A Tour of Rideau Vineyards When Los Angeles businesswoman Iris Rideau retired and moved to Santa Ynez Valley, she wondered what she would do with all the extra time -- and space. She discovered the 13 acres of land next to her new home was the perfect place for planting grapes. Bonnie Boswell reports on Rideau, the first African-American woman to own her own premium winery.
NPR logo A Tour of Rideau Vineyards

A Tour of Rideau Vineyards

Premium Winery is First-Ever Run by African-American Woman

Iris Rideau is the first African-American woman to own her own premium winery. hide caption

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The Rideau vineyards. hide caption

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Wines displayed in the tasting room at Rideau Vineyards. hide caption

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Not far from Los Angeles, Iris Rideau is making history by making wine. She is the first African-American woman to own her own premium winery. And although she is new to the industry, most of her wines have already received awards. As correspondent Bonnie Boswell reports, managing this complex business has required patience and vision, but for Rideau, it's a passion that is beginning to pay off.

Located two hours north of Los Angeles, Rideau Vineyards and the surrounding Santa Ynez Valley could be a scene from an impressionist painting. It was the beauty of this land, with its fuzzy, green hills and centuries-old oak trees, that first captured Rideau. After 25 years running her own insurance and pension company in Los Angeles, she was in search of a quiet place to retire. She bought a home in the valley and prepared to settle down.

"You know when you get close to retirement you say, 'What am I going to do?' And I said, 'There's nothing to do out in this country other than raise horses or develop a vineyard. And I don't ride horses, so the next thing to do was start a vineyard," Rideau recalls.

Rideau bought 13 acres of land next to her new home and planted her first grapes in 1997. Though she knew nothing of the winery business, she says she was passionate about her new career.

"Everything is handcrafted here," Rideau says. "All the grapes are handpicked... they are crushed very delicately. And every wine, every grape, is picked with loving care."

On the hill below her home, Rideau planted a Syrah vineyard. Syrah, a Rhone grape, grows best on hilly areas. Rideau explains that the Santa Ynez area is the same microclimate as the Rhone region of France.

"So, whatever they plant there, that's what we plant here," Rideau says.

Rideau says she is learning she's learning such lessons just by being on the job. But she has hired several consultants to teach her the business, and now she overseas every aspect of wine production. She goes to the winery at least once a week.

"I'll go with the winemaker and we'll decide on exactly what formula we're going to use, what recipe we're going to use," Rideau says.

As Boswell reports, being a winemaker is a lot like being a good cook. You have to understand flavors and know how to mix them.

Winemaker Ariel Levee spends much of her time at the Rideau winery, flushing water through filters in the barrel room. Wine must be filtered several times to stabilize it for bottling.

Rideau says being the first African-American woman in the country to own and operate her own vineyard has its advantages.

"I like blazing the trail," she says. "It feels wonderful to have the opportunity to show the guys how it's done. Most winemakers will admit that women have a better palate than men do, so it's a lot easier for us to come up with just that right blend."