11 Women Who Are Changing the Face of Southern California’s Wine Industry
Nomadica founder Kristin Olszewski shares her favorite labels, wine shops, and local sommeliers.
Who would’ve thought that an all-star lineup of women making their mark on LA’s growing wine scene would be the city’s best kept secret? Conveniently located between Santa Barbara, Temecula Valley, and Baja Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe, the greater LA area has become a hotbed for innovative wine concepts. But unfortunately, like most other industries, women have to work (at least) twice as hard as their male counterparts to gain the recognition they deserve.
It’s a story Kristin Olszewski, founder of canned wine label Nomadica and Wine Director at Gigi’s, knows all too well. After completing her undergrad in Sustainable Agriculture, Creative Writing, and Women, Gender, Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality Studies, Kristin snagged a job at Saison, a three-star Michelin restaurant in San Francisco with a 131-page wine list. It wasn’t long before Kristin fell head-first in love with wine, deciding to drop out of her pre-med program at Harvard to pursue becoming a sommelier instead. She worked her way up at some of the most acclaimed restaurants across the country (Osteria Mozza in LA, Husk in Nashville, and Straight Wharf in Nantucket to name a few), before pivoting in a direction that even 2020 couldn’t have predicted by founding LA’s newest and most inspired canned wine label.
Kristin admits that it took a while for the idea of quality wine in a can to appeal to her. In the end, it was Nomadica co-founder Emma Toshack (though she’s currently no longer with the operation) who finally endeared her to the idea.
“At first I was like, ew, canned wine is disgusting,” Kristin recalled. “So Emma stalked my IG to find out what I liked, canned a small-batch of pinot noir, brought it to me to taste, and even though I wanted to hate it, it was actually really good!”
And of course, with her experience as a sommelier, Kristin knew exactly where to source her wine from and how to set Nomadica apart. At minimum, all Nomadica wines are sustainably farmed, with absolutely no chemical intervention, no added sulfur at canning, and limited-edition, super-small productions from cult winemakers, single vineyards, and old vines.
It helps that Nomadica is perhaps the perfect pandemic product, with each wine release providing a complete sensory experience on par with a tasting one might expect from a winery.
As Kristin explains, “Because I don’t have the ability to talk to each customer, we thought that we would communicate the flavor profiles through art and play a little bit on synesthesia, which is also where the playlists come in. Not only do you see this piece of art on the can that is communicating what the wine tastes like, we also have playlists composed by various DJs and musicians to take that even further.”
Thus far, Nomadica has released four wines—a red blend, Pink River Rosé, a sparking white, and a sparkling rosé—that can be ordered separately or in an “Adventure Pack” on their website. There’s also the option to join Club Nomadica, as a monthly or quarterly member and gain access to more limited edition releases, plus virtual tastings with Kristin, and the ability to text her as your personal sommelier. The March release for Club Nomadica members is a 100% organic Chardonnay from Castoro Cellars in California's Central Coast that features moody, surrealist artwork by Brazilian digital artist, Bruno Baraldi.
At the end of this month, Nomadica will release a special can in collaboration with Bâtonnage Forum, which typically hosts an annual forum of conversations with women in wine, but this year shifted to a mentorship program that takes those conversations one step further by creating equitable solutions for those who identify as women in the wine industry. Kristin is participating as a mentor in the program and all proceeds from the can will benefit the mentorship program. The can will also be served during brunch at Gigi’s.
In the spirit of Women’s History Month, Kristin shares 10 women who are disrupting Southern California’s wine scene in a similar fashion:
Husband-and-wife team Peter Hunkin and Amy Christine have been making wines in northern Santa Barbara County since 2003. The pair farm their own vineyard and intentionally work with growers focused on producing high quality, organically grown grapes from unique spots around the country.
According to Kristin, “Based in LA part-time, Amy is a Master of Wine and insanely educated. They make really beautiful and classic reds.”
Say When Wine
Helmed by Michel and Rachel DeAscentiis, Say When sets themselves apart with wines that are handpicked and handmade along California’s Central Coast. And according to their website, “Rachel makes the wine, Michel helps.”
Kristin says that, “Whereas Holus Bolus is more classic fine wine, Say When is more focused on natural wine and they source some really incredible grapes.”
Valle de Guadalupe
Spearheaded by LA native Taylor Grant, Tres Somms partnered with Baja California wine industry pioneer Camillo Magoni to produce thought-provoking bottles from organically farmed varieties, including Grignoliño, Aligoté, and Touriga Nacional.
Kristin points out that, “Taylor is a sommelier-turned-winemaker like me and I’ve been so impressed with the quality of wine that she’s putting out. It’s extremely affordable and delicious.”
Not only is Vinovore wine shop woman-owned, but owner Coly Den Haan also makes it a point to highlight women winemakers in her shop, along with women-led beer and sake labels, plus books, gifts, and pantry items.
Kristin describes her, saying, “She’s a really accomplished sommelier and really active in the LGBTQ community in LA. It’s a great shop for trying natural wines by women-owned labels.”
This Black-owned wine shop from husband and wife Adnen and Lenora Marouani has a sister restaurant in Hermosa Beach and both locations have reopened for outdoor dining and drinking. The word “Barsha” means abundance in Tunisian, and is an appropriate descriptor for the pair’s sizable wine selection.
“Their Manhattan Beach bottle shop is incredible,” says Kristin. “They have a lot of classic wines and a great selection of affordable wines. There’s not a lot in that area and they’re doing something really different and cool.”
Dead or Alive Bar and Shop
Palm Springs was hardly a destination for natural wine when Dead or Alive owner Christine Soto decided to open up shop in her hometown in 2015. Since then, it’s established itself as one of the best bars and shops for sustainably farmed, organic, and biodynamic wine in the low desert.
Kristin adds, “Not only did Christine bring natural wine to the area with her bar, she also started the Palm Springs Wine Fest, which focuses on California winemakers and is the most fun, accessible wine fest I’ve ever been to. It’s affordable, with amazing producers who are all doing the right thing in terms of sustainability practices. It’s not only a shop, but a movement and she’s inserted herself so much in the community there in a way that I really admire.”
Wine and Rocks and Wine and Eggs
Yucca Valley + Atwater Village
Both of these unique wine concepts are owned by Monica Navarro: Wine and Rocks offers an assortment of small production wines plus gemstones, paper goods, books, clothing, and more, while Wine and Eggs is a provisions marketplace that focuses on local makers.
And according to Kristin, “Monica has great tastes and she’s done a great job at capitalizing on a social audience, but she also buys great wine and exposes people to small winemakers that a lot of people don’t take note of.”
Nicole Dougherty of Tabula Rasa
Most people don’t know that their favorite East Hollywood wine bar places a focus on natural wines and women winemakers, and that’s courtesy of sommelier Nicole Dougherty, who you can also thank for their generous list of $12-22 wines.
Kristin commends her, saying, “Nicole has created a super interesting program at Tabula Rasa: there’s literally something for everyone there and I feel like she has her finger on the pulse.”
Evelyn Goreshnik of Dudley Market and Michael’s
Venice + Santa Monica
“Evelyn didn’t do the traditional sommelier thing or get the certification,” Kristin says, clarifying that, “She worked in restaurants, and I feel like she’s a little bit of a rebel in that respect, which I really like about her. She’s insanely knowledgeable and has an incredible palette. She’s been a champion of natural wine since before it was trending on Instagram and I’m really excited because not only is she a partner and the wine director at Dudley Market in Venice where she’s curated a great natural wine list, but she’s about to take over the program at Michael’s and I’m really excited to see what her touch will do to such a classic restaurant.”
Cristie Norman of Spago
Kristin is quick to champion Cristie Norman as “one of the most badass people in wine right now.” Named one of Wine Magazine’s 40 Under 40 Tastemakers, prior to the pandemic, Cristie organized weekly tastings at Spago to not only show off the restaurant’s 4,000 selection wine list, but to democratize some of the wisdom she’d accrued as a Certified Sommelier. Not only is Cristie President and Founder of the United Sommeliers Foundation (at just 26 years old!), but she goes out of her way to support BIPOC and LGBTQ communities in navigating the field and has provided over $700,000 worth of grants to out-of-work sommeliers since the pandemic began. She even has an online wine course for beginners.
Kristin adds, “She’s the future of this industry.”
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