Kitá: When a Chumash Winemaker Meets a Spanish One and Sparks Fly (Part 2) #WinePW

“The seasons, changes of the land, and language of nature all speak to us. We have to listen; they are a vision of balance between our surroundings and ourselves. The earth is our mother. She nourishes us, that which we put into the ground she returns to us…” Kitá

In the Santa Ynez Chumash native language of Samala, “Kitá” means “Our Valley Oak.” The large gracious trees dot the Sant Ynez Valley, their extensive canopies providing shade and shelter with their acorns an important source of food for fauna and folk alike.

Sue Hill opens a bottle of Kitá Sparkling Roussanne under the oaks near Nojoqui Falls; Nojoqui is a Chumash word meaning “honeymoon place” or “meadow.”

As a testimony to the importance of the valley oak to the tribe and the ecosystem, the Kitá label features a valley oak leaf with topographic lines on it showing the connection between the Chumash tribe which owns the winery and the Camp 4 Vineyard where most of their grapes come from. Kitá wines showcase the spirit of the Santa Ynez Valley while “respecting the balance of soil, climate, location and taste” and “using sustainable methods and a blend of old world and new world winemaking techniques.”

“Growing wine grapes is truly a partnership with Mother Earth.  It is about finding that connection to the land, soil and climate.  It’s not only about taking what we need, but by giving back in sustainable ways so that we can preserve the land for the longevity of our future generations,”  says Tara Gomez, winemaker.

Kitá winemaker Tara Gomez is a member of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

Kitá winemaker Tara Gomez learned modern techniques and wine chemistry from her formal studies in enology at Fresno State which she attended on a scholarship provided by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. While working at several California wineries including nine years at J. Lohr, she continued her studies and traveled in Europe where she also worked two harvests at Castell d’Encus, a start-up winery in the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain.

During her travels in Europe and her internship at Castell d’Encus Tara learned about old world techniques and traditions and where she worked alongside winemaker Mireia Taribó who had interned with Tara in 2006 at J. Lohr;

“She would come and we would visit all of Europe, and we’d visit the wine regions,” said Mireia in a recent interview.

Together the two traveled throughout Europe tasting and learning about wine– and each other: they fell in love and married 12 years ago.

Camins 2 Dreams quote

Tara and Mireia returned to California in 2010 when the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians purchased the Camp 4 Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley and hired Tara as winemaker for their new winery, Kitá; Mireia is Tara’s assistant at Kitá when she’s needed there. Both women also keep busy consulting and Tara and Mireia own and make wine for Camins 2 Dreams.

Kitá winemaker Tara Gomez also owns and makes wine at Camins 2 Dreams (pictured).

They also return to Europe regularly to visit Mireia’s parents and to study wine:

“When we visit her family we’ll visit a wine region,” says Tara. “We always focus on a varietal we want to learn about.”

Both Kitá and Camins 2 Dreams are small operations, with 2000 cases and 600 cases produced on average annually. But the two have different styles.

Tara’s wife Mireia Taribó is Tara’s assistant at Kitá; together they own and make wine for Camins 2 Dreams where “Wine adds a smile to friendship and a spark to love” (Edmondo de Amicis)

Recently, Sue and I traveled up the coast from Ventura to Lompoc to interview Tara and Mireia and taste their wines at Camins 2 Dreams (read more here) where they focus on single vineyards that are organic and biodynamically farmed in the Sta Rita Hills AVA and then we visited the Kita tasting room, located a few blocks away in a former fruit packing shed alongside other tasting rooms including one of our favorites, Kessler-Haak. The fruit for Kitá comes from the Camp 4 vineyard, located several miles inland.

Kita tasting room in Lompoc

Fess Parker purchased the property and planted 256 acres of grapes on the land in 1999; Camp 4 references when the area was the fourth stop on a stagecoach traveling from San Francisco to Yuma, Arizona. Situated on the eastern most edge of Santa Ynez Valley, this vineyard serves as the gateway into Happy Canyon. Home to 19 varietals, the vineyard offers a long growing season for maximum flavor development.

Kita’s tasting room– empty during our visit in February due to COVID; however, there are tables outside where tasting is allowed.

With access to 19 varietals to work with, Tara is very excited about the opportunity to blend them: “I created the blends trying to tell a story about the natural elements of life,” she says. For names, the blends use Samala words that describe them.

“A blend is the winemaker becoming an artist,” says Tara. “I don’t want to be like everyone else.”

T’aya white Rhone blend

2018 Kitá T’aya
SRP $22
Blend of Marsanne, Roussane, Grenache Blanc

T’aya is the Samala word for abalone shell, and that seemed the right name to Tara because “When I was writing the tasting notes the T’aya reminded me so much of the ocean — salt brininess of the ocean natural element of water.”

With a lovely viscous mouthfeel, the T’aya offers great minerality, honeysuckle, bee pollen, vanilla bean, bright acidity, and a white peach finish. The wine is aged in French oak.

ELEMENT: WATER.

 

Spe’y

2016 Kitá Spe’y
SRP $34
Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan 

Spe’y, which translates to flowers in Samala, is a Grenache based GSM with Carignan instead of Mourvedre, and it is full of flowers on the nose– rose petals, baking spices, fresh herbs, and cedar, sandalwood, and juniper.  So inviting! On the palate, rhubarb and fruity bubblegum. Super curious about pairing this wine with food. I thought I’d really love this wine but I think it needs food to really show its best.

“I love Carignan,” says Tara.

Me too, I told her. I’d LOVE to try it as a single varietal!\

ELEMENT: EARTH.

Kita Grenache

2017 Kita Grenache
SRP $36 

I love Grenache and I know Tara does also so I wanted to taste this single varietal wine.

In color, very translucent, and pale red like red crayon red with a pale pink rim. The nose is subtle carnation flower, clove, and cinnamon. The palate is very accessible with sweet oak on the finish from the 20% new French oak.

Kalas

2014 Kita Kalas
SRP $50
Blend 40% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Franc, 9% Cab Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot

In Samala, the word “Kalas” means air and it signifies to breathe. Tara explained to us that Bordeaux wine needs time to open up and breathe, which this wine needs. In this wine, she’s trying to being merlot back, right bank versus left.

In color, the wine is blood red with a fuschia rim. It has Sue’s kind of nose– nicely vegetal with some oak. On the palate the cherry is first then vegetal mid-palate with more cherry and tobacco with bright acidity and balanced, ripe tannins.

Both of us love love love this wine on the palate!

ELEMENT: AIR

Kita Syrah

2017 Kita Syrah
SRP $34

Color is ruby red with a medium density and a fuschia rim. Funk on the nose at first followed by pepper, spice, cloves. On the palate, blue fruit with pepper and menthol.

After our tasting at Kita, we drove up the 246 to the 101 in Buellton to Industrial Eats which I first learned about in 2014 at the Wine Media Conference at an event at Bridlewood. I love this place. We really should try somewhere else but why when this is so good?

We ordered two fresh raw oysters with uni and caviar, a Ceasar salad, and a tellagio, arugula, and prosciutto pizza. While we waited, we perused the wares and were offered cheese samples. Yes please! With a bucket full of ice and our food in hand, and very hungry, we drove to Nojoqui Falls park instead of the Pacific as we’d planned.

 

Kita Suqstay Sparkling Roussanne
SRP $75 (purchased with 15% industry discount)
ABV 11%

The final element is fire— and that’s Tara’s sparkling Roussane which was just released in December. We didn’t taste this wine in the tasting room but bought it anyway…

According to Tara, she sees the bubbles in the wine as shoot a bright reflection of the sun. The Roussanne here is all estate fruit, and everything is done by hand and in house. They hand riddled every bottle themselves; it was not sent out.

“My first time making sparking wine!” Tara and Mireia went to learn and see at smaller houses where they do everything in house.

The wine is tart and fruity with nice tropical notes, honey, lemon, sweet fruit and tartness at the same time.

PAIRING: 

Loves the richness of the uni, caviar, oyster — definitely a new favorite. As if oysters aren’t decadent enough! And then the richness of the roussane — so good.

The Industrial Eats ceasar is the best restaurant one we’d ever had, and it brings out a salinity in the wine.

Works well with the pizza but the tellagio cheese is a bit overwhelming.

That evening for dinner, my husband seared fresh scallops in butter and garlic. TO DIE FOR — so good and spectacular with the wine. My husband isn’t always impressed with wine, even bubbles, and he just LOVED this one especially paired with oysters with avocado and the seared scallops.

 

TO TRY:

If you want to pair your Kita sparkling with fried chicken for your picnic, you can order and pick it up in Solvang at Peasants FEAST.

“Through all my travels, I had an idea of the direction I wanted to go,” says Tara.

Looking forward to seeing where she goes next!

Learn more about Kita here.

Raw oysters with avocado paired with Kita sparkling roussanne– win win!

Want to meet more BIPOC winemakers and winery owners? This month the Wine Pairing Weekend group of wine writers have several to share with you! You can also check out the hashtag #WinePW in February on twitter.

PS Yes today is National Drink Wine Day!

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