way up at the Ranch. Sarah’s father is responsible for many of the vine plantings on the vineyard. Growing up, Sarah worked many odd jobs on the Ranch, working her way into the winery on her own journey. Over time on the Ranch, she began to appreciate the effort put into every wine, from grape to bottle. The experimentation with wine, responsibility over the grapes, and experience of tasting wine that you created was an experience that sold Sarah on the wine business completely.
In her own words, “it’s all-consuming; your whole life has to be in [the wine business].” Sarah credits everyone from her Oenologist, assistants, grape-growers, salespeople, and her customers (some of which have been wine club members for 20+ years!) in the process of creating famous Rancho Sisquoc wine. Everyone’s love and effort in the process is vital to creating the wines, and each is a vital part of her process. If she could sum up her winemaking style, she’d use “Love”. Sarah loves the wine, loves the process, the business and most of all, Rancho Sisquoc. Sarah’s family and others who work the Ranch live on the property, putting their time, effort and love into the soil they call home.
Rancho Sisquoc works with over 14 different varietals, which they believe is for everyone from the wine novices to the budding sommeliers. Part and parcel with this theory is how they market their wines, as wines that everyone can afford, bringing fine wine to everyone who is curious about the taste, process, and subtleties between great wines.
Sarah’s favorite grape is Merlot; another featured wine from Rancho Sisquoc in October. The tasting room Mantra at Rancho Sisquoc; everyone is allowed 6 free tastings, but if they didn’t try the Merlot, that becomes the 7thfree tasting. The wine is a classic albeit currently underappreciated staple to the winery’s oeuvre.
Sarah plans to keep “taking chances in the vineyard”, a trait she attributes to her father’s influence on her winemaking. As grape growers who have been in the industry for 40+ years, taking chances keeps their work fresh to consumers and their business. For example, in the “Tre Vini” Red Blend release, Sarah’s team might change the blend based on the year’s harvest, to perfectly balance each release. You can find this wine with the other aforementioned two as another Featured Wine at the Wine Merchant & Café!
Sarah’s long relationship with winemaking reflects the story of many local winemakers. Check out more of our monthly interviews with featured local winemakers here!
I like on the table, when we’re speaking, the light of a bottle of intelligent wine. -Pablo Neruda.
“This is what wine is to me, sharing with friends, fantastic conversation, the light and energy of a wine, but not just any wine– an intelligent brilliant wine.” -Jessica Gasca
Jessica Gasca is an intriguing woman who dipped her toes into the wine industry interning in 2009. She described her first harvest as “absolutely magical.” Born and raised in southern California, Jessica realized in her late twenties she wasn’t passionate about the career path she had been working towards. The summer before starting a masters program, she quit her job, left her friends and family, and moved to the central coast to dive into the wine business.
Jessica landed a job with Matthias Pippig of Sanguis, at Grassini Family Winery, and has worked as an enologist for Blair Fox. Jessica is currently working at Dragonette Cellars while pursuing her dream of making her own wine under the label, Story of Soil, formerly ITER [e’tair]: n. (Latin) the journey.
Jessica is grateful to her uncle, Gary Burk, for his inspiration and mentorship along her journey as a winemaker. Gary has been making wine in Santa Barbara County for 20 years. He previously worked as the GM and assistant winemaker for Au Bon Climat and Qupe, and now has his own highly-acclaimed winery, Costa de Oro wines.
Jessica’s intention for her wines is to see what Mother Nature provides each year and follow her intuition. Each vintage, varietal, and vineyard is different. It’s about connecting to the earth, sculpting the wines to show a sense of place and style—following what’s inside.
Jessica describes harvest as her favorite part of winemaking. Waking up before the sun, picking the grapes, processing, crush, getting sweaty and dirty. It’s a beautiful process, one that she fell in love with immediately.
Santa Barbara County is a remarkable place for grape growing and for making world-class wines that Jessica is grateful to be part of. She is passionate about the industry and this region, and hopes to continue helping it become more widely known and recognized for the quality wines being produced.
Like most winemakers, Jessica Gasca’s career started as a dream—a passion to create “intelligent” wine—a dream she nurtured. We are honored to pour the fruit of her labor created from the grapes lucky enough to express themselves through Story of Soil.
Nestled in the heart of Santa Ynez’s Happy Canyon AVA you’ll find Grassini Vineyards, a family owned vineyard and winery dedicated to making overall balanced wines with beautiful aromatics, and elegant mouth-feel. Happy Canyon is an area blessed with warm days and cool marine influenced nights with few variations. The combination of warm days and cool nights makes Happy Canyon ideal for growing Bordeaux grape varietals.
The Grassini family are firm supporters of sustainable and renewable business practices. The vineyard and winery are not only solar powered but irrigated with a well-fed lake on the property, in addition all the water used in the wine production is reclaimed and used to irrigate the landscaping surrounding the winery. The wine cellar is embedded in a hillside to ensure humidity and temperature control using limited energy sources.
The vineyard management team has been with the family since planting the vines in 2001. They have 35 acres planted to vine, varietals include Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Each lot from the various vineyard blocks are fermented individually to ensure proper fermentation temperatures. After generous amounts of time in barrels the wines mature to express the unique character of this special estate and those who work there. Their 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is a uniquely floral addition to our by the glass options.
Tune in every month to our Featured Local Winemaker series.
In the heart of Santa Barbara Wine Country, we are the premier wine merchant for California Central Coast wines, from Santa Barbara County to Monterey County, with select vintages from other areas of California’s Wine Country and noteworthy wines from around the world.