Must-Try Wine Recs From Imbibe 75 Person to Watch, Brooke Lago - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Must-Try Wine Recs From Imbibe 75 Person to Watch, Brooke Lago

As hospitality and wine pros in the culinary-centric city of Charleston, South Carolina, Brooke Lago and Jonella Orozco were disappointed by the lack of diversity found among the winemakers whose wine was available for distribution. “Because South Carolina operates under the three-tier system [of alcohol sales], the only way to represent these wines was to bring them in ourselves,” says Lago.

Last summer, the duo launched Mantra Wine Distributors specifically to highlight winemakers who are often marginalized, if featured at all, on menus and store shelves, specifically women, people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+ or non-binary. “People sometimes have the misconception that we are selling ‘woke wines’—wines you should buy just because the winemaker is Black, or Mexican, or a woman,” says Lago. “It’s important to us that people understand we think consumers should try these wines because they are amazing … and also support minority-owned small producers, too.”

We featured Lago and Orozco in our 2021 Imbibe 75 for their work and while, sadly, Mantra was recently forced to shutter due to the economic impact of COVID-19, Lago and Orozco remain ardent boosters of the winemakers they worked with and are committed to increasing diversity in the wine industry. From winemakers with brand new labels to industry stalwarts that you may not be familiar with, here, Brooke Lago offers five winemakers you should get to know.

Christopher Rivera, Seis Soles Wine Co. Christoper Rivera’s parents emigrated from central Mexico, and wine was not something he grew up with. But an entry level job at a winery while he was in college revealed not just an aptitude but a passion for winemaking, and today Rivera works as the assistant winemaker at Klinker Brick in California’s Central Valley. In early 2020, he launched his own line, Seis Soles Wine Co., with the aim of crafting balanced, approachable wines that spoke to the Latinx community. “Always proud of his heritage, Rivera seeks to show that people of all backgrounds have a place within all levels of the wine industry,” says Lago.

Recommended bottle: Seis Soles Red Blend. “Rivera’s initial foray into winemaking…a seductive blend of dark Cabernet Sauvignon and plush Syrah create a crowd pleasing red wine,” says Lago. “This wine is surprisingly reserved on the fruit notes, instead highlighting nuanced tones of spices, oak and chocolate.”

Tara Gomez, Kitá Wines Fascinated by wine and science from a young age, Tara Gomez studied enology at California State University Fresno with a scholarship from her tribe, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. After graduating in 1998, Gomez worked as an enologist for Fess Parker winery and later J.Lohr Vineyards and Wines, as well as spending several years traveling and working in Europe. “In 2010, her tribe purchased Camp 4 Vineyards [in the Santa Ynez Valley] and hired Gomez as their head winemaker,” says Lago. “In the decade since, Gomez and her team have garnered an array of awards for their fantastic wines.” In addition to her role at Kitá Wines, Gomez launched the label Camins 2 Dreams in 2017 with her wife and fellow winemaker, Mireia Taribó.

Recommended bottle: Kitá Wines Grenache Rosé. “In a market saturated with rosé, this is a standout,” Lago says. “Kitá’s rosé is sophisticated but easily drinkable, with strong notes of white peach, melon and rose petals.”

Akiko Shiba, Shiba Wichern Cellars “Akiko Shiba has an unusual background for the wine industry—a Japanese woman who studied wine in Germany and opened her own winery in Oregon,” says Lago. “Shiba originally aimed to study beer with the goal of becoming an alcohol beverage journalist. However, after moving to Germany, she found her calling with wine instead.” After relocating to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, she launched Shiba Wichern Cellars in 2013. “Shiba crafts the kind of wine she is passionate about, hand-selecting grapes and testing out new fermentations that focus on quality above all else,” says Lago. “While her white blends are exceptional, the star of her brand is the Pinot Noir.”

Recommended bottle: Shiba Wichern Willamette Cuvée Pinot Noir. “Flavors of black cherry, nutmeg and cassis lead to hints of earthiness, with a medium body and moderate acidity,” Lago says. “If you’re expecting a traditional Oregon Pinot Noir, you may be surprised as this particular vintage leans more toward a Spanish-style Pinot.”

Robledo Family Winery Truly a family affair, the Robledo family has been working in vineyards since emigrating from Mexico in the 1940s. In 1997, Reynaldo and Maria Robledo began commercial production of wine with their estate grapes, establishing the first winery in the U.S. founded and owned by Mexican vineyard workers. “Along with their nine children, Reynaldo and Maria built their vineyard from the ground up in Sonoma, California. The winery rose in popularity when Maria began serving homemade, traditional Mexican food alongside their wines,” says Lago. “Generations of Robledo children have continued on their family legacy in positions from cellar master to sales and marketing.”

Recommended bottle: “The Seven Brothers” Tempranillo. “[This] is an outstanding showing from the imposing catalog of wines offered by the family winery,” says Lago. “An often overlooked varietal by the public, this Tempranillo is velvety and smokey on the palette.”

Theodora Lee, Theopolis Vineyards “Theodora Lee was already breaking barriers when she decided to enter the male-dominated field of law. As a partner and successful trial lawyer, the indomitable ‘Theopatra, Queen of the Vineyards’ reigns over another patriarchal world—that of winemaking,” Lago says. A native of Texas and no stranger to farming, Lee fell in love with wine after relocating to San Francisco. Inspired by her law firm mentors who owned vineyards, Lee founded Theopolis Vineyards in 2003 in the Anderson Valley, initially intending to just grow and sell the grapes. But since beginning to bottle under the vineyard’s own label in 2014, Theopolis has heaped on the awards and accolades, and Lee has become a noted leader among Black winemakers.

Recommended bottle: Theopolis Vineyards Estate Grown Petite Syrah. “This is one of the winery’s most famed wines,” says Lago. “Medium-bodied with hints of dark chocolate, fig and graphite, this Petite Syrah is a showstopper.”

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