The Inspirational Life Story of Iris Rideau from Santa Ynez Valley

Iris Duplantier Rideau should no longer be presented. Rideau Vineyard, her Santa Ynez Valley winery, was the first black woman-owned and operated winery to launch in the United States. It was a monumental feat at the time, and black-owned wineries are still an extremely disproportionate minority — less than one percent of the 11,000 wineries in the United States are black-owned, according to Oprah Daily, and an even smaller percentage of these wineries are owned by women.

Credit: Courtesy

Rideau, who bought her historic Alamo Pintado Road property in 1995, has never been one to let the odds defy her. More than two decades later, she tells her story in her own words. An inspiring read, From WHITE to BLACK: a life between two worlds is truly a story of overcoming obstacles – from the unique perspective of a black woman who might pass as white in today’s world – and a reminder to all that women’s rights are always in question.

Rideau’s story is one of success, but the roadmap it has followed has not been without challenges that were once indescribable. She grew up at a time in American history marred by the harsh segregation laws of the Jim Crow era that institutionalized racism in the South. Aware of the stifling nature of racism in her state and determined not to settle for the life that was available to her, Rideau moved to California at the age of 12 in search of better opportunities. In her early twenties, she opened her first business, working with black families on their path to homeownership, primarily in LA County’s Watts neighborhood, which at the time was deeply challenging due to discrimination and discrimination. Although she remembers those times today with distant fondness, her facial expression hides the deep presence of the scars left by the battles she fought. His triumphs are evident on a visit to Rideau Vineyards, his success today showing the promise of a legacy that will last forever.

Readers get a first-hand account of what it was like to ride home on the “Colored Only” train from its first visit to California and back to New Orleans. The bogus Louisiana Separate Car Act stipulated “separate but equal” transportation for people of color. “It should have read ‘separate but unequal,'” Rideau says, describing the cramped and unsanitary conditions she endured on returning home as a little girl as so horrific the experience haunted her for more than 20 years. year.

Anecdotes are woven into the book: stories about his Creole heritage; working with Tom Bradley, who was elected mayor of Los Angeles five times, a record; and finally planting the first viognier vines in the Santa Ynez Valley, with its characteristic Creole flair.

“My viognier vines are 22 years old; they are like a child! she laughs. “When I first bottled it, I couldn’t sell it! But, that didn’t matter to me. It’s lovely, tropical, with lovely floral flavors. She smiles. “It had this great banana flavor note, alongside pineapple and white flowers. I remember my tasting room manager at the time – she called it banana; and I said to him, ‘You can’t call it a banana; you have to call it plantain! And just like that, Rideau slowly but surely ensured that there was a bit of Creole flavor in everything she touched, making her cultural heritage part of the attraction of Rideau Vineyards.

“When I opened this winery, there were only about five other people doing wine tasting experiences here, and no one was actually doing them with food. We were successful. We would do full events with Creole food and jazz music. And we were well known for our members’ Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras parties.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley (left) and Iris Rideau | Credit: Courtesy

When asked if she has ever experienced discrimination in the Santa Ynez Valley, she hesitates: “Yes and no; it wasn’t out there in the open like in the South, but I learned pretty early that people who had a problem with black people in a basement just wouldn’t come back.”

Rideau explains that he had to take “diversity and inclusion training” before even having a name. “I have made it a point to educate my staff on diversity and teach them what it means to be inclusive.” She recalls her very first visit to a black-centric tasting group in 2003. their arrival. I told the chef to get ready, as the food was going to be a main attraction, and told the staff in the tasting room there would be lots of laughter and maybe some dancing. And you know what? I remember they told me afterwards how fun it was to host this group. Living in the valley, none of my staff had ever seen so many black people in one place.

Memories like this and many more are in the book, along with a small selection of his famous Creole recipes. Little tidbits of winemaking and vineyard knowledge—terms like “fruit set” and “dry farming”—are simply explained, playfully sprinkled like a topping on a hot fudge sundae. There is a strong presence of wine and the life of the vine in these pages; however, the story is accessible and is a touching tale of an empowered woman. It does, however, contain some sensitive topics. Pioneering years ahead of its time, From WHITE to BLACK brings culturally relevant literature to anyone interested in reading. Rideau remains honest to who she is, despite the challenges she has endured, the Creole soul brilliantly coloring every page.

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Book signings:

  • July 24, 1:30-4:30 p.m., Sunstone Winery (125 N. Refugio Rd., Santa Ynez;
  • July 28, 6-7 p.m., Chaucer’s Books (3321 State St., Santa Barbara;
  • July 29, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., Rideau Vineyard (1562 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang;

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Elisha A. Tilghman