On May 21 at 5:30 p.m., the Santa Barbara Culinary Experience is hosting a free panel called “El Buen Equipo: It Takes a Village to Make Great Santa Barbara Wine.” Moderated by our senior editor Matt Kettmann, the event — which is soliciting donations to benefit the nonprofit Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People — will feature photographer Macduff Everton and vintners Ruben Solorzano, Maria “Lupe” Monroy, Fabian Bravo, and Fidencio Flores. See sbce.events to register.
The following passage and photographs are excerpted from the El Buen Equipo chapter in Vines & Vision: The Winemakers of Santa Barbara County, which was published by Kettmann and Everton in November 2020. See vinesandvisionsb.com to find one of the remaining print copies or to buy an e-book.
Long before the fruit ever goes into the fermentation tanks, there are so many steps in the vineyard that are critical to ensuring a successful harvest. Winemakers are the first to tell you that every vintage is a team effort, with everyone putting in long hours during both cold spells and heat waves. There’s the mud and dust, the beating sun and rain, the changing climate, the bees and yellow jackets, all of the indelible moments that are part of life in the vineyard and winery.
While the whole team shares these moments, it is the winemaker who ultimately receives the recognition once everything comes together and the vinous fluid is bottled. But, at least in Santa Barbara County, these winemakers are keen on making sure everyone who contributed is acknowledged for their efforts.
As I began photographing for the book Vines & Vision in 2018, I started bringing my portable backdrop along in the back of my car. I’d set it up in minutes in order to shoot portraits of most everyone I met in the vineyards or at the wineries. The resulting images were of winemakers and vineyard managers, of moneyed proprietors and proud laborers, of white skin and brown skin and everything in between — of everyone involved in the ancient and honored art of winemaking required to pour your next sip. We decided to call them El Buen Equipo, or “The Good Team.”
While vintners hail from all over the globe, most of the vineyard workers in Santa Barbara County are originally from Mexico. But today there are second and third generations growing up in the same areas where their parents and grandparents first worked and gained citizenship. Agricultural communities depend on their expertise and labor to keep their farms, vineyards, and ranches operating.
The reality is that proprietors and winemakers come and go. But the glue that holds the wine country together through the ages are the workers who have been working there for decades. They know the land like few others and make sure everything runs smoothly with seasoned expertise.
At first, some were hesitant to allow me to make their portrait. “Why?” they asked.
“Reconocimiento,” I answered in Spanish — “recognition” and appreciation for their labor, expertise, and contribution. They immediately understood. Who wouldn’t want their contributions recognized and appreciated? On my many return visits, I would bring back copies of their portraits, which surprised and pleased them.
Many of the crews I met were originally from the states of Jalisco, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Aguascalientes, and Guanajuato. They spoke Spanish, but I also heard Mixtec too, a beautiful language from Oaxaca.
My takeaway from spending time with the crews was their music and their generosity. If someone didn’t bring a transistor radio, someone else would start singing. I heard banda, rancheras, and corridos. When they discovered I knew the difference and had on my iPhone songs by Yolanda del Rio, Los Cadetes de Linares, Julio Jaramillo, Los Tres Ases, and Acerina y Su Danzonera, along with more tropical artistas such as Beny More, Perez Prado, and Los Corraleros de Majagual, we had music to talk about — good rhythm transcends language and borders.
During breaks, they always offered me whatever they brought for themselves, whether it was a packet of galletas (cookies) or tacos they made over a fire. Their generosity is part of their culture, a reminder that, once, Americans were also considered generous and gracious hosts.
Everyone has their own story and history, and when you learn about the people we featured in Vines & Vision, you realize just how similar most of us are in our hopes, dreams, and ambition: a better life for their children, a good education, a strong work ethic, a safe neighborhood, all the ingredients that make them good American citizens. They are the people you want as your neighbors.
As the great Nobel Prize–winning poet Czeslaw Milosz writes in “Late Ripeness”:
“I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
As are all men and women living at the same time,
Whether they are aware of it or not.”