Leslie Thomas at Jaffurs Wine Cellars
Paul Wellman

After hosting 35 of the beloved SpiritLand Bistro “BYOB” wine dinners, Leslie Thomas wanted a new way to capture the attention of Santa Barbara’s epicurean-minded. After asking herself, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do something a little more grand?” Thomas dreamed up the two upcoming “Women in Wine” events.

On Sunday, December 5, and Wednesday, December 8, Thomas will team up with Jade Restaurant to celebrate Santa Barbara County’s female winemakers. Each night will present five women pouring a couple of their wines for up to 50 guests alongside a four-course meal. On Sunday, Chrystal Clifton (Palmina), Morgan Clendenen (Cold Heaven Cellars), Kathy Joseph (Fiddlehead), Brooke Carhartt (Carhartt), and Teri Love (Gioia) will bring wines ranging from Italian varietals to syrah. Leslie Mead-Renaud (Foley, Lincourt), Karen Steinwachs (Buttonwood), Caren Rideau (Rideau), Deborah Hall (Gypsy Canyon), and Jennifer Tensley (Lea) will entertain Wednesday’s group.

Teri Love from Gioia Wines.
Courtesy Photo

Jade is one of Thomas’s favorite eateries, and she fears that it “suffers from visibility problems.” She wants the event to pull locals out of their gastronomic comfort zone in downtown Santa Barbara to show them the existence of “a culinary life outside of the downtown area, where you don’t have to fight parking and traffic issues.” What’s more, the event will benefit the nonprofit Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV), which helps women become successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. According to WEV’s Web site, California’s First Lady, Maria Shriver, has lauded the nonprofit, and rightly so, pointing out that “five years of follow-up data from WEV clients indicate that within 18 months of program completion, 55 percent are in business and household income had increased an average of 40 percent.”

Having experienced firsthand what heading a business entails, many of the participating winemakers admit they couldn’t turn down an opportunity to raise money for WEV. In fact, Hall, of the hard-to-get Gypsy Canyon label, happens to be a graduate from WEV’s program.

Tensley commented, “A big reason why I wanted to be involved is because [WEV] is such a wonderful organization.”

And while the number of winemakers at each event may seem overwhelming, Thomas insists the dinners will maintain intimacy, if not encourage it. With a higher winemaker-to-attendee ratio, “You’re going to get to speak with several different winemakers, and all of us, as winemakers, have a different style and different signature,” Tensley explained. “I think that will be really interesting—to taste the different philosophies in the glass and the different winemaking styles.”

Some of the women also mention that, although there are no inherent differences between wines made by women and men, women winemakers certainly possess special traits. For one, both Thomas and Clendenen cite scientific facts about women’s superior sense of smell and palate. “I think women have a different perspective about wine,” said Clendenen, who believes the way women communicate differently from men makes for an interesting experience. “I find that I speak a lot off-the-cuff. I don’t have some planned speech, and I doubt these women do either,” she said. “A lot of the women are very effective communicators.”

Due to that more unrehearsed communication style and the fact that women remain underdogs in a largely masculine industry, the women share an unparalleled camaraderie. “Women in the wine business tend to be very, very supportive of each other,” explained Clendenen. “Women seeing other women in positions traditionally held by men is always a good thing.”

Love agrees with the sentiment. “I have heard of, or know, all the women who are involved in [the event], and they feel just as passionately about what they produce as I do,” she said. “It’s really great being with all of these forward-thinking, optimistic women.”

Meanwhile, Tensley mentions how important paying homage to the region in general is when honoring these women. “It’s an area where, if you get some grapes, get a place to make your wine, and really get in there with your heart and your hard work, it’s a place that will give you a chance to establish a brand,” she explained, “so it’s nice to see somebody celebrating that.”

If the event lacks anything, it certainly isn’t enthusiasm, diversity, or purpose: Thomas and the winemakers are boisterously excited and undoubtedly charged up on post-harvest energy; there will be a wider range of wines present than likely any other winemaker dinner; and the event will benefit a thriving nonprofit, support Santa Barbara’s imperative restaurant and wine industries, and acclaim women who brave an intimidatingly male industry. At the end of the day, though, Thomas affirms, “This is an excuse for a party.”


The Women in Wine events are on Sunday, December 5, and Wednesday, December 8, 6 p.m., at Jade Restaurant (3132 State St.; 563-2007; jadesb.com). Cost is $90 all-inclusive. See jadesb.com/winedinner.html. For more on Women’s Economic Ventures, see wevonline.org.


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