From Rags to Rootstock
The Story of Iris Rideau
Iris Rideau was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her mother and uncles operated the Creole Bar and Grille in the 7th Ward, an old neighborhood where the Creoles of New Orleans had settled for many generations. As a little girl, Iris often slept in the back room of the grille, on a stack of beer cases, while her mother toiled long hours working the front of the house. Her parents divorced when she was two-years old, and Iris remained with her mother while her father later moved out west to the Golden State.
During her waking hours, Iris the little girl would dream of becoming a Broadway dancer or a nun; two seemingly opposite vocations, but both reflecting the little girl’s devoted, yet energetic emerging personality. As a child, Iris was terribly strong-headed, but her strong will served her well. Like her mother and grandmother before her, she wanted to make her mark on life, and from a very early age, she began to announce herself to the world.
During her formative years, Iris’s maternal grandmother moved in with her and her mother. Soon, her grandmother was teaching the high-spirited young girl to speak French and began advising her in the art of manners, table presentation and the proper taking of tea. Her grandmother was a refined woman, and it was from her that Iris learned to appreciate the finer things in life while still remaining grateful for them. Because she grew up in a loving but monetarily impoverished household, Iris learned from a very early age to appreciate the good things that came her way, and to covet good times with friends and family.
When Iris was old enough to travel alone by train, she began visiting her father out west. Working alongside him as his scrappy young ranch hand, Iris’ affection for her father grew steadily, and soon she was by his side on his ranch in Corona, California, every summer. Upon returning home to New Orleans, she would beg her mother to relocate them out west so that she could be closer to her father, and because Iris had fallen in love with the California landscape. When Iris was ten, her mother finally gave in to her impassioned pleas, and they moved west to East L.A. where they moved into a one-room tenement. The transition was very difficult on Iris’ mother, but she persevered, feeling it was important for a young girl to be near her father.
Iris’ mother took a job working long hours at a local sewing factory. At the age of 16, Iris found herself pregnant. She married, and gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter named Renee, but divorced Renee’s father at seventeen. To support her young daughter, she went to work at the same factory that employed her mother, undergoing the same, grueling schedule. Wanting to give Renee a brighter future, Iris enrolled in night classes at the local junior college, while working long days at the factory. Within a year of enrollment, Iris had graduated and found a job at an insurance agency.
In 1957 Iris remarried. Jimmy Rideau, a loving husband, father to Renee and gentleman, created a safe haven for Iris, allowing her to be a stay-at-home mom and tend to the needs of her young daughter. But, once Iris was assured of Renee’s healthy development, she once again longed to join the work force. Iris soon established her own insurance agency, appropriately named The Rideau Insurance Agency. In a remarkable feat of business accumen, she landed an exclusive insurance contract with the City of Los Angeles. Her agency underwrote the “War on Poverty” programs, such as Head-Start and Teen Post, aimed at helping women and minorities. Iris was finally making her mark on both local and national fronts, becoming the first woman appointed to two national insurance companies.
From 1973 to 1976, Iris Rideau, by then a widely accomplished and respected business woman, was appointed as Chairman to the Mayor’s Affirmative Action Committee, under Mayor Tom Bradley, in Los Angeles. During her tenure, she assisted in securing hundreds of contracts for women and minorities with the city of Los Angeles.
In 1982, Iris opened her own securities firm and became a stockbroker. From 1967 to 1999, Iris managed the Rideau Insurance Agency. In 1982, she also created and managed the Rideau Securities Firm, with two offices and fifty employees.
Still, Iris Rideau longed to return to her roots, where entertaining family and friends was an integral part of every-day living. That ingredient----soulful connection with others among good food and music---kept calling to her. There was one mark Iris still had to leave on the world, and it would be that mark, that aside from raising her daughter Renee, would give her the most pleasure and sense of accomplishment.
In 1997, Iris Rideau established Rideau Vineyards, located in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. She bought the property in 1995, but it took her two years to restore the royal old adobe, to the elegance and beauty that it enjoyed in the mid-1800’s, when it was first built. The 25-acres that flank the adobe, that sits at the heart of the lovely parcel, are planted with sprawling gardens and an estate vineyard that boasts plantings of Syrah, Mourvedre, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.
Iris chose to dedicate her estate vineyards to the production of Rhone varietals, as, at their best, they are classic and serious varietals, and marry well with the many meals Iris prepares in her adobe. Iris also purchases fruit from other noteworthy growers, and is able to produce an impressive portfolio of wines, with an amazing breadth of complexity and finesse.
All the paths that Iris created for herself, and then wandered down----all of these paths lead to the creation of Rideau Vineyards: a world-class winery producing award-winning wines, its doors open to everyone, its wines fashioned to pair well with foods; a magical place graced with the spirit of friendship, warmth and conviviality. Rideau Vineyards has the mark of Iris Rideau and Iris continues to leave her mark on the culinary, wine and hospitality world.