On the eastern edge of Lompoc, miles above where a visitor turns off Route 246, Forbidden Fruit Orchards is an unexpected sight. Magnolia trees in full bloom with their fragrant wine flowers line the driveway. There are apple, olive, avocado, fig and plum trees; plots of hardy kiwi, mulberries, and even tea. Acres of blueberries are being picked. Tucked away from first sight on the 100-acre property are 7.5 acres of vineyard, 2 acres of chardonnay grapes, 5 acres of pinot noir and 500 pinot meunier vines used in the production of Forbidden Fruit's Cebada wines.
Sandra ("Sandy") Newman is Forbidden Fruits' owner/winemaker/horticulturist. It's a labor of love and largely a one-woman show.
Newman earned her master's degree in plant science from the University of Delaware, and after moving to Southern California with her parents and siblings, helped run the family's flower shop in San Clemente.
The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980 gave her an idea for a company, formed with a cousin, to handle the then newly required electronic filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission for small companies unequipped for the IT transformation.
Her dream, her passion, though, was to have a vineyard.
"I worked at that business for 20 years, and in 2002, after three years of looking, had enough money saved up to buy something small up here," she said while relaxing on the patio of the home she built on the property.
"When I found this parcel, it was raw land. There was no road, no access, no working well, just some old apple trees."
Newman bought it anyway and for the next three years, commuted from her Orange County home to work weekends on the property. She stayed overnight in a tiny unheated trailer while getting the place ready for planting.
A fortuitous meeting with a farm agent set her course quite differently than she'd imagined.
"I'd asked him to come to the property and tell me about growing conditions," she said. "When I told him I wanted to grow grape vines, he asked me how much money I had and if I was prepared to run in the red for eight to 10 years."
His advice: Plant blueberries and farm them organically. They'd turn a profit, he predicted, within about three years. He was right and Newman plowed every cent of that profit into the property and the planting of her beloved grapes.
In 2005, she decided it was time to fully commit. Newman bought a triple-wide trailer, hired someone to build a foundation for it and a garage, and moved in.
By then, Newman was already years into a personal tragedy that played a life-altering role in her story arc. When she was 35, her husband had a major heart attack attack and suffered a severe brain injury from the lack of oxygen.
"He never worked again after that. His short-term memory was gone. He had trouble sequencing," Newman explained. "He had a heart transplant in 1997 and passed away in 2008. It was a long haul. That was my life."
Only months before he died, Newman's husband encouraged her to finally plant her vineyard.
"He got to see the plants go in and then he passed away. He was happy that I had my dream," she said. "When I look back, I wonder if it wasn't for what he went through for so many years, would I have stepped up to the plate and made this happen."
Her thoughts trailed off. Newman understandably doesn't want to talk about it anymore, and the conversation turns to her wine. Production is 700 cases, small even by Santa Barbara County standards. She sells direct to consumer, both online and from a tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara.
A very special treat is a visit to Forbidden Fruit Orchards. It includes a vineyard walk, tour of her small production facility and a tasting in the kitchen with Newman herself taking you through her wines.
Her style is very French, very Burgundian. That means Cebada wines are lower in alcohol, balanced and not fruit-forward.
"I don't do oaky, buttery chardonnay," she said. "I do very much Chablis style or as close to that as I can. I make elegant wine. They are good food wines, for sure."
Her production includes a sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne style, which explains the pinot meunier grapes that make up a tiny percentage of the pinot noir and chardonnay blend.
Perhaps not surprisingly, her blueberry dessert wine is a hit.
"It's my No. 1 selling wine," she laughed. "I make about 150 cases of it each year, and make it in the same style as my pinot noir."
As the number of wineries on the Central Coast grows, Newman is realistic about what it takes for an operation her size to break out of the pack and get noticed. Although she works more hours a week that she can count, Newman is not deterred.
"I'm happy where I ended up," she said. "This is what I really wanted."
For more information, visit forbiddenfruitorchards.com.