Full Belly Files: Goodbye to Kitá Wines
Wine Label Marked Breakthrough for Native American Winemaking
Like many others in the wine business, I was disappointed to learn a couple of weeks ago that Kitá Wines would be shutting down. As far as anyone could tell, this was the first wine brand in modern history to be owned by a Native American tribe with a Native American winemaker at the helm.
The tribe, of course, was our very own Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, while the winemaker was Tara Gomez, a Chumash descendant. I’m not sure if I was the first to ever write about Kitá and Gomez, but I was certainly one of the earlier journalists to pay attention to this unique project, and probably the first to write a story for national media on the brand.
That was this 2013 piece for Wine Spectator: “Tribes Take to the Vine: From Santa Barbara to British Columbia, Native American vineyards are a growing business.” The next year, I did a deeper profile on Gomez for the Indy, called “Chumash Winery Is No Joke: Tribal Descendent Tara Gomez Impresses and Inspires with Kitá Wines,” and also covered her more recently for Wine Enthusiast in this Q&A as part of our February 2020 “Advocacy Issue.” Her story is also a full chapter in my book Vines & Vision: The Winemakers of Santa Barbara County.
I wasn’t the only one to celebrate this Indigenous success story. In just last September alone, Gomez and her wife, Mireia Taribo — who together make another brand called Camins 2 Dreams — were the subjects of feature stories in both Food & Wine and Bon Appetit magazines. And in October, Tara was given one of VinePair.com’s Next Wave Awards, which recognize “spirits, wine, and beer professionals who have distinguished themselves in the past year for propelling the industry forward to a brighter, more equitable, and sustainable future.”
So why, given the national attention, growing praise, and continued global emphasis on Indigenous rights and overall equity, would the tribe end the brand now?
“The tribe, with a focus on diversifying our investment portfolio, has made the business decision to leave the wine industry at this time,” said the tribe’s Chair Kenneth Kahn. “Tara Gomez successfully produced award-winning wines while telling the story of our tribe to a new audience. We thank Tara for the years of dedication and hard work she poured into Kitá Wines, and we congratulate her on cementing her legacy as a top-flight Native American woman winemaker. Thank you to all of you who enjoyed and supported Kitá Wines throughout the years.”
Tara herself isn’t saying much beyond what she wrote in her letter to wine club members, which explained that it was a business decision, that the Lompoc facility would be shut down in April, and that she was dismayed by the news.
“Every step of the way, I have been grateful for the opportunities provided by my tribe, through education and this incredible opportunity, to tell the story of our ancestors through wine cultivated from our ancestral lands,” she wrote. “There wasn’t a lot of discussion happening around Native American-made wines when we first started, and I am so proud to be part of the movement happening around the world as people look toward the original stewards of the land for unique and amazing wine, beer, and spirits.”
Though “sad to see this chapter come to a close,” Tara is excited for the future. “Now, I ask you to join me in looking toward the future with hope,” she wrote. “Hope for what’s yet to come. Hope for the amazing work I will continue doing to elevate the voices and opportunities of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ professionals throughout the wine industry. And hope for the opportunity to raise a glass one last time together before our doors close for good.”
Making money in the wine business is incredibly tough, and even surviving is a struggle with so much competition around. That’s apparently even true if you’re a tribe that seems to be making decent money from a thriving casino business. I’m not sure if there’s a more scandalous story here, or just personalities butting heads, or maybe things just weren’t penciling out anymore to justify continued losses. Everyone remains pretty tight-lipped about it all, despite the outpouring of support for Gomez that’s been bubbling across social media for weeks now.
Whatever the reason, Kitá Wines was a groundbreaking brand for Indigenous peoples everywhere, and Tara Gomez should be nothing other than proud of what she’s done.
Also, the wines are great, sometimes fantastic, and they’re being sold for very discounted prices right now. And if you have yet to try the cool-climate syrah and grüner veltliner that they’re bottling under Camins 2 Dreams, you’re missing out. They are especially energized and unique wines.
See kitawines.com and camins2dreams.com.
This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on February 4, 2022. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
Studying Site with Sashi Moorman
I ventured up to Lompoc on Monday afternoon to check in with Sashi Moorman, Julia Wiggin, and the Provinage team, who produce what many believe to be the best wines in Santa Barbara County and beyond. They bottle most of the chardonnay under the brand Sandhi, syrah under Piedrasassi, and then pinot noir under Domaine de la Côte, which caught global attention in the film Somm 3. I wrote about that for Wine Enthusiast here and for the Indy here, and also ran a panel at the Festival Theater in Solvang after the film’s premiere in 2018.
But as sometimes happens with brands that don’t need much extra attention to sell out — it takes about 10 days to exhaust their stash upon release each year — Moorman doesn’t regularly send me the Domaine de la Côte (DDLC) bottlings for review, so only rarely do I ever get to taste them. Moorman is very much a believer in the importance of terroir and, especially when it comes to pinot noir, he believes that the vineyard site is the most important player.
Many people say this now ad nauseum, but Moorman takes it to the extreme: If a particular vineyard isn’t making wine that’s remarkably different, then what’s the point at all? Never mind clones and winemaking techniques and barrel selection and so forth — for Moorman, it’s the place or nothing.
In tasting through the five 2020 bottlings of DDLC, his beliefs sprang into life. Though these blocks of Bloom’s Field, la Côte, Memorious, and Sous le Chêne sit adjacent to each other off of Sweeney Road in the western Sta. Rita Hills, each wine is intensely distinct: some with more fruit, some with more structure, some with more herbs, and so forth. Moorman says those qualities emerge each year, despite every bottling being treated exactly the same.
I was sold, although, of course, I wasn’t actually paying the $90-$150 for each of the DDLC wines. There’s also the newer DDLC, which is around $50, but most of that goes to export. The key isn’t so much being able to afford these wines, however; it’s finding them in the first place. Good luck doing so, because they’re certainly worth the search for those who love pinot noir.
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