Rivahil Winery, Los Olivos, CA
“Life’s short, keep good vibes and make it fun.”
– Fred Williamson, Ageist Interview
Remember that famous episode of “I Love Lucy” stomping grapes? Today, I’m taking you behind the scenes on a wine adventure to Los Olivos, CA and Rivahil Winery to share in my Lucy moment. Let me introduce you to a gentleman who’s crushing it at Midlife!
While perusing Facebook last summer, and in hopes of finding a wine sponsor for my upcoming FierceCon celebration in October, I happened upon an old friend from high school, Fred Williamson. At the top of his profile, it said: “Manages Rivahil Winery.” In an instant, I sent a message to Fred. A message popped up and Fred asked me to give him a call as he just happened to be at the winery. After not seeing Fred for almost 4 decades, with the magic of the virtual world and the Facebook Gods, Fred and I spent the next hour reconnecting and reminiscing about old times and learning about his Midlife reinvention as the owner of a winery up near Santa Barbara.
“Freddy” founded the winery with a friend and decided to make it a family affair by including his wife and their blended family of 5 children. He knew absolutely nothing about the process of making wine but, in true fierce fashion, decided to make the leap after a long time career with the LA Times. Recently profiled in an enlightening interview by David Harry Stewart’s team at Ageist, Fred shared his new found passion for winemaking. Back in high school, Freddy and I had our share of fun times that included various spirits and libations. It was wonderful to hear his enthusiasm about his second act and his desire to immerse himself in every aspect of making wine.
Not only did Fred sponsor and generously provide the wine for the Fierce women of FierceCon, but he also invited some of our posse up to the winery for an experience of our very own “Lucy” moment! Rivahil is located not too far from Santa Barbara in the charming town of Los Olivos, the heart of wine country in this part of the state. I grabbed a couple of my closest comrades, Jacqueline DePaul of Yellow Brick Runway and Loretta Sayers of The Introspective Adventurer, formerly Countdown to 60, and headed off to Los Olivos. We were fresh off the FierceCon high and happy to continue the festivities. Jacqueline and I certainly didn’t have a clue as to what to expect and so we both strapped on our favorite pairs of Jaclyn Jones USA shoes. Loretta used to live in wine country up near Napa and had a distinct advantage over the two of us. Loretta brought her partner in crime, her husband John, along for the adventure. Jacqueline rarely travels solo since meeting the love of her life, Todd, better known as “Devil.” What’s a weekend in wine country without expertly capturing those adventures on “film?”
After pulling into a giant warehouse in Los Olivos, I quickly learned that the winery is an entirely separate operation from the vineyards where the grapes are grown. Once the grapes are harvested, they make their way to the Rivahil warehouse where this family affair begins the process of handcrafting their unique blend of wine. Walking into the winery is a trip. It’s a cavernous building filled with gigantic barrels brimming with wine in the process of fermentation. Everywhere you turn, there were either enormous vats of wine at various stages of fermenting or endless oak and steel barrels filled with wine that can take years to properly age.
Fred had his own posse who welcomed us with open arms and a beautifully decorated table brimming with aged cheeses, delicious grapes and the perfect selection of Rivahil wines to begin the tasting process. Starting as a volunteer at a Santa Barbara winery, Fred immersed himself in the nuances of making great wine. His focus has been primarily on the red southern Rhône varietals, including Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre. More recently, he has begun to make southern Rhône whites, including Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Viognier. He is venturing into Burgundian varietals with the 2016 harvest by introducing Chardonnay into the lineup of offerings and boy was I glad!! I am a buttery Chardonnay girl and the pain in the ass that sends glasses of wine back if it’s not Goldilocks. Since FierceCon, Rivahil is the only Chardonnay in my wine fridge! That’s right! It’s the best wine I’ve ever had and the only wine I’ll buy.
With wine in hand, we began the grand tour, learning the secrets to crafting the unique Rivahil flavors. We tasted wine that wasn’t quite ready to be bottled as well as wine that was just about ready for prime time. From intriguing white varietals to powerhouse Syrahs, it was a heady experience! It was definitely a crash course in how to make a bottle of fine wine and the extensive work that goes into the process! What was most surprising is that the season itself lasts only about 3 months! The rest of the year, you’ll find Fred and his clan enjoying the surf up and down the coast in CA. The 3 months of the wine season involve long days, sometimes from as early as 3 am till 10 pm. It’s like packing a year of work into a few months. When the grapes are ready, there’s no time to waste!
Once we had passed the time tasting a few of the wines and enjoying the grand tour, Fred decided it was time for our Lucy moment. With that, he and his team grabbed a few spray bottles filled with vodka and we experienced our very first “vodka shower!” Who knew that a healthy dose of vodka instantly kills any little buggers and allows you the perfect prep to jump into a vat of grapes waiting to be crushed!
Jacqueline, Loretta and I quickly tossed on our shortest shorts and had our feet and legs sprayed with vodka. With that, we were ready to go! Jacqueline is a natural hoot and always lead the way to a contagious bout of the giggles. It’s an odd feeling to be romping around in a vat of chilled wine smushing grapes between your toes. It didn’t take us long to begin acting like silly school girls…I’m sure Fred was experiencing some Deja vu! It’s hard not to laugh when you’re covered in wine. Little did we know that we were in the process of creating our own batch of Rivahil Wine for FierceCon 2020! Fred invited us back to craft our own labels and serve our very own batch to future “Con’ers!”
It was finally time to clean up and head into downtown Los Olivos for a delicious farm to table dinner capped off with an eve ending visit to the “supposed to be closed for the night” Rivahil Tasting Room! The town is out in the middle of the countryside and feels a bit like being on another planet. We headed into Los Olivos at about 5 in the evening and quickly realized we weren’t alone. When you’re in wine country, the streets tend to fold up early and lines begin forming as early as 4 in the afternoon at restaurants as the majority of people are hungry from some solid “day-drinking!”. At 5 pm, there was already a 2-hour wait at the various cafes in town. Patience is definitely a virtue in Los Olivos! We decided to make the most of it by continuing the taste fest as Fred clearly knew the drill and was prepared with a few bottles of Rivahil, just in case of emergency!
Fred’s recommendation was The Los Olivos Cafè & Wine Merchant and it was an outstanding choice. The two-hour wait seemed to fly by as we were busy chattering away. Soon enough, we were seated in the back room and the table was magically filling with a variety of mouth-watering dishes featuring the finest in locally grown produce. The wine continued to pour as we enjoyed a multiple course feast before heading over to the most charming Tasting Room in town. It was time for a nightcap and Jacqueline and I didn’t take long to test out the delicious variety of Rivahil chocolate bars. By this time, the town had basically rolled up the streets as the visitors were tucked in for the night. It wasn’t long before we followed suit and called it a night.
We learned that night that Rivahil isn’t just a winery. Rivahil is an experience! I’m hardly a wine connoisseur but I’ve become so hooked on their Chardonnay! I do believe you can taste the love that goes into every vintage. It’s a 3-year journey for every bottle of wine and that journey is filled with passion, purpose, joy and a healthy dose of Midlife Reinvention. I tend to be a bit of a lightweight and very sensitive to wines. In other words, I end up with a wicked hangover with only one glass of wine. At least I did BEFORE Rivahil. I have to admit I was shocked that it’s not only the most delicious glass of Chardonnay I’ve ever tasted, it’s also completely free of any hangover! I’m a Rivahil fan for life. If you’d like to try the Rivahil wines, please note that as a new winery, they cannot currently ship out of state but will be able to soon so keep checking back. But if you are in California it’s a go! And if you are visiting, head on up to Los Olivos and any wines bought at the Tasting Room will get you a 5% discount on top of the 20% discount for being part of the Rivahil Wine Club.
We’ll definitely be back to share the Rivahil experience once again. Looking forward to saying “Cheers Beauties” to my “FierceCon’ers” in 2020 with a specially crafted FierceCon Vintage made with boatloads of love and sisterhood. Cheers to Lucy…thanks for the inspiration!
What a great post about such a fun experience!! I had so much fun with you all and can’t wait to stomp grapes with you again!!
Catherine Grace O'Connell
Can’t wait to do it all over again!!!
My old stomping ground! We were just there, in wine country, a few months ago. I should be embarrassed to say we brought home 67 bottles of wine! We’re from Santa Barbara. You look like you all had such fun! I love it there. Wish I could’ve been there, sister!
Catherine Grace O'Connell
How funny…stomping ground! We are going to do it again this year. It was such fun. You should join us!!!