Big Sur Vineyards: A Second Career Takes Flight

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February 16, 2016 – In a steep canyon blessed with views of the dramatic coastline that drew them here in 1983 from the “big city,” Lenora Carey and her husband Richard Gebhart, share a wild landscape with their two young children, olive trees, grapevines, citrus and a lot of lavender. Plus all the other wild things—mountain lions, deer and condor—that call this magical place home.

Lenora, who hails from Santa Barbara, dove into her first career as a diver and documentary filmmaker for National Geographic, Nature, Nova and the BBC, traveling to spectacular oceans all over the world. She met Richard, a voice over actor for documentaries (he is also the voice of KGO TV), when she hired him to work on one of her documentaries. Among her favorite maritime spots are the Indian Ocean near the Maldives and an island near Zanzibar off the east coast of Africa. In her underwater adventures, she frequently served as a “human ruler,” showing scale. Her kids get a kick out of the picture of her riding on the back of a whale shark off Cabo San Lucas.

Life underwater was pretty exciting, but the second career she has chosen, along with “later in life” motherhood, is proving to be a wild and amazing ride as well. Her story clearly spotlights the role that experience of place plays in one’s life.

Working with a winemaker client a few years back, she did a series of videos tracing the cycle of winemaking from vineyards to cellar. It was a trip to France where she filmed the origin of the barrels that hooked her on the wines of the Rhone. “I had all this philosophical insight into winemaking and the passion that goes into it. We wanted something that would last: something that we could pass on to our children.”

They decided to grow a test row of vines to see which varieties would do best, and ended up planting a few Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines three years ago. They are planning to plant some Rhones this Spring. “Syrah should do really well here,” she says. Additionally, they might lease some nearby land to plant more Rhones, both white and red.

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Big Sur Vineyards owner Leonora Carey and winemaker Ryan Kobza.

Coming up with a name and look for the label was pretty easy: it’s hard to beat Big Sur as a memorable moniker. Her husband’s stunning photography of Big Sur graces each bottle, and will appear on the walls of the new tasting room in Carmel Valley that she hopes to open sometime in May in the former Chock Rock space.

“Everything is all in place here. I can sell artwork, food and wine, something I could not do in my space in Carmel,” says Carey. She’s still working on the signage concept – wood or metal? — but the tasting bar is already decided. It’s made from a 36-inch thick slab of redwood planed from a tree that fell down across their canyon three years ago. Her neighbor, whose business is “Ancient Timbers,” used a 5-foot diameter saw blade to cut the beast.

A high-energy, upbeat woman, Lenora is very excited to be part of Carmel Valley’s wine scene, and for the opportunity to work with Russell Joyce, a friend of her winemaker, Ryan Kobza. “Russell is constantly giving me advice on how he would do things, now that he’s been in the business for a while. I love his energy and spirit. We’re already planning fun events together, like National Butterfly Day!” It’s incidentally June 4, this year.

Big Sur Vineyards currently has a combined total of 1,800 cases at Peter Figges Marina facility, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and their red blend. Some 2013’s are still available, and the beautiful 2014 Chardonnay is about to come on line. Her favorite is the “Big Sur Red,” a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Petit Sirah from neighboring vineyards that bears the image of a condor. She says it embodies all the things she loves about the area. “The wine is bold, with big flavors, yet a bit mysterious.” It also serves as a testament to the power of a comeback, as the condor was nearly extinct when she first moved to Big Sur and is now, thankfully, on the rebound.

While you await the grand opening of the new Carmel Valley tasting room, Big Sur Vineyards wines can be found at the following locations: L’Escargot, Affina, Village Corner, Mission Ranch, Neilson’s Brothers Market, Pebble Beach Market, Highlands General Store, Valley Hills Deli, Big Sur Deli and Big Sur Lodge.

Big Sur Vineyards has recently donated a portion of wine sales proceeds to Ventana Wilderness Society, as well as to the Nature Conservancy to benefit Andrew Molera State Park.  Here’s to the power of dreams, and exciting second careers, to soar and succeed.

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