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Brandi Rivera

Women Winemakers Thrive in Santa Barbara

Los Alamos Gathering Shows Off Region’s Female Clout


Last month, a group of winemakers brought a few of their bottles to the quaint but trendy tasting room Casa Dumetz, located in the heart of Los Alamos. The fact that the event was free and open to the public was not unusual for the small town, but one detail was unique: the winemakers were all women.

The idea for the casual Saturday evening came from Buttonwood Winery’s Karen Steinwachs, who was inspired by Patricia Arquette’s Oscar acceptance speech that called for wage equality. Realizing March was Women’s History Month, Steinwachs quickly pulled together a night of wine sharing and drinking amongst female professionals in the industry. Plus, it’s a “good excuse [to get together],” she said. “Wine is a beverage that does exactly this,” pointing around Casa Dumetz’s patio that buzzed with chatter and sparkled with lights. “It brings people together.”

In California, about 10 percent of the 3,400 wineries have women as their lead winemaker, according to Riverbench’s winemaker Clarissa Nagy, and she believes the percentage in Santa Barbara County is higher. Exactly how much higher is hard to say, but on relatively short notice, about 20 women winemakers showed up to the March 28 event.

“Women in the wine industry has been a longtime coming,” said Turiya Wines owner Angela Soleno, whose small and fine-tuned winery produces less than 300 cases of red wine each year. “The women who are doing it [are doing it] well.”

Like the wines, the women were a diverse group, each with varying experience, expertise, and palate. Sadie Rushing, who started working seasonally at Fiddlehead two years ago, fell into the industry. “I love it,” she said. Fiddlehead was established in 1989 by Kathy Joseph, who is often considered “the grandmother of the region,” Rushing said.

Also among the region’s early winemakers is Denise Shurtleff, who started out as a lab technician after graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1983 with a degree in nutrition. She’s been head winemaker of Cambria Estate Winery — the largest in the county — since 2003. Among the other labels present were Bonaccorsi, Buttonwood Farm, Cambria, Carhartt, Casa Dumetz, Cebada Vineyard, Cold Heaven, and Foley.

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