Theodora Lee is the first Black vineyard owner and wine producer in Mendocino County, CA.

Lee’s introduction to wine began when she was 8 years old, while she was helping her grandfather on his cattle farm in Texas. By the 1980s, she had developed a personal interest in wine.

”My dad picked wild Muscadine grapes and made home brew,“ she told The Press Democrat. ”Given that Muscadine was my first introduction to wine, I found that sweet and syrupy wine nasty. I really had no taste for wine until I moved to California in the ’80s and learned about fine wine.“

Lee chose a path in law, working more than 36 years at the Littler Mendelson, P.C. law firm and splitting her time between Yorkville Highlands, CA; Oakland Hills, CA; and Dallas, TX. However, her passion for wine led her to add a new title to her resume: wine producer.

“My first introduction to a grape farm was in Healdsburg, [CA], and specifically Dry Creek Valley,“ she said. “Walking that vineyard made me want to become a grape farmer. So, after that experience, I began looking for land.“

Lee found a home for her venture in Yorkville, CA, in 2003. Today, Theopolis Vineyards has been thriving for more than 20 years, with production scaling from 300 cases to 2,500 cases annually. Customers can select from an array of wines, including bottles of petite sirah, rosé of petite sirah, pinot noir cuvée, and cuvée blanc.

“One of the best things about running Theopolis Vineyards is alchemizing my vision into reality, harnessing a dream, delivering a superior product, and bringing pleasure in the bottle to the consumer,” Lee said, per the outlet.

Between 2003 and 2006, Lee furthered her education at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), taking courses through its department of viticulture and enology.

“I was focused on learning the basics of grape-growing and the winemaking fundamentals. So, for me, the course, ‘The Four Seasons of Growing Grapes,’ was the most memorable as I learned about growing premium grapes and what was necessary to do during harvest,” she said.

Lee remains involved with UC Davis due to her commitment to diversifying the wine sector. In 2022, Lee created the Theopolis Vineyards Diversity Fund in the department of viticulture and enology at UC Davis, donating $70,000 towards the fund.

“As one of the first African American vineyard owners, I have supported other Black vintners by serving as a mentor, providing resources, sharing valuable information and advice,“ Lee told The Press Democrat.

The fund awards up to $10,000 to a student in “viticulture and enology and related research or managing a vineyard,” its website mentions. The first recipient was Iona Joseph, who earned a master’s degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis. To date, the Theopolis Vineyards Diversity Fund has awarded three UC Davis student recipients.