California journalist and winemaker Sonja Magdevski says her latest wine, The Feminist Party, isn’t a political tipple. It’s about radical inclusion.
“It’s all about all the women and men who have helped me get here,” Magdevski says as she leads me through a tasting. It’s an interesting discussion to have with the owner of Casa Dumetz Wines (Motto: “ground, grapes, grit”) over a glass of her Clementine Carter Santa Rita Hills Grenache.
Casa Dumetz’s tasting room is in one of the oldest buildings in Los Alamos, built around 1883. Tin lamps, barnboard-front bar and linoleum-tile floor lend echoes of an old-West country store. She says she’s grateful to the local men who helped her when she began the winery. “They were really the only ones here and they included me.”
Located in the Santa Ynez Valley, about 45 minutes from Santa Barbara, Los Alamos is tiny. Little more than one main street, it’s starting to make a big impression as a wine and food destination. Popular as a film and music video location, frequent visits from Hollywood boldface have earned it the nickname “little L.A.” The short stretch of Bell St. has a half-dozen tasting rooms, including Casa Dumetz, Bedford Winery, Lumen Wines, Municipal Winemakers and Lo-Fi Wines, along with tiny al fresco wine-beer garden and shop, Bodega.
The 19th-century stagecoach stop is now the 1880 Union Hotel. Done up like a Hollywood set, the nine vintage-style rooms have to be rented as a block. Winemaker-actor Kurt Russell and daughter Kate Hudson have been known to pour the family’s Santa Rita Hills GoGi Wines there.
There’s also Bells, an impressive Cali-French restaurant housed in a former bank and Bob’s Well Bread Bakery, opened by former Sony marketing president Bob Oswaks.
Los Alamos is part of the Santa Barbara County wine region made pop-culture famous by Sideways, Alexander Payne’s 2004 film about Pinot Noir and midlife male angst.
Pinot was Magdevski’s first wine. Magdevski, who is married to winemaker Greg Brewer, first planted vines in Malibu in 2004 with her then-partner, actor-director and winemaker Emilio Estevez. She shifted to Rhône varietals with their move to Santa Barbara County, launching Clementine Carter.
Her first vintage for the Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend The Feminist Party was in 2016. The colourful label by Ventura graphic designer Andrew Harner shows a woman who looks like a 1920s flapper, a golden dart poised to throw in her hand.
Some of Casa Dumetz’s wine club members have been critical of the name. “I’m not politicizing wine,” Magdevski responds. “You’re politicizing wine. There’s nothing political about this. How you decide to interpret this is how you interpret it.”
The first batch of The Feminist Party was 100 cases. The second vintage has tripled that but will always have limited availability and Magdevski doubts she’ll produce than that more yearly. Magdevski sources her fruit from a variety of farms in the Santa Ynez and Santa Rita Hills regions and blends at a local winery. It has recently sold, so she’s on the hunt for a new place to make her wine.
The Feminist Party tastes of “chocolate cherry bomb,” says Magdevski. “Do they even make those anymore? I want you to drink it and enjoy it. It’s very fresh and energetic and it’ll age forever. Drink it now.” We do, sharing a platter of tacos from the Vallefresh Tacos in the new Babi’s Beer Emporium, just off the tasting room. There are four dozen craft beers, including a handful on tap, plus ciders. Magdevski laughs when asked if she’s brewing beer next. She has enough on her plate.
Chef Conrad Gonzales stuffs creative fillings into rustic, hand-made corn tortillas. There’s a mix of cauliflower, mushroom and goat cheese, a combo of grilled shrimp and greens, one with tender braised pork belly and another with spicy chorizo topped with a runny egg.
The talk turns to women winemakers. There are a number in the county who work in viticulture but few, like Magdevski, own their own wineries. Change is evident in winemaking, she says. “It’s really exciting, coming up in the last five to six years, there’s been an initiation of 25-to-30- year-old women who have gone to school for this and have made it their career choice,” says Magdevski, who proudly reminds me this is her 14th vintage. “They’re energetic, they’re smart and when they get together, it’s awesome.”
For more on visiting the Santa Ynez region, go to VisitSYV.com.