Women of Wine Series, Part 1: Kitá Honors Chumash Legacy

I was lucky enough to vacation this summer in Central Europe, visiting four countries, two of which are well known for their wines, Austria and Hungary. And living in California, there are of course hundreds if not thousands of wine makers within driving distance of my house that I can visit on a whim. Less common are wineries owned or run by women, and over the last few weeks I had the pleasure of meeting four exceptional women of wine: Heidi Schrock, in Rust, Austria; Judit Boda, in Tokaj, Hungary; and Tara Gomez and Tymari LoRe of Kitá in Santa Barbara, California.

Over my next few posts, I will profile each of these wine women, beginning with California’s Kitá.

Kitá: Purity and Balance

Samala is the native language of Central California’s Chumash Indian tribe, and their word Kitá means “our valley oak.” Oak trees dot the 1,400 acres of vineyard property, known as Camp 4, that the tribe purchased from Fess Parker’s estate in 2010, which is when Tara Gomez, a member of the tribe, was brought on as chief winemaker.

Tara Gomez, Tymari LoRe of Kita
Tymari LoRe and Tara Gomez

Gomez is a 17-years veteran of the wine industry who has worked various jobs around the world since graduating from Fresno State’s oenology program. The Chumash tribe helped her with her education, and Gomez is a believer is paying it forward, and is hoping to teach the art of sustainable grape growing and winemaking to younger members of the tribe. “I see excitement about wine in the younger generation,” she says.

Gomez brought on a female assistant winemaker, Tymari LoRe, five years ago. LoRe graduated from Cal Poly’s viticulture and vinification program. Both winemaker and assistant believe that working with another woman has a certain “elegance” — basically they taste things the same way and have a common, female, language for describing what they smell and taste. Together these two women are producing truly artisanal, award-winning wines, which they recently brought to an LA Wine Writer’s luncheon at the West Restaurant of the Hotel Angeleno.

“Camp 4 is a special, spiritual place,” says Gomez, who clearly loves what she does. She and LoRe, whom she has mentored like a daughter, are true believers in the philosophy that wine is not made in the winery, but out in the vineyard, and that there needs to be an “earth-to-man” balance. As winemakers, they feel they are the shepherds that guide the grapes through from vineyard to bottle. Both women love spending time in the vineyard, which features a mesa where the best soils are located and from where the vineyard can be viewed. They practice sustainability in the vineyard, although the winery is not currently SIP-certified.

Balance is important to both Gomez and LoRe. Both have traveled extensively, studying the grape and the purity of each variety. “We have experienced the true history of each grape,” says Gomez, who spent time in Burgundy and the Pyrenees mountains of Spain, where she says she learned much from some of the oldest winemaking families in the world. She returned to California’s Central Coast, spending 9 years with J. Lohr in Paso Robles, before reaching her true home in Santa Barbara, where she loves the wines being produced. LoRe spent a long harvest in Burgundy.

Kita rose
Grenache Rose paired with seared scallop

The Camp 4 vineyard was first planted by Fess Parker in 1999, and now boasts 19 different varieties of grapes. Gomez and LoRe are mainly focused on 100% pure variety wines, but recently created a few blends. Following are some of their wines:

Kitá’s lovely Grenache Rose, a pretty salmon pink in color, is 100% Grenache, and paired beautifully with Chef Laura Scollan’s seared scallop dish. This is a pre-release, but will be available soon at $18.

The 2013 T’aya — which means “abalone shell” in Samala — is a Southern Rhone style blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc, and is so named because of the lingering saline finish.The area of the Camp 4 vineyard has sandy loam soils, which impart the briney quality to the grapes. The wine sits on the yeast as it ages, giving it a creaminess, but it also has a refreshing, crisp acidity, as well as vibrant tropical fruit. This is a good summer wine, and is priced at $22.

Gomez and Lore also presented two Pinot Noir wines at the luncheon, which are made from grapes purchased at the outstanding Hilliard Bruce property in the Sta. Rita Hills. Gomez says the 2013 is “something special, one of the best. It has less in color [than the 2012], but great complexity, reminding me of a Burgundy.” And I agree. Paired with pan-roasted quail, it is a voluptuous, silky wine, which was just bottled in May. This wine is currently pre-release, but will be priced at $60.

The 2012 Pinot, from a vintage with higher yields, and lots of fruitiness, has a darker garnet color. It has classical California Pinot aromas of cherry cola, rose petals, deep, rich earthiness, and is a more powerful wine than the 2013. It’s also $60, and currently available.

Kita Cabernet Sauvignon bottle
Gold-medal winning 100% Cabernet Sauvignon 

For blended wine, the usual Rhone blend is GSM, or Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. “Mourvedre can be overpowering,” says Gomez, so  Kitá does it differently, blending Grenache, Syrah, and Carignane in a wine called Spe’y, or “flower” in Samala. “On its own, Carignane does not have a good backbone,” Gomez adds. But with 20% Carignane paired with 53% Grenache and 27% Syrah she achieves a “harmonious companionship” that paired with moroccan spiced duck. This floral-scented wine with blueberry, black pepper and candied fruit is lovely and well priced at $30.

Camp 4 is located in the eastern end the Sta. Ynez Valley, next to the eastern-most Happy Canyon, The weather tends to be hotter than the rest of the valley, therefore good for Bordeaux varietals.The classic Bordeaux grape is Cabernet Sauvignon, and Kitá has a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 2012 that is outstanding. “Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the few varieties where the growing season has to be correct,” says Gomez, or things like “shatter” can occur, whereby blossoms are knocked off the vines before they can set, as they did for the 2015 vintage. The 2012 is a beautiful cab with deep color, and classic aromas of fresh blackberries, black currant, cedar, sweet tobacco and vanilla, with a rich texture and dusty tannins. At $40, this is a great value.

Kitá wines have won accolades, among them:

  • Gold Medal and 93 Points, Los Angeles International Wine Competition, for 2013 T’aya
  • Double Gold, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, for 2012 Pinot Noir, Hilliard Bruce Vineyard
  • Gold Medal, International Women’s Wine Competition, 2012 Pinot Noir, Hilliard Bruce Vineyard
  • Gold Medal, Central Coast Wine Competition and International Women’s Wine Competition, for 2012 Spe’y
  • Double Gold, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Gold Medal and 94 points, Los Angeles International Wine Competition, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Kitá wines can be purchased directly from their Web site, www.kitawines.com. Some of their wines are also available at The Wine House (www.winehouse.com) in West Los Angeles. You can also check www.wine-searcher.com for retail outlets near you.

Until next time, Cheers!