This is the natural wine meets love story of two chemists seeking a path that would allow them to combine their love for science with their love for nature.
Tara Gomez, an Indigenous Californian – member of the Santa Ynez Band of the Chumash Tribe – and Mireia Taribó, from Catalunya in northeastern Spain, had separately discovered that wine was the medium which could forge this connection between science and nature. Their individual paths as winemakers would eventually lead them to meeting one another in California, after which they became united in wine and in love. They travelled back to Spain and through Europe, before marrying and deciding to settle in California for good. It was there, in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, that their label Camins 2 Dreams was born in 2017; Camins being the Catalan word for path; highlighting their joint journey of discovery.
Their story is so beautiful and inspiring that we’ve decided to publish it free for all to read, in interview format, so you can hear the story directly from this passionate and dynamic duo.
LITTLEWINE: Hello! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We came across your story and were really inspired by all that you’ve achieved, as individuals and now together, and love to hear when people arrive at natural wine through the lens of science. Please tell us more - how did it all begin for you?
TARA: It was the love of science that led me to winemaking. I had visited wineries with my parents in the Central Coast area here in California while growing up, and then the connection for me was science. I remember so vividly one time that we passed through a winery and I saw their lab, with people in white lab coats doing titrations. That was my instant connection. I loved the idea of looking at nature through a microscope. So, already in high school I knew this was the way I wanted to go. With the financial support of my Chumash Tribe, I was able to go to college and get my degree in Oenology. With my Tribe, it’s almost like full circle; I went to school, then worked at the Fess Parker winery, and then our Tribe purchased that property. Now, our Tribe has our own vineyard and winery — because of that. It was due to the education that I received from my Tribe that I was able to help them with Kitá Wines.
LITTLEWINE: Can you tell us a little more about Kitá? [In addition to Camins 2 Dreams, Tara makes the wine from the Camp 4 vineyard on the Santa Ynez Reservation; the winery is called Kitá Wines]
TARA: Sure - before Kitá Wines, I had my own label - Kalawashaq’ Wine Cellars. But I put that on hold when I went to visit Mireia in Spain to work two harvests with her, in the Pyrenean Mountains. Then when I came back in 2010, our Tribe had bought this property; it is 1400 acres, of which 256 acres are dedicated to the vineyard. But the reason of the purchase was to expand our housing on the Reservation. We wanted more land to extend to our extended families – families that are still growing – and the vineyard just happened to be on it. But because of my education, I could persuade the Tribe to get into the wine industry. It took some time and some convincing, but with that, Kitá Wines was born in 2010.
LITTLEWINE: Amazing – what an inspiring journey. We would love to try the Kitá Wines, too. And how about you Mireia, how did it all start for you?
MIREIA: Well, being from Spain, wine is like food. In my house, you have wine with breakfast, lunch and dinner… well not every day but pretty much [we all laugh]. So, since I was a kid, I’ve always had wine around. My great grandparents planted a little vineyard for home consumption, and I remember as a kid going to pick the grapes. It was always fun! But I never thought, oh I wanna be a winemaker. But I was also studying chemistry, and when I finished my studies, I knew I didn’t really want to spend all day every day in a lab. I wanted to find something else where I could also have a connection to nature. That’s something Tara and I have in common – that connection to nature. We like to be outdoors and do outdoor activities, not sit at a computer all day. Winemaking had all these different sides to it, so I also decided to do a degree in Oenology. Then, I came to the US for an internship at J.Lohr Winery, where Tara was working. That’s how we met. I finished my internship, and then went back to Spain in 2006 where I found a job as a winemaker. I asked the owner if Tara could come to Spain for a harvest, so she did – she came for two harvests. It was through wine and travelling that we fell in love. She would come to visit me in Europe, and we’d to regions in Spain, Germany, France, visiting wineries and tasting wines.
TARA: Those were the best times of our lives! I wish we could do that more…
MIREIA: Yes, the best times! And it was the same back in California – Tara would take me up and down through the regions to visit wineries. I got a job working in sales, but that’s not really me. After all, I’d married a winemaker, and I decided it was time to go back to winemaking! That’s when we started with a couple of barrels. We’re still really small – just 400 cases – but hopefully we’ll grow a little more one day.
TARA: Yes, it was 2017 when we decided to do this together. We said, let’s finally take this step. For me it was like starting all over again, as I had put my label on hold to get Kitá going, and we felt like it now it was now or never. We wanted it to be something that represented both of us, which is how Camins 2 Dreams came to be—Camins means path in Catalan, and the name represents how all of our paths through Europe and California finally led us here—to Santa Barbara County and Sta. Rita Hills—to our dreams.
LITTLEWINE: It’s such a touching name, we love it. And how did you decide to pursue the more natural side of winemaking with Camins 2 Dreams?
TARA: For Mireia it came naturally, as that’s what is often done in Spain, although it’s not always called natural wine. For me it was more of a learning curve, but it’s something I had always wanted to do. Being Indigenous, the idea of working naturally comes naturally to me. I had always wanted to do that before Kitá. For Kitá, I was under a lot of pressure to create wines that have ageing potential, so I chose to go the safe route, I guess you could say. It wasn’t the right moment to pursue the natural side with Kitá. With Camins 2 Dreams, the risk is on us, not the Tribe.
MIREIA: Yes, like Tara said, being from Europe, not all wineries make natural wine of course, but a lot of them have a minimal intervention instinct, and that’s how I had always worked. And because we both have this chemistry background it means that we really understand the chemistry of winemaking. That means we can make natural wine with the knowledge of what might happen, and therefore what you can and can’t do. We make all of our decisions – from when to pick and what to do in the cellar – with those facts in our minds. It’s not just a case of just I’m gonna make natural wine – you have to understand the wine and the process. It makes it a little bit easier for us to have that knowledge, and perhaps a little less risky, although you do always have a risk with natural wine.
TARA: We’ve both tasted a lot of bad natural wine, and we didn’t want to go in that direction! So we’re always trying to be on top of everything. People who taste our wines, they don’t really…
MIREIA: … They don’t realise it’s natural wine!
MIREIA: And that’s totally fine with us. We’ve not decided to make natural wine for the purpose of a label or anything. It’s just how we believe we can get a better representation of each of the sites the wines come from; how we think we can get better aromatic expressions, and better wines.
LITTLEWINE: You began with Syrah and Grüner Veltliner, which we love to see! Such great choices – how did that come about?
TARA: Well, being in Sta. Rita Hills, it’s predominantly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines which grow here, but we wanted to take a different path. We didn’t want to compete with the hundreds of labels out there for Pinot and Chardonnay, but rather wanted to take a different route to showcase the other varieties that grow here. We both love cool climate Syrah and the Northern Rhône, and we love Austrian Grüner, and thought this could the perfect area for something like those wines.
MIREIA: And this year we started to make some Grenache and Graciano! As we’re on the western side of the Sta. Rita Hills, it’s cooler here, and there are more and more varieties being planted, not just Pinot and Chardonnay. 20 or 30 years ago that was the case, but in the last 15 years people have begun trying different things. We don’t yet know much about them, but that’s why it’s so fun – it’s fun to be learning.
LITTLEWINE: So fun and exciting to explore the unknown. How are the vineyards farmed, and what’s it like working across different sites?
TARA: We work with people who tend their vineyard sites with care and respect for the land; organic and biodynamic vineyards, although as they’re small it’s not always possible to certify. We love asking questions – we always have so many questions as we want to learn as much as possible. We’re very involved – we come out for every single pick – we don’t just wait for the fruit to arrive at the winery. We’re out there sorting, doing quality control; we’re very much a part of every aspect.
MIREIA: Right now, we’re working with four vineyards. From one side to the other, it’s like a mile…
TARA: And that’s what’s so amazing; the sites are so different; the diatomaceous earth and rocks in the soil are so unique. It was our first year  working with the biodynamic vineyard from which we get our Graciano and Grenache; it’s in its infancy stages still. So that’s very new!
MIREIA: Yes, the Grenache vines are now in their third crop, and it’s the first vintage for the Graciano. The vineyard is really sandy; much more than others in the region; so the yields have been really tiny. That creates really concentrated fruit, and extra aromatics. It’s been so surprising as it gives such nice acidity and really low pHs. Even in a year like 2020 - where we saw many heatspikes – we ended up with the highest acidity we’ve ever seen in a red wine! The finished wines have a pH of 3.2, which is perfect for making wine naturally. It was a really great surprise. Nobody has made wine from that fruit yet, so we’re taking chances too as there’s nothing to compare it to.
LITTLEWINE: Wow. We’ve heard previously from some winemakers that biodynamic farming can directly impact the pH of the wine by bringing it lower, which like you said, is a great thing for natural wine. Do you think that’s the case here?
MIREIA: Yeah, we asked the owner, is this normal?! And he said that yes, he had noticed it changing a bit. He’s also learning, so it’s surprising for everybody, I guess!
LITTLEWINE: Definitely, what a cool experience. Please can you tell us a little more about your winemaking methods?
MIREIA: We have a very natural approach – aside from adding a little bit of SO2 before bottling, we add nothing else, and the wines are unfined and unfiltered. We’re very careful and listen to the grapes and to the land that gives us the grapes, and then decide what to do.
TARA: Our goal is to showcase each of the vineyard sites through the natural yeasts that live there. So, we start a pied de cuve from each vineyard [NB: this is the process whereby roughly a bucket’s worth of grapes are picked before harvest and start to ferment naturally, to then ensure a healthy fermentation once the grapes are picked for the wine]
MIREIA: Depending on the plot, we do some whole cluster, and some not at all. This year we didn’t do any whole cluster for the Grenache or Graciano; it depends on how we feel about the grapes and the vintage.
TARA: Yes, we do some evaluations – on average we’re usually at around 15 – 20% whole cluster.
MIREIA: Then in terms of fermentation, we ferment according to lots and clones in really small containers, which fit half a ton. We foot stomp everything, trying to work as much with our bodies instead of machines. We don’t do pumpovers unless necessary (like if there’s some reduction).
TARA: And at the end of fermentation, we do an extended maceration period of around one to two weeks. We taste daily and then decide when we’ll press.
MIREIA: Yes, and even at end of the fermentation, we just use our hands to bring down the cap [the grape skins that float to the top]; we try to be really gentle. Then, the wine stays in neutral oak, for around 10 months, so we bottle before the next harvest. We don’t want a lot of tannins in our wine, so we don’t keep them in the barrels for two years or anything like that, and we’re really careful with the skins and seeds to avoid crushing them too much.
TARA: The cool thing about our project is we don’t have equipment! [they laugh together] We’re really small, so you can’t buy everything at once. Instead of buying a sorting table and a press and everything, there’s another winery across the parking lot from our winery, and they let us use their equipment which helps us a lot. We roll our fruit over, press it there, and roll it back. Same with the sorting! But we do have our own bottling line, so we can bottle whenever we want. It gives us flexibility; that way we’re not waiting in line for months for the bottling truck to come. That’s one of the only things we did invest in, and it was a great investment, as we can bottle whenever we want. But with that being said, it’s whenever the wine is ready that we bottle.
LITTLEWINE: We love it, and we agree – bottling can’t be underestimated. If you taste the wine and it’s ready, you want to bottle it right there and then!
TARA: Yes, and it’s gentler, too, as we do it via gravity flow. That cuts down the bottle shock period
MIREIA: Yes, and as we don’t filter, there’s always a bit of a risk going through a [commercial] bottling line, as there are so many wines going through it. We want to take as few risks as possible, so do it ourselves. And it’s a fun day! We have friends and family over to have them all around us, which makes it fun.
LITTLEWINE: A bottling party! We actually find bottling really soothing and rhythmic :)
TARA & MIREIA: Come and bottle with us!
LITTLEWINE: Aw thanks! We’d love that!
LITTLEWINE: And finally, we love Grüner – it’s so delicious and versatile. How do you make yours?
MIREIA: The first two vintages are a little different as we didn’t have many grapes. So, we foot stomped and macerated them for around four - five hours. Then we pressed, and left the juice to start fermenting, and then halfway through fermentation moved it into neutral barrels and stainless steel. This year we had some more grapes, so we picked two separate times. The first pick was at really low brix levels [brix is the measurement of sugar content] as we made some pét-nat from it. For that portion, we whole cluster pressed and kept some of the juice for pét-nat, and some for the still. The rest we picked at regular brix levels and did the foot stomping and short maceration. So it’s around 20% direct press and the remainder with the foot stomping and short maceration.
TARA: For both the whites and the reds we keep the wines in a reductive atmosphere; so we top the barrels every week or every other week, and try to minimise opening them. That helps us to protect the wine. We check them after a couple of months to see if there are any problems, but not much more so we don’t oxidise the wines either. The first oxygen the wine sees is when we bottle.
LITTLEWINE: Exciting to hear you’re making a pét-nat, too. We can’t wait to taste one day. And finally, we hear you’re big animal lovers! We are too
TARA: Yes! We have a little kitty that we rescued and two dogs; a great Pyrenees and a Papillon/Border Collie which we also rescued. I’d have my own animal sanctuary if I could!
MIREIA: She asks if she can adopt every animal that she sees!