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Mark Trahant
Indian Country Today

LOMPOC, California – Opening a bottle of wine is a journey into history. Every sip finds a story to share from the past.

Twelve years ago the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians purchased the Camp 4 Vineyard and opened up its own label, Kita Wines. A couple of years after that, the first bottles. Along the way the winery started small, earning awards and passionate fans. The Grenache Rose’ was a bestseller.

Then this email in January. "The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians has made the business decision to cease production, and we will be closing our facilities in April,” wrote winemaker Tara Gomez. “There wasn’t a lot of discussion happening around Native American wines when we first started, and I am so proud to be a part of the movement happening around the world as people look toward the original stewards of the land for unique and amazing wine, beer and spirits.”

Gomez, who is a citizen of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash, was grateful for the support from her tribe, even as the operation was coming to a close.

“When we embarked on this journey in 2010, my mission from the very beginning was to approach these wines the same way I approach life: with a heart full of gratitude and a healthy appetite for adventure,” Gomez wrote in her email. “Every step of the way I have been grateful for the opportunities provided by my tribe, through education and this incredible opportunity to tell the story of our ancestors through wine cultivated from our ancestral lands.”

The tribe’s take was similar. A statement from Chairman Kenneth Kahn called it a business decision too, a “focus on diversifying our investment portfolio.” That statement also praised Gomez and Kita’s customers. “Tara Gomez successfully produced award-winning wines while telling the story of our tribe to a new audience. We thank Tara for the years of dedication and hard work she poured into Kitá Wines, and we congratulate her on cementing her legacy as a top-flight Native American woman winemaker. Thank you to all of you who enjoyed and supported Kitá Wines throughout the years.”

And there are not many, if any, other Native American women who make wine.

Gomez calls Kita’s closure a “bittersweet ending.” She said it’s only been over the last couple of years that the winery started experiencing recognition in the market and among wine critics.

“I was using Kita as a way to tell our story, the story of our tribe and our ancestors, and the connections,” she said. “It was super important to be able to put the culture aspect, as a way of storytelling,” she said. “I tried to really incorporate our culture and being able to tell our story, within the wine.”

She said wine is so much a part of many people’s favorite memories.

“It’s just the memories that you share,” she said, “I've traveled all over the world. And sometimes when I come back and I open a certain bottle of wine that I had these memories and those memories just pop back.”

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Or new memories. This story is not about endings. It’s also about beginnings.

Gomez said she now has the opportunity to build her own winery, Camins 2 Dreams, based in Lompoc.

“This is my winery that I share with my wife, Mireia Taribo. Camins translates to ‘path’ in Mireia’s Catalan language and “through all the routes and paths that we have traveled. It has finally led us back here to my hometown. So the path is to our dreams.”

Gomez said she has had the dream of making wine since she was a child.

“So for me, it was the love of science and it started at such a very young age,” she said. “I was actually only four years old when I got my first microscope set and it's here in our tasting room. Then from there it just grew into chemistry sets.”

The passion for science, chemistry and land remains on Gomez’ mind.

“I always wanted to do the style of natural wine making here, here at Camins 2 Dreams,” she said. Her new wines will be “low intervention” using natural yeast instead of additives. The goal is to eventually have her own vineyards, and for now she is purchasing grapes, based on the values as a winemaker.

“We really focus on certified vineyards that share the same philosophy of respect for the land, trying to preserve the land, and respect for the workers. And so we align ourselves with whether the vineyard is biodynamic certified, organic certified, or sub certified, and really trying to push that and move that forward to get away from conventional farming.”

This value is something she hopes can be passed on to younger generations. “So you're learning how to grow, how to plant the agriculture side of it, the connection to the soil,” she said. That means finding balance, “and you incorporate that in a grape growing and, and wine making, just really trying to find a balance in everything that we do.”

Kita’s wine will have a final tasting this weekend in Lompoc, California.

And the balance?

“As one chapter closes,” she said, “another one opens. and I strongly believe that. And, and I'm seeing it here with, with my own label of Camins 2 Dreams.”

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor-at-large for Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix. The Indigenous Economics Project is funded with a major grant from the Bay and Paul Foundations.

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