History in the making at tribal vineyard

2013-04-11T00:00:00Z History in the making at tribal vineyardRichard Gomez/Commentary Santa Ynez Valley News
April 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I n this column a year ago this month, I shared with you a bit of history in the making as we embarked to become one of the few tribes in the country to own a vineyard and make its own wine.

Now, I'd like to give you an update on our progress, as we put the final touches on the first bottles of wine, made with sustainable farming practices while also adding jobs to the local economy.

First some background: The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians in 2010 purchased a relatively small portion of our historical land for homes for tribal families. The Camp 4 property, as it is known, is about two miles from the Chumash Reservation.

Our 137-acre reservation is simply too small to accommodate all the tribal members and their families who want to live on land under the care and jurisdiction of our tribal government. Our tribe ended up with this piece of land — essentially a creekbed and its banks — in the 1800s when our ancestors left the Santa Ynez Mission. Our aim is to add the Camp 4 land to our reservation and build about 140 homes on the 1,400-acre property.

As I noted last April, this land will be a place where we grow our future generations.

But we are also growing something else on part of the property — 256 of its acres are devoted to wine grapes and the associated vineyard buildings. In addition to using the grapes for our own brand of wine, about 65 wine producers buy Camp 4 grapes, with a total annual harvest of about 1,000 tons. The late actor and winemaker Fess Parker started the vineyard.

We plan to continue this tradition even after homes for our families are built. Agricultural and residential uses will exist side by side in harmony.

The Camp 4 wine-making enterprise has been an exciting project for me to watch, not only because I am the tribal vice chairman, but also for my family because my daughter, Tara, is leading it.

Tara early in her career became interested in the chemistry and science of winemaking. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in enology from Fresno State in 1998. She's worked at California wineries and in Spain learning Old World techniques.

The tribe's winemakers moved their production to the Santa Rita Hills Wine Center, where they are leasing more than 8,000 square feet of their own production space. The wines then continued with the aging process in barrels.

Release of the first Chumash wines from Camp 4 grapes soon will be at hand. Our Kita wines will be launched in May.

Meanwhile, back at Camp 4, spring means the cycle of life continues, with the first green buds of the season arriving. And, likewise, we look forward to being good stewards of this land of our ancestors for generations and generations to come.

Richard Gomez is tribal vice chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

Copyright 2015 Santa Ynez Valley News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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