March is Women’s History Month. Please join us in celebrating some of the most exceptional women in Sonoma County! The following female entrepreneurs use their creativity, passions, and commitment to sustainability to bring joy, beauty, and deliciousness to our Wine Country community — for which we are both grateful and proud.
A certified massage therapist and single mom of two, Sonoma County native Melena Moore Gilbert was well-prepared for spa ownership by the time she took over Sebastopol’s Bliss Organic Day Spa in 2017. She’d been an innkeeper at Monte’s Rio’s Inn on the Russian River and Guerneville’s West Sonoma Inn & Spa; a business consultant; and Marketing Manager at both Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone and Bliss itself.
Set in a historic building in downtown Sebastopol, Bliss Organic Day Spa has been designed as a healing refuge, offering a full menu of spa services; a soothing retail shop selling jewelry, gifts, and organic skincare products; and a bathhouse with tubs, saunas, and a steam room. Clients can book single treatments like massages and facials, spend the whole day, or hold a day or evening spa party to celebrate special occasions.
Gilbert thinks of her team — estheticians, massage therapists, retail and office staff — as family, and has worked fiercely to keep them safe and employed during the Covid-19 pandemic. To this end, she’s begun offering group memberships that include use of the bath house for one free evening every month. For more information, email Melena at [email protected].
Natasha Stocker, Inspired Spaces
A UC Davis grad, Natasha Stocker majored in Studio Art, minored in Art History, and later, earned an Associate’s Degree in Interior Design. In 2005, she launched her interior design business, Inspired Spaces Design, in a corner of her living room, often balancing her then-infant son on her lap.
These days, Stocker has moved Inspired Spaces to a Santa Rosa design studio and expanded to a team of seven women, including a stylist, a drafter, and several designers. A full-service operation, Inspired Spaces handles every aspect of residential and commercial design projects, from measuring, drafting plans, communicating with contractors, selecting and ordering fixtures and furniture, and staging spaces with all the finishing touches.
Dedicated to designing functional spaces that keep her clients happy, and to being a supportive mentor to her team members, Stocker only takes on a few projects each year. Past Sonoma County projects include entire vacation homes and full kitchen renovations, as well as interiors for Santa Rosa’s Beer Baron Bar & Kitchen, the Olea Hotel in Glen Ellen, and both locations (Windsor and Sebastopol) of Two Dog Night Creamery.
Committed to giving back to her community, Stocker recently started the non-profit Inspired Spaces Foundation to furnish new homes for women and children who have recently experienced homelessness, and are striving for a fresh start. Funded by donations, the foundation outfits affordable housing with furniture, completely free of charge.
When not designing or fundraising, Stocker enjoys being with her family in the great outdoors of Sonoma County, fly fishing, kayaking, camping, and hitting the archery range.
Kristen Bringhurst, Boards & Bottle
After graduating from UC Davis as a Design major and Art minor, Kristen Bringhurst began tooling around with wood and paint, handcrafting rustic signs as gifts for friends. News of her talent spread via shared photos and word-of-mouth, inspiring her to improve her woodworking tools and skills; soon, commission requests were coming from people she’d never even met.
In 2016, when one of Bringhurst’s friends was diagnosed with cancer, the artist decided to hold a DIY sign-stenciling event as a fundraiser to offset her pal’s medical costs. The event’s success led to requests for private sign parties — and the founding of her own art-events business, Boards & Bottle.
Partnering with local wineries and other venues, Bringhurst holds DIY sign-painting workshops that combine art, wine, and experiences like food pairings, succulent-potting, and even Pilates. Participants connect with Sonoma County landscapes and each other while creating a handcrafted sign they can display in their home, give to a friend, or pass down as an heirloom.
A wife, mother, and proud Sonoma County native who loves connecting with people, Bringhurst continues to design and handcraft custom signs on commission, and also offers sign-painting kits for sale. Her ultimate vision for Boards & Bottle is to become a brick-and-mortar wine + DIY venue in Sonoma County — decorated, of course, with her own wooden signs.
Gwen Gunheim & Sallie Miller, Miracle Plum
Santa Rosa natives and longtime friends Gwen Gunheim and Sallie Miller view Miracle Plum, the Railroad Square gourmet food and bottle shop they opened in 2019, as their passion project and full-time hangout spot.
Miller had just retired from her position as admissions director at a local private school when Gunheim, a one-time catering business owner and a woodworker specializing in kitchen items, posed a business idea to her friend. She suggested they rent a little L-shaped Railroad Square storefront originally built in 1913, and in it, open the neighborhood market/bottle shop/wine bar of their dreams.
The pair’s bright, cheerful space carries a well-curated selection of pantry items, responsibly grown produce from local farms, kitchen wares, cookbooks and magazines, grab-and-go lunches, natural wines, ciders, and craft beer. Gunheim and Miller like to highlight items made locally and by women, such as Front Porch Farm, and enjoy feeding their customers’ curiosity about seasonal food, natural wine, and home cooking.
Karen Bianchi-Moreda, Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery
Karen Bianchi-Moreda grew up on her family’s Sonoma County dairy farm, but in 2008 she began to seek her own niche in the industry. After she attended a cheesemaking course at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Bianchi-Moreda’s father allowed her to turn one of his old barns into a small cheesemaking facility so that she could create her own Italian-style artisan cheese.
Using the hormone- and antibiotic-free milk of Jersey cows that have access to certified organic pasture 365 days a year, she spent months on research, trial, and error before finally producing the her ideal cheese. Semi-hard with a smooth texture, a subtle bite, and a hint of nuttiness, she named her cheese “Estero Gold,” after a tidal estuary in her hometown of Valley Ford.
While Bianchi-Moreda sought buyers for her Estero Gold, her two sons studied Dairy Science at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; Jim focused on cows and land, while Joe found a passion for dairy products. Post-graduation, Joe came home, took the reins of cheesemaking and plant management from his mom, and enabled her to focus on sales and marketing.
Together, mother and son have grown their business, adding more cheeses, maintaining a commitment to sustainability, increasing their outlets, and in 2019, opening their first Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery retail operation.
Set on Highway 1 in Valley Ford, this storefront features a gourmet shop selling the company’s cheeses, as well as soft-serve ice cream, local beer and wine, coffee, and other treats; a restaurant focused on cheese boards and pastries; and a cheese aging room filled with 2,500 wheels of parmesan-style Estero Gold Reserve.
Jocelyn Boreta & Lily Mazzarella, The Botanical Bus
In 2017, herbalist/activist Jocelyn Boreta and herbalist/nutritionist Lily Mazzarella had already been working together at Farmacopia, the Santa Rosa herb pharmacy and integrative health clinic that Mazzarella owns.
Boreta had previously worked as Program Director of the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores, in partnership with indigenous women in South America and India. Mazzarella, a longtime teacher at the California School of Herbal Studies, had also written about integrative medicine and consulted on the topic for nonprofit groups like Sonoma County Indian Health Services.
The two women shared a deep concern about disproportionate health impacts suffered by the Latino community, often fueled by lack of access to medical insurance and quality care. Then the Tubbs fire broke out in October 2017, heightening that disparity in Sonoma County.
Seeing a unique way they could help bridge the gap, Boreta and Mazzarella founded The Botanical Bus, an innovative bilingual mobile herbal medicine clinic that promotes healing in Sonoma County’s Latino farmworkers and day laborers. Their efforts to bolster immunity, stress relief, and respiratory health among the Latino community has became increasingly important during the Coronavirus pandemic.
To expand the reach of its work, The Botanical Bus also sponsors a promotora program, training Latino community leaders (who are otherwise not professional healthcare workers) to organize and provide bilingual wellness workshops. With The Botanical Bus, Boreta and Mazzarella aim to empower people by reawakening their natural instincts to use plants to care for themselves.
Alice Warnecke Sutro, SUTRO Wine Co.
Artist, winemaker, and grapegrower Alice Warnecke Sutro lives with her husband and two kids on her extended family’s Warnecke Ranch in Healdsburg’s Chalk Hill wine region. The ranch’s gorgeous, 80-acre vineyard was long-managed solely by Sutro’s aunt, Margo Warnecke Merck, but ever since Sutro spent six years training as Merck’s apprentice in the 2000s, the two women have managed the land together.
In addition to selling their grapes to winery clients throughout the county, the aunt and niece reserve some of their premium Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc for SUTRO, the wine label that Alice founded in 2012.
Grapes aren’t Sutro’s only form of expression. By 2006, Sutro had earned a BA in Art History from Stanford University and an MFA in Painting and Drawing from California College of the Arts, and continues to pursue drawing and writing. Creator of the Women in Wine interview series, she also draws small and large scale live portraits for winery/restaurant events and community projects.
Deeply invested in the long-term potential of her local agricultural community, Sutro joined the Alexander Valley Winegrowers Association Board in 2019. Having since hired Lisa Bishop Forbes as her winemaking advisor and Kaitlin Childers as her COO, Sutro is committed to growing a sustainable, women-led, premium wine label on Sonoma County land she dearly loves.
Happy Women’s History Month!
Written by Melanie Wynne
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