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What's a Good Gumbo Wine?


For five years, Iris Rideau glanced at the crumbling adobe structure adjoining her property near Solvang. Then she bought it, and that was the start of Rideau Vineyard, one of Santa Barbara County's newest wineries.

If it hadn't been for local zoning restrictions, the county would have had a new restaurant, a coffee house or a bed and breakfast instead. When Rideau learned that the code allowed installing a winery and tasting room--as long as the wines were bottled and labeled on the premises--she didn't hesitate a second.

Now the first Rideau wines are being poured in the carefully restored adobe.

The 1884 building is one of the few two-story adobes in California and in 1978 was designated a Santa Barbara County historical monument. Known as the Alamo Pintado Adobe (it's on Alamo Pintado Road), the property has been a stagecoach stop, an inn, a ranch and an olive orchard. Then it was abandoned for a decade.

"It was [a] shambles," Rideau recalls. "There wasn't a blade of grass."

Inside, old wooden floors had been covered with fake hardwood. Rideau restored those, polished old brass doorknobs, added family heirlooms and scoured antique shops all over Southern California for furniture, china and accessories. "It looked terrible, but I have a great imagination," she says.

The kitchen is a dream. Rideau's goddaughter, Caren Rideau of the Kitchen Design Group in Pacific Palisades, lent a hand, and the result is a warm room with distressed pine cabinets and pine flooring, a marble-topped baking center and granite and tile counter tops. An antique black iron chandelier hangs above the center island, and off to one side is a cozy fireplace.

The kitchen opens onto a screened porch that is large enough for parties. A passageway at the other end leads to a spacious, grassy yard, where picnic tables and white Adirondack chairs are scattered under massive old oaks.

Now comes the crucial question. How could a woman who knows nothing about winemaking operate a winery? No problem. Rideau is an astute businesswoman with a long career in insurance, investment banking and retirement planning. She simply did what smart business people do--she hired the right people. The winemaker is Rick Longoria, who makes wines under his own name and most recently was winemaker at the Gainey Vineyard. The vineyard manager is Craig Macmillan, who also makes his own wines.

"This business has everything," Rideau says, "the wines, the food, the romance, the hard work. It gives me the challenge I need in business. And you get to live in a beautiful place like this."

Rideau Vineyard's first wines were a Semillon, a Chardonnay and a red blend called Vin Rouge that were purchased in bulk, then bottled and labeled on the premises. The first wine crushed, bottled and labeled at the winery was a Riesling released in February. Also released this year were a Viognier and a white wine blend called Vin Blanc.

Although she is not a wine technician, Rideau contributes her own areas of expertise. Born in New Orleans, she is an accomplished Creole cook. On weekends, she'll make jambalaya or some other specialty for visitors to try with wine. It's only a few steps from the tasting room to the kitchen, which is stocked with Creole seasonings that visitors can buy.

For a label, she chose a Creole painting that shows a jazzy procession returning from a cemetery. The vintage way the adobe is furnished reflects her Creole origins too.

"Most of the architecture in New Orleans is European-French," she says. "When I walked in here I felt I was at home again." The thick walls of the adobe were one factor in this impression. An adobe block saved from an upstairs wall now serves as an office doorstop.

When Rideau entertains, the ambience and food are pure New Orleans. The tables are set with elaborate floral centerpieces in heirloom containers, antique china and lacy overlays atop plain colored tablecloths. "I like entertaining, setting beautiful tables with beautiful china and crystal," she says.

For a recent lunch, Rideau pulled together a sumptuous setting, then cooked the dishes herself and matched them with wines.

Lunch started with crab cakes--a recipe of her mother, Olivia Daliet.

"We almost had to kill her to get it," Rideau jokes. Daliet, a lively 81-year-old, lives in Rideau's house up the road from the winery. Rideau also maintains an apartment in Los Angeles because her two companies, Rideau and Associates Insurance Agency and Rideau Retirement Planning Consultants, are headquartered in Culver City. She commutes to the winery and eventually will retire there.

Rideau poured the 1996 Chardonnay with the crab cakes. "I think it's fabulous," she says proudly. "It's very light and has a lot of fruit."

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