Born and raised in New Orleans, Iris Rideau – vintner and creator of the elegant and successful Rideau Vineyard – carries with her the essence of her Creole Heritage defined by her dynamic Crescent City roots. This unique city, the home of jazz and Creole cuisine, invested in Iris an abiding love for good food, excellent wines, and great music.
As a child, Iris’ family owned and operated Little Ferd’s, a bar and grille in the 7th Ward. It was in this old neighborhood where the Creoles of New Orleans had settled for many generations that Iris first heard the sounds of New Orleans jazz and blues.
During these formative years, Iris’ maternal grandmother moved in with Iris and her mother to help with the family’s cooking and housekeeping. Soon, she would teach the high-spirited young girl to prepare lavish Sunday meals of gumbo, southern-fried chicken, crawfish étouffée, and all the other culinary specialties prepared by typical Creole families. As was the custom, Sunday meals included a pitcher of homemade red wine on the family table; the children were allowed to have a small glass of wine (usually watered-down). Fond memories such as these formed the foundation of Iris’ interest in wine and food pairing. The authentic dishes of her childhood are now featured as the highlight of her now-famous special events, which include Mardi Gras, wine festival weekends, and her own birthday celebration in September.
When Iris was old enough to travel, she began to spend her summers on her father’s ranch in Corona, California. She fell in love with the lifestyle and landscapes laced with vineyards, orange groves, and wide open spaces. She finally convinced her mother to leave the security of the family back in New Orleans and move permanently to California.
After graduating from Los Angeles High, Iris found herself living as a single mom in Watts, California. Her mother, who was working in a sewing factory, brought Iris into the factory to earn a living for herself and her little girl, Renee. The shock provided by the day-to-day struggle of the factory routine led to a revelatory moment for Iris. She knew she must make bigger plans for her future. She enrolled in a Junior College where she took business classes in the evening while working at the factory during the day. After a year, she had completed her business curriculum and began her career working for an insurance-brokerage firm. While learning all she could and developing an interest in the insurance industry, she returned to school, attending UCLA evening classes, where she focused on insurance courses that led to a Certification in the Principles of Insurance. During this time, Iris married Jimmy Rideau, a real-estate entrepreneur.
In 1967, she founded her first successful business as an insurance broker. Her firm grew quickly into the first minority/woman-owned firm specializing in federally funded programs. She played a dynamic and crucial role in the Los Angeles political world, assisting Mayor Tom Bradley and the Los Angeles City Council in the development of the first Affirmative Action Committee. She chaired this committee for four years and was a member of the board for a total of 14 years.
In 1979, she founded her second successful business, Rideau Securities and Investment Firm. The company began with Municipal Bond Financing and then branched out to specializing in pension planning for public employees. This ultimately led to her illustrious career as the California State Director for a national pension planning company, Public Employees Benefits Service Corporation. Through all these years, the New Orleans sounds continued to play as the background music of Iris’ life. During her business career, she always managed to express her passion for music, food, and wine in the many social and fundraising events she hosted.
In 1990, Iris began her exit plan by building her retirement home in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, located in the heart of Santa Barbara County’s wine country. She continued managing her two companies in Los Angeles and commuted for the next 9 years, spending weekdays in Los Angeles and weekends in the Valley. During this time, Iris discovered an unloved and abandoned adobe built in 1884 on a 23-acre property adjacent to her new home. Thinking she could combine her business savvy with her southern love for entertaining, Iris purchased the property and began a two-year restoration plan for the old house. During this time, she also built the winery building on the same property. The house and winery were finally completed in 1997, and Iris opened her tasting room doors as Rideau Vineyard. Now surrounded by the vineyards planted in 1998, the lush grounds, beautiful gardens, and majestic oak trees have a transportive quality that gives the feeling of old world French Victorian New Orleans.
When guests visit the winery, they are drawn in by the sultry sounds of jazz and blues playing throughout the tasting room and vineyard. There is always an excuse for a parade and a good party in New Orleans; similarly, there is always an excuse for a wine event at Rideau Vineyard complete with great wines, Creole food, and traditional jazz. Sharing the magic of this influential culture, Iris also provides an opportunity for Cellar Club members and friends to “experience the love” by hosting an annual trip to her home town.
Rideau Vineyard has since established itself as one of the premiere and must-see wineries on the Central Coast. The estate vineyard is comprised of Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah, which are highly-coveted second generation Beaucastel vines from the Rhône region of France. These Rhône varietals were chosen by Iris to complement the flavors and spices of French, Spanish, and African-inspired Creole cuisine. Iris, along with consulting winemaker Paul Wilkins and associate winemaker Amanda Baird, has produced numerous award-winning Estate and Reserve wines, which are only available for purchase through the tasting room, Cellar Club membership, or online. The 2004 Estate Roussanne took the crown as “Best White Wine” at the Wines of the World competition at the Los Angeles County Fair. Iris’ proprietary red Rhône-blend known as “Chateau Duplantier Cuvee” (named after Iris’ family), along with numerous wines produced at Rideau, continues to garner prestigious awards. In addition to these awards, Iris’ unique ability to pair wine with the dishes of her New Orleans ancestry was recently acknowledged in the April 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
All the paths that Iris has created for herself have ultimately led back to New Orleans – through her wines to the food, the music, and the culture of her childhood roots. These paths now lead to the entrance of Rideau Vineyard, where the sounds and the scents of her birthplace have found a new home away from home.