Tara Gomez is a Native American winemaker honoring her tribe through wine and continues to build a support system through love and passion.
by Vanessa Charlot
“It takes a village.”
A phrase reiterated by many around the world to highlight the importance of a support system. The support of a community is pivotal to the success of any person or initiative. But when that community is rooted in over 300 years of trials, triumph, culture, and tradition, there is, was, and continues to be opportunities available when provided with the resources to succeed.
The early years of finding a career in winemaking
Tara Gomez is the first Native American winemaker in the history of the United States. Her passion for wine began at a young age, accompanying her parents to wineries along the central coast of California.
“It’s a little crazy to say, but it was something I knew by grade school,” she said. “I love science, so growing up, chemistry sets is what I loved to play with and looking at nature through microscopes.”
This became a passion that blossomed through her love of science and the connection between chemistry and winemaking. Having received a scholarship from her tribe, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, Gomez attended California State University, Fresno, obtaining a B.S. in Enology in 1998, one of only two women graduating with this degree that year.
“My Chumash Tribe supported me financially when I went off to college to pursue my degree in Enology,” Gomez noted. “It meant a lot to have that support system, and when I went off to college, I had the support of the Indigenous community on campus that I quickly connected with outside of the Enology program.”
That support meant a lot to Tara, but her journey was anything but smooth. While she had her tribe at home, her time in school was a struggle she had to overcome alone.
“Even though I love chemistry and science, and I knew this was my calling at an early age, I really struggled through the coursework. It took me twice as long to graduate, partly due to my learning disability (ADHD),” she added. “But now as I look back, I see that I was able to overcome it all, including all the obstacles that I was faced with such as lack of support. Not being able to fit in, always having to explain myself, having a learning disability, and those that doubted me and didn’t believe in me. I always had to prove myself and sometimes I still do.”
Starting her own woman-owned wine label
After working two harvests in Spain (where she met her partner Mireia), Gomez came back to the tribe with her extensive wine education and started working under the Kita Wines brand. In 2010, the Santa Ynez Band of the Chumash Indians purchased the Camp 4 Vineyard with Tara as head winemaker. The winery sourced its fruit from this Chumash-owned vineyard and within its first year, Kita won numerous awards and accolades. In January 2022 the tribe “made the business decision to leave the wine industry.”
In 2017, Gomez created a new label with her wife Mireia. Through their love for one another and their shared passion for wine and winemaking, Camins 2 Dreams was born. Their philosophy is to make hand-crafted, terroir-driven wines with natural yeast and minimal intervention in the winery. This philosophy drives her passion to soon open her own vineyard.
“My next dream is to one day have my own land/vineyard and live off of it while focusing on regenerative farming. Also, hopefully in the near future to have harvest interns that want to learn from me. I would love to be a support group for them.”
Her passion for helping people stems from the lack of support she got in her studies. This is something she hopes she can fix for future generations.
“I want to be a support system for the Indigenous community and inspire them to pursue their dreams,” she said. “I struggled through the Enology program, and didn’t have that support group, which is why I have invested more time in mentorships.”
As the year comes to a close, we not only honor this Native American winemaker. We also honor the Chumash Tribe, indigenous people of the past and present, and the rich history behind them. May we forever amplify their voices.
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