We had the good fortune of connecting with Sonja Magdevski and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sonja, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
My parents emigrated from Yugoslavia in the late 1960s to Detroit, Michigan. (Today their country is specifically called North Macedonia). As is fairly standard among immigrant groups, a Yugoslav community had already assembled in the area starting in the 1930s. My great grandfather and my grandfather had come before my parents. Each family does what it needs to survive. Education is valued, though not at the expense of working and contributing financially to the family. Couple that with cultural norms while trying to navigate a new country, all while not speaking the language and understanding its system. My parents became business owners very quickly at a very young age. First in textiles then in ice cream and dry-cleaning. When I was in high school we owned 2 Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream stores and 2 dry cleaners. My entire family was working all the time. It didn’t seem complicated, it just was.
My parents always emphasized education and the typical “become a doctor or a lawyer” – meaning something safe. When you witness your parents always risking, safety isn’t in your DNA. I never imagined I would open my own business because of the challenges and strain of owner/operating. And yet, after college and graduate school, that is the only path I have taken.
Owning your own business allows you to dream and ties you down. It is not for the faint of heart, particularly when it comes to self-funded entrepreneurship. There is no plan B.
In terms of opening my tasting room, I realized I was extremely afraid of failing, yet I had no other choice if I wanted to continue in this path. My first goal was to make it 6 months. All my friends cautioned against it. If I could make it 6 months, I would reassess a new goal. If I didn’t make it 6 months, it meant the wine and the experience sucked. I took out a small $10,000 loan from my parents back in 2011. Boom. We just celebrated our ten-year mark in December 2021.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Wine is the complex interconnection of art, craft, science, vision, beauty, human intervention, dedication, grit, weather, landscape, water…to create a product that allows us to pause, take a moment and reflect. I always say alcohol is the by-product of wine. Understanding the challenges and honoring the systems while seeking integrity, honesty and purity is how I approach my work. Everyone has a philosophical understanding that guides their work. I approach each day with the goal of improvement. Pretty simple and very complicated.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
We would start with a vineyard tour of the sites we work with. They are magical. We would bring veggie avocado sandwiches on yummy homemade bread my mom made and tomatoes and greens my dad grew. We would spend the day immersing ourselves in the landscape, ending in the late afternoon sun with a bottle of bubbles overlooking the vines. After that, it is all about personal exploration. I am not a fan of itineraries. I love wandering, unconstructed play. We’d spend time in the Guadalupe Dunes. In the Santa Barbara seaside walking the beaches, stopping wherever our fancy took us for snacks or drinks. We’d spend our time with each other finding good trouble, sharing secrets and dreams, belly laughs and tears.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
So many people deserve a shout out. How much space do I have?
Allan Hancock Community College in Santa Maria for having an awesome viticulture and enology program with night classes so I could engage in deeper education without having to stop my life in the process. The director of the program, Alfredo Koch, is pro-student and always encouraging,
The Santa Barbara wine making community and the amazing growers. John Belfy, of Buona Terra Farming, was my first introduction to commercial grape growing. He made it accessible. The kindest human. I have worked with him for over 15 years and have never received a contract. The pioneers of the area who were always available to provide guidance whenever asked. Richard Sanford, Bob Lindquist, Rick Longoria, Billy Wathen, Fred Brander, Dale Hampton, Jim Clendenen – so many people gave their time and provided insight if you were willing to listen. These people paved the way for all of us in Santa Barbara to do what we do today.
Honestly, there are so many. Joey Tensely who allowed me to make wine in his facility and showed me the responsibility and confidence needed to create your vision. Jim Fiolek, former longtime director of the Santa Barbara Vintner’s Association, who invited me into the community. Sao Anash, a writer and publicist who loves wine and loves stories and who included me in tastings and events when she didn’t have to. My husband, Greg Brewer, who encourages my zany creativity and embeds a logical voice.
All of the guests who support our business. People are so fabulous and free with their exploring – those are the people I love. Our wine club members, many who have been with us for 10-years now. Talk about commitment. Our dear friend Deann Hearth who was always available to assist with anything.
I still have so many people to thank….Tim Skogstrom from Cornell Winery who hired me at The Old Place when I was jobless and freaking out. He encouraged storytelling. My first landlords, John Morley + Ralph Quackenbush who took a chance on me. Jamie Gluck of Bell Street Farm who always provided guidance in every way while he was running his own business. Jessy Verkler and Angie Horn, my dearest first friends in Santa Ynez. My graduate school advisor who provided an assistantship to pay for school and my favorite job of writing for an agriculture magazine. I got to understand agriculture with a richer lens.
My parents who always encouraged me and allowed me to dream against their best judgement! My grandmother! I mean…You can’t accomplish anything alone. I first started in the wine industry by helping to plant a tiny half-acre vineyard in Malibu with an acquaintance at the time, Emilio Estevez, in 2004. By 2009, when I took on the wine adventure myself it opened an entire new world of possibilities. While that original vineyard no longer exists, my love of working with the earth continues stronger than ever.
I should probably stop now. There really are too many to name.
Instagram: @casadumetzwines @babisbeeremporium
Linkedin: Sonja Magdevski
Facebook: Casa Dumetz Wines / Babis Beer Emporium
Deborah Chadsey Photography