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Chumash Winemaker Tara Gomez

Chumash Winemaker Tara Gomez

Alongside her wife, Gomez is owner and winemaker of Camins 2 Dreams, a Lompoc-based winery that produces acclaimed Syrahs and Grenaches

When you ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, they’ll go on about all sorts of occupations: athlete and astronaut, doctor and lawyer, movie star and musician. But when Tara Gomez was a young girl, she had a very different dream. The enrolled member of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians wanted to be a winemaker—and that’s exactly what she is today.

Gomez and her wife Mireaia Taribó are the owners and winemakers at Camins 2 Dreams, the Lompoc-based winery they launched in 2017. Camins 2 Dreams sources grapes from vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, a cool-weather region outside Lompoc located about an hour from Santa Barbara. The winery’s Grenache and Syrah have earned plaudits from such leading publications as Wine Enthusiast.

Gomez’s approach is rooted in art, science, and her deep passion for the full sweep of the winemaking process. “During every harvest, I still get butterflies,” she says. “I know that this is what I really want to do because it doesn’t even feel like work anymore. It’s something I’m really passionate about and immerse myself in. I love coming to work every day and working with the wine. There’s just something so beautiful about it.”

The Making of a Winemaker

In many respects, Gomez’s winemaking career began with the Fisher-Price toy microscope that her parents gave her when she was just four years old, a gift that helped inspire a lifelong interest in science. She began to explore nature through the microscope and still keeps it in the Camins 2 Dreams tasting room. Gomez later graduated to chemistry sets, then discovered wine at a young age. Her parents were wine connoisseurs and she sometimes accompanied them on their weekend tasting outings up and down the Central Coast.

“Visiting one of the tasting rooms—and I still remember it to this day—we walked by the lab and I saw people in their white lab coats doing titrations. It was the science and chemistry part of it that first connected me to wine. That always stuck in my mind and in grade school I already knew that this is what I wanted to do. I went back through my seventh and eighth grade yearbooks and I saw that I wrote I wanted to be a marine biologist or a winemaker. And I stuck with it.”

While in high school, Gomez began researching colleges that offered winemaking programs. Fresno State University had a winery on campus and that appealed to what Gomez describes as her “hands-on nature.” But leaving family and the Chumash community for the first time proved challenging.

Gomez joined the university’s Tewaquachi American Indian Club and began meeting members of other tribes and learning about their cultures. The organization’s elders took her under their wings and helped ease the transition to college. “That’s who I would go to if I needed anything. Because I knew I could count on them,” she says.

Gomez represented Fresno State on the Pow Wow circuit, traveling as a dancer and serving as the club’s princess, a high honor. These days, the demands of winemaking make it impossible for her to go out on the circuit but she still attends Pow Wows whenever possible, including the annual Chumash Inter-Tribal Pow Wow in October. “It just becomes more challenging when you have your own business and you have to be a grown-up,” she laughs. “I don’t have that much free time anymore.”

That’s because when Gomez describes herself as hands-on, it’s quite literally true of the approach at Camins 2 Dreams. “We go out for every single pick, we’re part of everything. We’re not desk winemakers,” she notes. “We’re out there sampling, we’re out there making the picking decisions, and for the picks themselves. I mean once you pick, that’s it. There’s no going out and trying to hang the grapes back on the vine.

“You gain a better understanding not only of the fruit that’s coming in but also the yields and the harvest. And we haul all the fruit ourselves too. We bring it to the winery. We do it all. That’s love, right? This is what I love to do. I feel like it’s important to be part of every aspect of the process. To see it all.”

Wine has been central to the couple’s relationship from the very beginning: Taribó is originally from a village in northeast Spain near the Pyrenees Mountains and the two met in 2006 when she arrived in California to intern during harvest season at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines in Paso Robles. While the couple share training as chemists, they not only come from different cultural backgrounds but also separate winemaking traditions. Overall, they have similar philosophies but Gomez says the two sometimes disagree about when to pick the grapes, explaining that Taribó prefers an earlier harvest.

“I like a little bit more acidity,” says Taribó.

“You like a lot more acidity,” teases Gomez. “But we meet in the middle somehow. There’s a balance.”

That’s even true in how they named the winery operation. While Camins means path in Taribó’s native Catalan, the winery’s business name is Kalawashaq’ Wine Cellars. Kalawashaq’ translates as “shell of the turtle” in the Chumashan Samala language and is also the name of Gomez’s ancestral village.

The Chumash Influence

Growing up in Spain, Taribó had little sense of the diversity of Native American cultures. “The image you have of Native Americans is what you see in Hollywood movies,” says Taribó. “That’s about it. When I met Tara, I didn’t even know that there were tribes in California.”

Gomez is the great-great-great granddaughter of Maria Solares, who was born in 1842 and credited with preserving the Samala language, as well as many cultural stories. Gomez’s Chumash upbringing has inspired her commitment to sustainable winemaking and a strong desire to nurture and protect the soil, which she considers a living organism.

“It just goes back to my childhood really,” Gomez says. “My parents always taught me about balance, being in balance with myself and my surroundings. And I try to find balance in the wine—in the chemistry, flavor, alcohol, and the acidity. Out on the land, we’re trying to find a balance of the yield, the soil, and of all the growing aspects. It’s a part of me. Finding balance in everything that I do.”

Camins 2 Dreams aims to collaborate with vineyards that are also committed to protecting the land and Gomez says her goal for the winery is to be 100 percent organic and biodynamic within the next couple of years. But for all of the science that she and Taribó bring to their winemaking, Gomez’s desire for a sense of connection also plays a vital role in what they do. 

“I want to find a connection to the vines,” she says. “Mireia laughs at me because I always stop and smell the plants. It’s just something that I love to do. Just paying attention to everything around me. Because everything is connected.”