I must admit that, living in Healdsburg, I was mortified when an Indian casino was built into the pristine hills above neighboring Alexander Valley. And I still think River Rock Casino is an eyesore and does not belong perched on a hill overlooking vineyards.
Recently, I discovered a different side of the tribal gaming story and their involvement in wine when trying Kita Wines, “our valley oak” in the Chumash language of Samala. The cool twist on these well-made Central Coast wines is that the Chumash Tribe owns the vineyards and they funded the winery that is headed by Native American winemaker Tara Gomez with assistant winemaker Tymari Lore.
In 2010, the Santa Ynez branch of the Chumash Tribe bought 256 acres of vineyards originally planted by the legendary Fess Parker in 1999. Producing primarily Bordeaux and Rhône varietals at the Camp 4 vineyard, the Tribe sells most of their grapes to other producers but their ownership of the property at the gateway to Happy Canyon prompted the establishment of a Tribe-supported winery. Although she has the benefit of tribe support, Tara is clear that she worked hard to present a business plan to the tribal leaders and continues to have to prove her bottom line.
Tara Gomez studied Enology at Cal State Fresno and was one of only two women graduating in 1998 in the winemaking field. One of her earliest jobs was actually with Fess Parker Winery and this was followed by time in Paso Robles and in Europe honing her winemaking knowledge. She was an accomplished winemaker by 2010 when the Tribe helped her establish Kita Wines.
Kita has the advantage of their own vineyards for their Bordeaux and Rhônes varietals and blends but Tara sources what she considers the best in Santa Rita Hills for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Current Kita offerings include the hip Grenache Blanc and very crisp Sauvignon Blanc as well as T’AYA, “abalone shell” in native Samala language, blend of Marsanne, Roussane and Grenache Blanc which has stone fruit, floral notes and a bit of minerality on the nose which is followed by apricot and honey in the mouth and balanced acid throughout the finish. All whites are $22-24.
On the red side, the Samala word SP’EY means “flower” and this aptly describes Kita’s gorgeous blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignane, the latter on of Tara Gomez’s favorite varietals. A lovely wine with elegant floral tones, blueberry and candied fruit that develops in long mouth filling flavors of berry, licorice and spice. Great balance and memorable for only $30.
Kita also makes outstanding Pinot Noirs from the popular Hilliard Bruce vineyard in Santa Rita Hills and Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Syrah from their own Camp 4. Spectacular offerings from an even better story that will only continue to get better with time. Kita wines are offered in tribal casinos throughout the U.S. which certainly raises the stakes of getting a decent glass of wine at the blackjack table!