Changemakers in Wine

How four CSU alumnae make their mark on California’s industry

Scroll down button  

Four million people globally are proud to call themselves alumni of the 23 campuses of the California State University, and one in 10 employees in California is a CSU graduate. With those numbers, it’s no wonder the impact that CSU alumni have on California’s economy. One of the state’s key industries is also uniquely impacted by CSU alumni: California wine. A national leader in wine production, California wine makes a significant contribution, with an economic impact of $57.6 billion in California alone.

But the industry lacks diversity. Approximately 14 percent​ of California’s bonded wineries have women as lead winemakers. And of those women leaders, even fewer are Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC). Thankfully, California’s wine industry is benefitting from a handful of female pioneers, including four inspiring CSU alumnae who are exploring new frontiers in a male-dominated business.

Justin Trabue
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (2017)

From helping to establish a scholarship for BIPOC students in wine, to joining forces on a nonprofit wine club that raises funds to combat racism and inequality, Justin Trabue is a voice for change in the industry.

Since earning her bachelor’s in wine and viticulture from Cal Poly​ in 2017, Justin Trabue has already proved herself a changemaker who is impacting California’s wine industry.

After the 2020 murder of George Floyd, Trabue paired up with wine industry colleague Simonne Mitchelson​ to write an open letter to the California wine industry. In the letter, the two Black winemakers called on the industry to respond to the traumatic event by donating to RACE Matters SLO, a local multiracial community organization. They also called attention to the lack of diversity in the wine industry, citing that only 4 percent​ of California’s wineries are women owned, and they were unable to find what percent of those were Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) owners.

After this call to action, Trabue and Mitchelson contacted industry leaders to create a scholarship fund through the California Community Foundation to support BIPOC students at Cal Poly who are pursuing a career in wine and viticulture. Since it was established in 2020, the fund has continued to grow with the hope that it serves as a tool to attract high-achieving BIPOC students who may not be aware of the exciting career opportunities the wine industry offers.

"In creating this scholarship we not only want BIPOC students to learn about wine and find fulfilling jobs, we want them to have safe space and comfort at the university," Trabue says. 

In addition to her impact on the creation of the scholarship, Trabue is also a co-founder of the Natural Action Wine Club, a nonprofit that supports BIPOC natural winemakers and encourages more people of color to explore careers within the industry.

Currently the production assistant at Heitz Cellar in St. Helena, California, Trabue started in the wine industry in 2016 in the tasting room at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles. She then found her passion for winemaking at Lumen Wines, where she was mentored by Lane Tanner, the first independent female winemaker in Santa Barbara County, who she met through Cal Poly’s Wine and Viticulture program.

“Cal Poly has the largest undergraduate wine and viticulture program in the country and has prioritized the recruitment and retention of a more diverse student body,” says Trabue. "While at Cal Poly I studied wine business, but was able to learn about all aspects of the industry​viticulture, logistics, distribution, marketing, enology, ampelography and more. There was also a class where I partnered up with a small team and made wine as a group together. I still have a few bottles and they are delicious. It's a proud moment."



Tara Gomez
Fresno State (1998)

Tara Gomez knew she wanted to become a winemaker when she was in grade school. She went on to become the first Native American to own and operate a winery in the United States.

As a young girl, Gomez tagged along with her parents on winery tours and developed a fascination for science and nature. In high school she already knew she wanted to enroll in Fresno State’s enology program and get hand’s-on experience at its on-campus winery. With a scholarship from her tribe, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, Gomez was able to earn her bachelor’s in enology from Fresno State—and was one of only two women to complete the program in 1998.

Gomez then spent several years gaining experience at wineries across California’s Central Coast and traveling through Europe while broadening her winemaking knowledge. While at the J. Lohr Winery in Paso Robles, Gomez created her own side label, Kalawashaq’ Wine Cellars, named for the village where her Chumash ancestors once lived.

Connection to the land and her heritage are key themes for Gomez in winemaking. “Growing wine grapes is truly a partnership with Mother Earth,” says Gomez. “It is about finding that connection to the land, soil and climate. It’s not only about taking what we need, but by giving back in sustainable ways so that we can preserve the land for the longevity of our future generations.”

In 2010, the Santa Ynez Chumash tribe purchased a parcel of ancestral land to create a vineyard and worked with Gomez to develop Chumash Cellars and Kitá Wines, a small, premium winery. In 2017, Gomez and her wife Mireia Taribó also began producing wine under their own label, Camins 2 Dreams. (The name means “path to our dreams.”) 

As a Native American woman winemaker, Gomez has served as a mentor to help women and historically underserved communities advance in the industry. “I am starting to see change, as the world is changing, but there is still a lot of work to be done as this is still a male-dominated, white industry,” she says.

In 2021, Gomez became a mentor with the James Beard Foundation’s inaugural Legacy Mentorship Program to advance equitable leadership in winemaking. Thanks to her dedication in propelling the industry forward, this trailblazer was also named the 2021 Next Wave Winemaker of the Year by VinePair.

While the Santa Ynez Chumash tribe recently announced they will cease production on Kitá Wines, Gomez has already made history as an agent for change. Now, Gomez will focus on building the Camins 2 Dreams brand of additive-free natural wines alongside her wife and business partner Taribó. She will also continue building community and serving as a mentor to the BIPOC/LGBTQ communities, she says.


“It is important to me that those who look like me see themselves reflected in opportunities and in industries not usually accessible to us.”
—Dr. Chris Wachira


Dr. Chris Wachira
San Francisco State (2011, 2006)

While working in health care, Dr. Chris Wachira followed her passion for wine and cultivating community by founding Wachira Wines, the first Kenyan-American winery in the U.S.

Dr. Wachira earned her bachelor’s in nursing from San Francisco State University in 2006, followed by a master of public administration (MPA) in 2011. She went on to earn a doctor of nursing practice at the University of San Francisco in 2017.

“San Francisco State gave me a sense of community as a young Kenyan immigrant and a sense of belonging in a country where I knew less than 10 people,” Wachira says. “SFSU allowed me to develop skills that prepared me both intellectually and socially to be a productive member of my community. It also affirmed to me that hard work, focus and drive could be rewarding.”

While working in Neuroscience Clinical Outcomes at Stanford Healthcare, her love of science triggered a curiosity in the science of winemaking. In 2017, she launched Wachira Wines​, where she serves as CEO. Based in Alameda, California, Wachira also launched Karibu Wine Lounge​, the first Black-owned winery tasting room in the city.

As a Kenyan-born American, Wachira is dedicated to crafting world-class wines and tasting experiences that are true to her roots. “I fell in love with the sense of community derived from sharing bottles with complete strangers. Secondly, I was keen to craft wines I could pair with my Kenyan mother's cooking.”

The 2022 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition recently awarded​ four medals to Wachira Wines: double golds for Wachira Cabernet Sauvignon, silver for its Chardonnay and bronze for its Sparkling White wine.

As an African American woman in a not-so-diverse industry, Wachira is driven to pay it forward to other underrepresented groups, and is launching a wine incubator program. “My African heritage is at the core of who I am as a black woman in this country. It is important to me that those who look like me see themselves reflected in opportunities and in industries not usually accessible to us.”

Wachira continues her important work in health care while building the Wachira Group’s portfolio and disrupting the beverage industry by eliminating barriers and creating market access for brands produced by minorities and local small-batch crafters. She is also the founder and executive director of the Institute for Clinical Excellence-Africa, a nonprofit dedicated to improving health care delivery.


Dalia Ceja
San Francisco State (2008); Sonoma State (2014)

Dalia Ceja grew up in the wine industry, witnessing her parents overcome obstacles to establish Ceja Vineyards. She is now a third-generation Mexican-American shaping her family’s winery and breaking barriers with award-winning wines.

While she grew up in the wine industry, Ceja has great respect for her family’s humble beginnings. Her mother and father, both Mexican immigrant children of migrant agricultural workers, met in Napa Valley harvesting grapes. They eventually went on to purchase a vineyard and then created their own winery, Ceja Vineyards in 1999—one of a handful of Latino family-owned wineries in California.

“My family broke barriers and beat the odds to go from farm workers picking grapes during harvest time, to vineyard owners, to winery owners within less than 50 years,” Ceja says. “This is my definition of the American Dream.”

Ceja now serves as the sales and marketing director for her family’s winery, where she drives demand for their products and builds brand recognition in the U.S and Latino markets. As the face of the next generation in the family business, Ceja is no stranger to strong women entrepreneurs. Her mother, Amelia Morán Ceja, was the first Mexican-American woman to serve as president of a winery in the U.S. And in 2005, the California legislature recognized her as Woman of the Year for breaking that glass ceiling.

Ceja earned a bachelor's in marketing and communications from San Francisco State in 2008. After graduation she traveled through South America, where she further developed her passions for cooking, travel, wine and fashion. In 2009 she brought her expertise to the family business, expanding Ceja Winery’s presence on social media​ and creating cooking videos​ to showcase how their wines pair with authentic Mexican cuisine.

Like her mother, Ceja’s work didn’t go unnoticed. In 2011 Ceja was named Woman of the Year by the Napa Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for her entrepreneurial leadership and charitable contributions.

Driven by her passion to further her parent’s business, Ceja went on to earn her MBA in wine and marketing​ from Sonoma State​ in 2014. “The MBA wine business program at SSU provided me the tools, education and confidence to hold my own and be a strong face and ambassador to not only the Ceja Vineyards brand, but for underprivileged and working-class Latinos, which is and will remain a continued focus of mine,” Ceja says.

“As a Latina millennial in the wine industry I wish to inspire other women and shine light on the unsung heroes: Los campesinos, the farmworkers. Without them, there would be no wine industry, let alone any agricultural industry in the United States.”


CSU alumni make up a global network that is over four million strong. As ambassadors to the nation and world, our alumni demonstrate the power of possibility that comes with a CSU degree. Learn more about the impact of the remarkable alumni of the CSU’s 23 campuses.

 
3/21/2022