The first Native American winemaker to be recognized by the California State Legislature, Tara Gomez knows how to forge her own path. Her passion for this signature California industry started with an interest in science at a young age and led her to pursuing her enology degree at CSU Fresno.
Despite being one of just two women in her graduating class, Gomez thrived and went on to travel the world and establish her own innovative winemaking style.
We spoke with Gomez to hear more about her unique experience in the industry, the methods behind her wines, and her passions outside the vineyard.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you decide that you wanted to pursue your degree in enology?
It all started with my love for science. I loved looking at nature through a microscope which later grew into chemistry sets and then enology. I used to visit wineries with my parents when we were young and I loved going on the winery tours. Walking into a cellar and seeing these large stainless steel tanks and the labs caught my interest. I knew in high school this was my calling: I wanted to pursue and study enology/winemaking.
What was it like being one of only two women in your graduating enology class at CSU Fresno? How has the wine industry evolved since then?
It was definitely challenging, especially being in a male-dominated industry. I was one of only a few students who didn’t have prior experience of working in a winery or growing up in a family winery prior to my studies at Fresno State. I had to study twice as hard, and repeated a few classes here and there, but I managed to stick through it and graduated with 12 other students in my class.
Today, there are more colleges offering enology classes. Back when I studied, it was either UC Davis or Fresno State, and I chose Fresno State because I wanted the hands-on experience with the already established winery on campus. There are also more women that have come into this industry, although it is still male-dominated.
What do you consider your greatest professional achievement?
My greatest professional achievement was being the first Native American winemaker to be recognized by the California State Legislature, and our Chumash Tribe being the first Native American tribe to have a Native American winemaker, as well as a vineyard and winery run solely by our tribe.
You spent time working at a couple wineries before discovering your own winemaking style and starting your own label. What sets your style apart?
For both Kitá Wines (Chumash Tribe’s label) and Camins 2 Dreams (my label), our focus is making fresh, structured, food-friendly wine that can be enjoyed with just about any meal. For Kitá, our fruit is sourced from our very own Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, while Camins 2 Dreams is sourced from selected vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills. With Camins 2 Dreams, we are taking it a step further and making natural wines.
After a long day of hard work, what do you do to relax and unwind?
I love to be outdoors, whether it’s sitting out in our patio relaxing or BBQing. I love to be out in nature: fishing helps bring me back to balance.
How did your experiences studying wine in Europe impact your approach back here in California?
While working in the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain, I saw many extremes, including weather. I learned a lot about early picks, extended macerations, and minimal input and how it impacts the wine. Here in California we are a bit more fortunate to not have extreme weather, but I still constantly watch the weather forecasts during harvest. I find myself picking earlier to preserve the natural characteristics of the grapes, while focusing on freshness, brightness, and structure.
What’s your own personal favorite varietal under the Kitá label?
My personal favorite varietal would have to be the Cabernet Sauvignon because it brings me the biggest challenge to grow and produce. Also, I am a big fan of Cab Sauvs.
Kitá Wines is on Chumash-purchased land. How does your heritage impact your work?
I feel we are unique in our connection and balance to the land and to Mother Earth. I ensure that the connection to the land can be seen in the vineyard practices and tasted in the wines. With each distinct vintage, I aim for the wines to capture the essence of such a spiritual and extraordinary place.
What is your favorite place to visit in the world?
I think my favorite place to visit is back home in Spain where my wife, Mireia, is from. She lives in a little village near the Pyrenees Mountains where there is nothing but mountains and lakes. It’s definitely a place where I can disconnect.
Tell us something most people wouldn’t guess about you.
With my reserved personality, most people would never guess that there’s a Diana Ross, roller skating diva inside of me.