Iris Duplantier Rideau should need no introduction. Rideau Vineyard, her Santa Ynez Valley winery, was the first Black-woman-owned and -operated winery to launch in the United States. This was a monumental feat at the time, and Black-owned wineries still represent an overwhelmingly disproportionate minority — less than one percent of the 11,000 wineries in the U.S. are Black-owned, according to Oprah Daily, and an even smaller percentage of those wineries are owned by women.
Rideau, who purchased her historic Alamo Pintado Road property in 1995, was never one to let the odds defy her. More than two decades later, she is telling her story in her own words. An inspiring read, From WHITE to BLACK: One Life Between Two Worlds is truly a tale of overcoming the odds — from the unique perspective of a Black woman who could pass for white in today’s world — and a reminder to everyone that the rights of women are still being called into question.
Rideau’s story is one of success, but the road map she followed did not come without once-unspeakable hardship. She grew up during a time in American history sullied with harsh Jim Crow–era segregation laws that institutionalized racism in the South. Conscious of the stifling nature of racism in her state, and determined not to settle for the life that was laid out before her, Rideau went to California at age 12 in search of better opportunities. In her early twenties, she opened in her first business, working with Black families on their path to homeownership, primarily in L.A. County’s Watts neighborhood, which at the time was deeply difficult due to redlining and discrimination. Although today she recalls this era with distant fondness, her facial expression hides the deep presence of scars left from the battles she fought. Her triumphs are evident with a visit to Rideau Vineyards, her success today showing promise of a legacy that will last forever.
Readers get a firsthand account of what it was like riding the “Colored Only” train home from her first visit to California and back to New Orleans. The spurious Louisiana Separate Car Act stipulated “separate but equal” transportation accommodations for folks of color. “It should have read ‘separate but unequal,’” says Rideau, describing the cramped and unhygienic conditions she endured traveling home as a little girl as so horrific that the experience haunted her for more than 20 years.
Anecdotes are weaved into the book: stories about her Creole heritage; working with Tom Bradley, who was elected Los Angeles mayor a record five times; and eventually planting the first viognier vines in the Santa Ynez Valley, complete with her signature Creole flair.
Sign up for Indy Today to receive fresh news from Independent.com, in your inbox, every morning.
“My viognier vines are 22 years old; they’re like a child!” she chuckles. “When I first bottled it, I couldn’t sell it! But, it didn’t matter to me. It’s lovely, tropical, with beautiful floral flavors.” She smiles. “It used to have this great banana-like tasting note to it, alongside pineapple and white flowers. I remember my tasting room manager at the time — she was calling it banana; and I told her, ‘You can’t call it banana; you gotta call it plantain!’” And just like that, Rideau slowly but surely made sure there was a little bit of Creole flavor in everything she touched, making her cultural heritage part of the attraction at Rideau Vineyards.
“When I opened this winery, there were only about five others doing wine tasting experiences out here, and nobody was really doing them with food. We were a hit. We would do events complete with Creole food and jazz music. And we were well known for our Valentine’s and Mardi Gras members’ parties.”
When asked whether she ever experienced discrimination in the Santa Ynez Valley, she hesitates, “Yes and no; it wasn’t out there in the open like in the South, but I learned soon enough that the people who had a problem with Black folks at a winery just wouldn’t come back.”
Rideau explains having to do “diversity and inclusion training” before it even had a name. “I made it a point to educate my staff on diversity and teach them what it meant to be inclusive.” She recalls her first ever visit from a Black-centered tasting group in 2003. “I knew I was going to get a bus full of Black women from L.A. coming to do a tasting, so I prepared the staff before they arrived. I told the chef to prepare, as food was going to be a main attraction, and told the tasting room staff that there would be a lot of laughter and maybe some dancing. And you know what? I remember them telling me after how much fun it was to host that group. Living in the valley, none of my staff had ever seen that many Black people in one place.”
Memories like this and more are in the book, complete with a small selection of her celebrated Creole recipes. Little tidbits of winemaking and vineyard knowledge — terms like “fruit set” and “dry farming” — are simply explained, sprinkled in playfully like garnish on a hot fudge sundae. There is a strong presence of wine and vineyard life in these pages; however, the story is accessible and is a touching narrative of a woman empowered. It does, however, contain some sensitive topics. Trailblazing years ahead of her time, From WHITE to BLACK brings culturally relevant literature to anyone interested in reading. Rideau remains honest to who she is, despite the challenges she endured, with Creole soul brilliantly coloring every page.
- July 24, 1:30-4:30 p.m., Sunstone Winery (125 N. Refugio Rd., Santa Ynez; sunstonewinery.com)
- July 28, 6-7 p.m., Chaucer’s Books (3321 State St., Santa Barbara; chaucersbooks.com)
- July 29, 1:30-4:30 p.m., Rideau Vineyard (1562 Alamo Pintado Rd., Solvang; rideauvineyard.com)