Tuesday, May 17, 2022     Volume: 23, Issue: 11

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

A love story


A new ray of sunshine is radiating from the old California town of Los Alamos. Her name is Sonja. Sonja Magdevski, of Malibu. The blonde beauty opened a charming wine tasting room in a prime location in downtown Los Alamos a month ago, and the townsfolk have lovingly taken her under their collective wing ever since. 

Sonja Magdevski and her fiancé, Emilio Estevez, spend time in their Malibu vineyard. She makes wines. He makes movies.

During my Saturday-morning visit, no fewer than six locals dropped in to check on Sonja, deliver supplies, and taste her wines. One businesswoman even brought over her broom and dusted Sonja’s tasting room window sills, because that’s what good neighbors do.

“That is what’s been most fun about all of it. I love this town. Everyone has been so helpful,” Magdevski said.

The locals find her sweet, smart, and talented. Those are qualities a Hollywood star also obviously noticed when he met, fell in love with, and proposed marriage to her several years ago. Magdevski is the fiancée of movie star/filmmaker Emilio Estevez.

It all started several years ago, when the Michigan-raised Magdevski moved to Southern California to finish her master’s degree thesis on ethnic issues in her family’s homeland, the Republic of Macedonia. She was working part-time in a flower shop when lifelong Malibu resident Estevez walked in. She teased him about his sunburn, and he explained he was planting a vineyard in his backyard. She offered to help, and he accepted. Eight-hundred pinot noir vines were arriving that Monday.

“So that Tuesday and Wednesday, the two of us planted the whole vineyard,” Magdevski said.

This time, he wore sunscreen.

“He thought because I worked at the flower shop, I knew all about planting. And I thought, well, he’s planting a vineyard, he must know about grape growing, and neither of us knew a damn thing. But it was great fun, and we got to know each other. Literally the two of us, filthy, dirty, and sweating in May, planting a vineyard, and it was amazing. We got to know each other and fell in love.”

For a few years, waiting for the vines to bear fruit, the couple sourced grapes from Santa Barbara County and made a few barrels of wine in their Malibu garage, while consulting with a local winemaker.

Then in 2008, they had the opportunity to buy Viognier grapes from Tierra Alta Vineyard in Ballard Canyon, and she fell in love again.

“The vineyard is really sexy, really feminine. All the fruit is really floral and aromatic,” Magdevski swooned. “I fell in love with winemaking, and I fell in love with the process.

“I started taking tons of classes at Allan Hancock [College] up here—amazing, amazing, amazing resource!” she continued. “I took enology and viticulture 101, advanced winemaking, wine business, biodynamic and organic, sensory evaluation. I wasn’t going for the certificate. I already have two degrees. Let’s get the business up and running first.”

Now, as the winemaker for her label, Casa Dumetz Wines, Magdevski makes her wines at a Buellton winery. She made 550 cases of six different varieties: Malibu Estate El Camino Pinot Noir, Clementina Viognier, Rosebud Syrah Rosé, Gravitas Grenache, Francisco’s Syrah, and Sonja’s Suds Sparkling Syrah Rosé. She’ll have 600 cases next year. Prices range from $25 to $35 per bottle.

“I try not to mess with the fruit very much,” she said. “I want it to do its thing. I want the fruit to sing. I don’t use any new oak.”

The label and winery are named Casa Dumetz because Sonja and Emilio live together at Point Dume in Malibu, which was named after the Spanish Franciscan missionary, Francisco Dumetz.

Estevez, coincidentally, is of Spanish descent. His paternal grandfather, Francisco Estevez (actor Martin Sheen’s dad), had a vineyard in Spain.

“[Emilio] is not in the winemaking. He is vineyard manager at home, and I’m his assistant,” Magdevski explained. “And then, we say I’m the winemaker and he’s my assistant. But he is definitely the inspiration for everything.

“When I’m questioning the progress of the wine, I bring him a sample and say, ‘What do you think?’ and then he’ll give me his opinion and then we’ll talk about it,” she said. “I wanted to go to screw cap [wine closures]. He resisted it. Once he got used to it, he said, ‘Let’s do it all.’”

Emilio’s mother, Janet Sheen, had a hand in the wine tasting room’s décor. She encouraged Sonja to select items from her antique collection, such as an old French iron railing that they bolted to the wall, and an old bannister from Santa Monica that decorates the tasting room bar.

“[Emilio’s mom] has an amazing eye. That old mirror is an old Mae West mirror that was sitting in a shed, and it didn’t have a frame, so we built a frame around it,” Magdevski said.

Estevez built the tasting room door, and local craftsmen lent a hand; one carpenter built the bar top.

Sonja is smitten with Los Alamos.

“It’s a one-horse town with a lot of cool people and the best restaurants in the valley,” Magdevski said. “I love it up here. That’s the important thing—putting your shingle out, saying here I am, come on in. I’m inviting you. You’re welcome. Please sit with me.”

Her shingle is out at 448 Bell St. in Los Alamos. BaBi’s tasting room (named after Sonja’s Yugoslavian grandmother) is open Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. You’ll find Sonja there, welcoming one and all and pouring her wine. For more information, go to casadumetzwines.com.

Sun wine and food writer Wendy Thies Sell had a delightful day in Los Alamos—one of her favorite places. Share other hidden Central Coast gems with her at wthies@santamariasun.com.

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