People

Betty Williams | Bret Davenport | Seyburn Zorthian | Karen Steinwachs

Betty Williams

Betty touched so many individuals in so many different ways over her 92 years that any tribute is inherently superficial, reflecting only the tip of the iceberg.

Many knew her for her involvement in land preservation and community planning. She was a founder of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and served on the Santa Ynez Valley General Plan Advisory Committee that helped shape the county’s General Plan for the Valley. Although she thought globally with the perspective of history, she was glad to work locally and live in the moment.

Betty established Buttonwood Farm as an equestrian facility, but she subsequently planted a vineyard, built a winery and created an organic farm. She not only talked sustainability, she lived it, with a modest lifestyle focused on what she could do for her family and community. She chose to occupy the small, existing ranch residence that was set into the hill, rather than build a mansion atop it.

Her Louisiana roots, formative childhood and education at Sarah Lawrence, Tulane and USC all served to create a talented and creative individual with a unique skill set and a strong sense of social responsibility. Betty was the consummate networker long before networking came into vogue.She was a patron of the arts and generous supporter of progressive causes and candidates. If she could not solve a problem herself, Betty readily enlisted the aid of others and researched possible solutions, old and new. She was more than willing to pick up the phone on behalf of a worthy cause.

A natural educator, Betty never missed an opportunity to expand the horizons – physical, mental, temporal and spiritual – of those around her. A firm believer in tradition, she was a master storyteller. Like a village elder, she brought history to life with a rich collection of personal stories she was glad to share. Betty treasured literature and art for their contribution to our humanity, and her personal collection served as old and familiar friends. She particularly enjoyed and generously shared her library. She wrote books and poetry, noted for their humor and celebration of life, whether it was enjoying good food, recognizing those around her or appreciating plants and animals.

She valued both the natural and manmade landscape and was a skilled gardener and flower arranger. Betty had the vision to plant gardens, vines and trees, planning for future harvests and future generations. At Buttonwood, she nurtured the growth and development of successive generations of residents, employees and family members.

Hospitality, humor and sharing were de rigueur for Betty, and she welcomed the opportunity to host a party and celebrate a momentous occasion – the harvest, a family birthday, the solstice or just a gathering of friends.

The Valley was and will continue to be fortunate that this inspired and generous spirit abided here a while.

Bret Davenport

Like an amazing number of others who work in the wine business, Bret Davenport, president and managing partner of Buttonwood Farm Winery, didn’t start out in life expecting to become a vintner. Of course he enjoyed imbibing, but none of Bret’s early vocational pursuits involved wine. As a matter of fact, if you ask his friends and family to describe him, they will tell you Bret’s a car guy. Bret has loved cars his entire life. We have it on good authority that his favorite childhood game was playing used car salesman. And even now, slipped between the pages of his Wine Spectator, you will probably find On Track or Automobile.

But not planning to be in the wine business doesn’t mean that Bret isn’t good at it. In fact, you might say that his work with wine benefits from having a rather eclectic background. After graduating with a degree in theater arts, and a post college adventure in a theater commune, Bret found himself working as what he calls a part time part time janitor. Maybe that explains why he’s so handy, and so dramatic. Since then he’s worked in fields as diverse as conventional and alternative energy, the human potential movement, bicycle parts manufacturing, and real estate. At one time he even managed musicians, which explains . . . well, it just explains a lot. And then, of course, he raced cars!

Even though Bret’s early goals in life weren’t aimed at becoming a vintner of fine wine, sometimes the most wonderful things in life come about when we aren’t looking for them. And it’s not that Bret married into an established wine business because he was here in the beginning (1983) helping Betty plant the vineyard. No, Bret, as much as anyone at Buttonwood, is responsible for the success of this family business. Over the years, as we’ve grown steadily from our initial bottling of 562 cases in 1989 to our current level just over 8,000 cases per year, it’s Bret who’s been in the driver’s seat deftly steering Buttonwood’s growth and expansion, always willing to take advantage of an opening and doing his best to avoid hazards along the way. You see, those racing years really did prepare him for this job!

Seyburn Zorthian

If you’re a fan of Buttonwood, surely you’ve noticed our distinctive label art. Like the wine inside the bottles, the art originates right here at Buttonwood. Since we started producing in 1989, those paintings have come from the brush of our partner Seyburn Zorthian. Over the years, Seyburn’s work has become more than our label art; now it’s an integrated part of the winery’s personality.

Seyburn developed an early interest in art while growing up in the world of her father, L.A. artist Jirayr Zorthian. Her formal education includes study at the San Francisco Art Institute, Chouinard, and the California Institute of the Arts, where she earned her BFA. She spent a crucial year studying Shodou (the expressive technique of Japanese brush-and-ink writing) with master Shiryu Morita in Japan. This period of study continues to have a profound impact on her work. According to Seyburn, the brush and ink are the perfect tools to convey both the inner and outer aspects of our lives.

Seyburn has worked in her studio at Buttonwood since the early 1970s. In creating the first Buttonwood label, she cut some vines from our vineyard and arranged them in her studio. The resulting brush design was less a literal representation of the vines than an abstraction that reflected her feelings about the vines. Her ongoing work for Buttonwood continues to pursue abstraction as an expression of the moment.

Seyburn’s current large-scale works channel the immediacy of the present captured by her earlier expressive brushwork, further developed with color and compositional elements that lend the work greater emotional and aesthetic depth.

To learn more about Seyburn’s work, visit her website:www.seyburnzorthian.com.

Karen Steinwachs

Many of us say we’d like to give up our regular job to follow a dream, but few of us ever reach the point when we forsake the progress we’ve made in one career to start all over in another. Every once in a while, though, you meet someone who has done just that- like our winemaker Karen Steinwachs.

In her previous life, Karen earned a degree in Business Management and spent 20 years in the high-tech world. In 2001 when she’d had enough of gazing into a computer screen in a high-rise tower for eighteen hours a day, she decided she needed a physical job. A job in the fresh air. A job with a stress level several notches closer to earth. Karen wondered if she could possibly break in to the world of winemaking.

During the years she spent based in Southern California, Karen had become a fan of wine in general, and of Santa Barbara County wines in particular. She and her husband Dave Robinson snuck regular trips up here and over time became acquainted with a handful of winemakers. After being turned down by a few, she asked Norm Yost, then winemaker at Foley Estates, for a harvest job. Norm wasn’t at all encouraging saying it would be hard work, not nearly as romantic as people think, he could only pay her $7 an hour and she would be laid off when the harvest was done. She took the job, and although Norm was right about the work being hard, by the time harvest was over, Karen would never look back at her life of high-tech, high heels and power suits. Her original six week job at Foley stretched to three years before she was off to Fiddlehead Cellars and an assistant winemaking position working with Kathy Joseph.

While at Fiddlehead, Karen honed and expanded on the skills she learned at Foley, taking on the day to day responsibilities of looking after the wine so that after three harvests at Fiddlehead, she knew she was ready to run her own show. Karen first became acquainted with Buttonwood when she worked down the road at Foley (Lincourt) and she admired that Buttonwood is a working farm with a variety of aspects that diverge as well as mesh with the wine side of the business. She imagined Buttonwood a place where dreams have been, and still wait to be achieved. And now here she is, crafting Buttonwood’s old-vine fruit into wines of character and distinction. As she produces each wine with care, Karen continues to build on her dream of working with a team that produces an expression of the land as well as her dream of crafting wine that will provide pleasure at the table and in the glass. Come and visit and taste the stuff that dreams are made of.