Tribes across California are diving in to the wine making business. At least four tribes have purchased vineyards there in the past year.
Indian Country Today profiled one Santa Ynez Band member who is making sure the grapes in the vineyards are yielding delicious wines for the tribes to sell.
Tara Gomez, 39, of California’s Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, is the first Native winemaker with a degree in enology to manage both the vineyard and the winemaking components of a wine business.
Along with the Santa Ynez Band, Lytton and Dry Creek Rancheria Bands of Pomo Indians and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation all have purchased vineyards.
As for Gomez, she worked for several private vineyards around the country before the Ynez bought their lands.
She returned to California when the Santa Ynez band purchased 1,390 acres from Fess Parker in 2010, land that had been home to their ancestors. Two hundred and fifty six acres were vineyards. The purchase price was reported by the Santa Maria Times at $40 million. In Gomez’s lifetime, the Santa Ynez Band, like other California gaming tribes, has moved from poverty to power. The tribe’s 142 members now own three hotels as well as the Chumash Casino.
But wealth has also brought resentment from local residents and resistance to tribal expansion. “We bought the land because we wanted to build more housing for our tribal members,” said Richard Gomez, Tara’s father and vice chairman of the tribe. Local residents have filed lawsuits to block the Chumash from building homes on the land they purchased from Parker. “They are afraid we’re going to build another casino,” said Richard. “But that’s not true.”
While they continue to apply for permission to build housing on part of the land, the tribe has asked Tara to manage the vineyards, a job she is all too willing to do. She is eager to apply what she learned in Europe, and try to blend the Old World with the New. “You see a lot of these California-style wines that are really focused on higher alcohol, richer characteristics, whereas I like to focus on more elegance, more showing the freshness of the fruit and showing the terroir of where the grapes come from, the region,” she says.