Kitá Wines: The balance between earth and vine

Kitá Wines Pinot Noir

The pursuit of balance in the winemaking process comes in many forms. For many wineries, it is the foundation behind the winery. Balance is very important to the philosophy of Kitá Wines. It is the central theme behind every facet of creating and producing wine from start to finish.

The Chumash And Balance

Perhaps it represents an important aspect of the Chumash tribe, owners of Kitá Wines. As you speak with winemaker Tara Gomez, she frequently uses the word balance. Balance can be interpreted in numerous ways, from wine growing to the winemaking process. It is a way to express the place and the purity of the varietal and the primary representation of the grape. There is a balance between the earth, terroir, and vine, nature, and weather conditions or how the wine comes across to us. It is the relationship of all the components of wine blended together. Balance is also a form of giving back to the land through sustainable practices. These are all the pieces that signify Kitá Wines’ interpretation of its meaning.

In Santa Ynez Valley, the word Chumash is synonymous with the area. They own hotels, restaurants, and casinos, but unbeknown to many is the vineyard and outstanding winery they own. Kitá Wines is a boutique winery featuring the wines of Santa Ynez Valley and Sta. Rita Hills.

In the Chumash Samala language, Kitá means “Our Valley Oak.” The oak tree is the tree of the Santa Ynez Valley, and like the tree, the grape is the fruit of the area. Therefore, the wines of Kitá symbolize the spirit of the Santa Ynez Valley. Kitá’s label utilizes the oak leaf to symbolize the importance of the oak and grape to the region where the winery lies. For the Chumash, the vineyard has a balancing spiritual quality to it. It is as if the Chumash tribe is the shepherd of the vineyard.

The Chumash own the Camp 4 Vineyard. It is at the very entrance to the Happy Canyon AVA. Camp 4 got its name because it was the fourth stagecoach stop and camp along the route from San Francisco to Yuma. Purchased in 2010, the vineyard is planted with 19 varieties of Rhone and Bordeaux grapes.

Winemaker Tara Gomez

Winemaker Tara Gomez, a member of the Chumash tribe, oversees the vineyard and runs the winery. Tara also represents a balance between men and women in the wine business. In her case, she has some large shoes to fill. Not only is she a woman winemaker, but she was also the first Native American winemaker. At the same time, she represents the first Native American winery to be recognized in the United States.

Tara began her career as an enologist for Fess Parker Winery. She moved on to J. Lohr, and while there, she started her own label called Kalawashaq Wine Cellars. When she left J. Lohr, Tara went to Spain and worked for Castel d’Encus, where she learned many old-world techniques that she utilizes today. When the Chumash purchased the Camp 4 Vineyards from Fess Parker, Tara was hired as their winemaker. Tara’s wine practices include matching the coopers for the barrels to each varietal. She often ages her wines in 50% new oak and 50% neutral oak.

Wine Tasting  with Tara Gomez
Wine Tasting with Tara Gomez

Assistant Winemaker Tymari LoRe

At the time, Tymari LoRe was the assistant winemaker. Tymari also spent time in Europe learning old-world methods. She shared the same passion and philosophy as Tara. One can see that the two make an excellent team. Just like the balance in the wines, Tara and Tymari complement each other, working on an even keel. This is important in perfecting the consistency of the wine. One also sees a tremendous exuberance as Tymari shares the nuances of a bottle of wine.

In watching Tara and Tymari working together, you realize Tara represents the seasoned soul while Tymari embodies the new. Almost like the yin and the yang forming a balance of the wiser experience with the new.

Tymari left to study winemaking abroad this past year, and upon return, one sees the two work together like sisters who have not seen each other in years. Their friendship and working relationship picked up right where they left off. This symbiotic camaraderie must influence the outcome of the wine as though it transfers right down the bottle.

Tara Gomez and Tymari LoRe
Tara Gomez and Tymari LoRe

Kita Wines

The consistency of the wines available from Kitá is outstanding. Every wine, both white and red, is excellent and worth tasting. Having sampled the wines in 2013, tasting the 2011 Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir along with the 2012 Grenache Rosé, 2010 Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, it was exciting to see this winery’s growth over a two year period when revisiting the wines in 2015. In 2013, the concentration was on a single variety, while today, they have added several blends to the Kitá portfolio.

Kitá Wines emphasize balance
Kitá Wines

This review of wines is based on two separate tastings, one a luncheon with LA Wine Writers and the other a visit to the winery shortly after the first tasting.

Starting with Kitá’s first vintage of Chardonnay, the 2014 is crisp and clean with aromas of citrus and minerality. In addition to the citrus, one finds flavors of apple and pear. This is a wonderful example of a cool climate Chardonnay.

It was interesting to compare the 2013 T’aya to the 2014. T’aya means Abalone shell in the Samala language and pays tribute to water. This is a light blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Grenache. The grapes for this Rhone blend are picked early from a sandy loam location atop the mesa in the Camp 4 Vineyard. This setting gives the wine its minerality.

The 2013 has wonderful perfumes on the nose of peach, tropical fruit, and honey. The tropical flavors are most prominent. The 2014 has a divine sweet aroma, typical of Roussanne, which entices you to sample the wine. It seemed like the varietals were layered while exuding the pear, peach, and apple essences in the flavors.

Kitá T'aya
Kitá T’aya

Instead of dropping Grenache grapes, Kitá uses them for their Rosé. One might say this is part of nature’s way of balancing the grapes and one of Kitá’s approaches to being sustainable. Picking early affects the color of the wine, which, in this case, is a pale opal feminine color. The 2014 Grenache Rosé is tangy with flavors of citrus, peach, and berries. There is a crisp acidity with an underlying creaminess, making this a very exceptional wine.

Comparing the 2013 and 2012 Hilliard Bruce Vineyard Pinot Noir showed the depth and quality an extra year of aging can add to a wine. The 2013 is a little lighter in body but displayed red fruit, including cranberry, cherry, and cola. The aromas were cranberry and violets. The wine has medium acid and is bright with sweet vanilla and Thanksgiving spices of allspice and cinnamon. The wine is soft, silky, and velvety. This Pinot is a combination of clones 115, Calera, and 777. It ages in 25% new oak.

The 2012 Pinot was heavier in quality and texture. It was more earthy and Burgundian in style. The biggest difference in the wine is the addition of clone 828 with Clones 115, Calera, and 777. This changes the profile of this Pinot Noir. One still finds the cherry and cola flavors with hints of spiciness and a smooth round finish.

Kitá Pinot Noir
Kitá Pinot Noir

Spe’y means flower in Samala and is an apropos name for Kitá’s Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignane. This wine pays homage to the natural elements of the land. The 2012 Spe’y exudes florals on both the nose and palate. The red fruit flavors are inviting, while at the same time, there are hints of pepper and licorice. The 2013 is spicy on the nose, showing off more of the Carignane. Along with the red fruit flavors, one finds tomatoes in this very balanced wine. Each vintage merits recognition in its own right.

The 2013 Syrah was bright with smoky aromas and flavors of cherry, clove, and pepper.

For Tara, the Cabernet Sauvignon is the most difficult wine to create, yet at the same time, it is her favorite. Perhaps it is the challenge that makes it her preferred wine to produce. The 2012 is fruity with rich textures and complexity. It combines both dark and red fruit with hints of cinnamon and dried herbs. It is a dynamic wine that truly showcases the balance that Kitá is trying to achieve in its wines.

Sampling 2013, it seemed green at first, but as the wine sat, it too showed off the bright, dark, and red fruit with hints of tobacco. Like its predecessor, once released, it will be a dynamic wine that epitomizes the statement Kitá is making through its wines.

Kitá Cabernet Sauvignon
Kitá Cabernet Sauvignon

Finishing off the tasting was the Sálapay, which in the Samala language means from above and represents the air and the night sky. Sálapay is a Bordeaux blend of primarily Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and a small portion of Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2013 is balanced with dark fruit. It is bright with hints of tobacco and earth. Tara makes her own statement with different proportions of the typical varieties used for Bordeaux blends. She concentrates more on the Merlot while de-emphasizing the Cabernet Sauvignon at the same time.

Like the Spe’y (flower), Kitá is blossoming and continuing to make its own significant imprint on the wines of Santa Barbara County.

Since the writing of this article, Kitá has closed its doors, but Tara Gomez has gone on to start her own winery, Camins 2 Dreams.

Read Cori’s article on Camins 2 Dreams.