A member of the Chumash indigenous community from the California coast, Gomez is the continent’s first recognized Native American to make wine for her tribe from a vineyard it owns.
She followed a conventional path to the cellar, studying at Fresno State, interning at Fess Parker Winery and working for J. Lohr in Paso Robles for nine years before coming home to the Santa Ynez Valley to launch Kitá Wines.
“In a sense, it’s like paying it forward,” says Gomez. “They sent me off to college, and now I am back and sharing what I’ve learned.”
Why did you want to become a winemaker?
I became a winemaker because of my love for science and also childhood memories of visiting wineries with my parents. I have vivid memories of the smell of the cellars and seeing the large stainless-steel tanks, and the labs caught my interest. As a child, I loved looking at nature through a microscope. That evolved into chemistry sets and, eventually, an interest in studying enology.
Did you have any role models?
My role models, first and foremost, are my parents. They continue to set good examples for me to follow and keep me on the right path.
Another role model is Heidi P. Barrett, a winemaker and entrepreneur who has been responsible for some of California’s most notable cult wines. She is someone I look up to, and she inspired me to want to be the best when it comes to winemaking.
Outside of the wine industry, Irene Bedard, a Native American actress I grew up watching and actually got to meet a few times, is definitely someone I look up to and admire.
What is your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement was being the first Native American winemaker to be recognized by the California State Legislature, and our tribe, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, being recognized as the first Native American tribe to have a Native American winemaker, vineyard and winery run solely by our tribe.
What was the most surprising experience or encounter you’ve had as a female winemaker?
Being turned away from commercial wine buyers before they tasted the wine because of my connection to my tribe. They didn’t judge me for what was inside the bottle, but rather the fact that a Native American tribe is behind the brand.
I didn’t think I would experience this type of prejudice in the wine industry as much as I do in my personal life, so it caught me by surprise. After the brand started getting recognition in the local community, I was brave enough to go back and give them a second chance at tasting our wines. But unfortunately, they still had their preconceived notions, so I moved on to less narrow-minded buyers.
What is your advice to someone interested in entering the wine business?
My advice to others is to always stay open to learning, mentor others, taste often, travel abroad, believe in yourself and follow your instinct because the majority of the time, it will lead you in the right direction.