Erik and Hans Gregersen

“I feel people will adapt to the changes taking place. Hirschman’s principle of the ‘Hiding Hand’ applies here: We tend to underestimate the emerging issues, but we also underestimate our ability to resolve the issues. ”
— Hans Gregersen
Erik and Hans Gregersen, Mixed Media Triptych, 24x42

Erik and Hans Gregersen, Mixed Media Triptych, 24x42

Originally from Denmark, Jens Gregersen was one of Solvang’s founders. As a pastor, he helped to establish the town’s first Lutheran Church. Little did he know that his American grandsons would return to Denmark as children, travel the globe for work, and finally settle on the family ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. 

Brothers Erik and Hans Gregersen always knew that they would someday return to the valley. Having worked around the world, Hans reflects, “The Santa Ynez Valley is the best place to live; the people here are wonderful and the scenery is gorgeous.” 



Their father was a petroleum geologist who was involved in the discovery of the Cuyama oil fields. Their mother was one of the first women to obtain a Ph.D. at Yale, and later worked as a librarian at the Huntington Library. Immediately after World War II ended, Gulf Oil was looking for a U.S. trained geologist to manage its oil and gas exploration program in Scandinavia. Their father was picked to do this job and they moved to Denmark in August, 1945. As schoolchildren in Denmark, Erik and Hans became fluent in Danish and enjoyed Danish holiday traditions, food and music. This was the beginning of their global perspective. Living in a country recovering from the ravages of WWII gave them a unique experience, not only to appreciate their American heritage but to continue to grow as universal citizens. After returning to the U.S. for high school and college, they each embarked on careers that took them abroad again. 

Erik studied engineering and business, earning an MBA from Harvard. He spent 15 years in various management assignments with  FMC Corporation, which specialized in commercial machinery related to the food and agricultural industries. He worked in the U.S., England, and South Africa. With this background, he and a friend from England started a produce labeling business after acquiring manufacturing and marketing rights to the patented labeling system that was invented in Ventura. “We had 85% of the market worldwide.” After a 30 year career in the food and agricultural machinery industry, he chose to return to the family ranch in 1997.

Younger brother, Hans, studied forestry, social sciences, and economics, earning a Ph.D. in Economics of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan. While still in graduate school, he began working with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. As a professor at the University of Minnesota, he developed a program in international natural resources policy and continued lifelong work with the UN, the World Bank, the InterAmerican Development Bank, and many other international groups. After early retirement from the Universityin 2000, he served on the Science Council and headed the impact assessment Unit of the World Bank-chaired Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).   “The CGIAR is a major entity that does agricultural and natural resources research to benefit the less developed countries and the poor around the world. It has centers all over the world.  I visited and worked with all of them, including centers in Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Syria, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia, Peru, Mexico and other countries. The centers have made and continue to make major contributions to global agriculture, food security and natural resources management and conservation.”  Erik and Hans exemplify what it means to be global citizens. “You learn how to deal with different kinds of people, with different languages, cultures and customs,” observes Hans. 

Reflections on the Santa Ynez Valley 

Changes in recent decades include growth of the wine industry and commercial development by the Chumash tribe. Hans reflects, “There were no vineyards in the early days; cattle ranches are less common now and the cost of land is high. Normal young people can’t afford to purchase land here anymore.” 

The Gregersen brothers retired from their highly successful careers and moved with their wives to Solvang where they enjoy their families and grandchildren who live both locally and farther afield. It is interesting to note that both of these men made their careers in agriculture and land management. These are the same motivators that brought a large group of immigrants from Denmark to the U.S. and eventually Solvang. Although their career paths deal with agriculture and land management at the international level, land is still a resource that plays a significant role in their lives today. Their respective industries (agriculture and land management) have new millennial challenges. The cost of land and availability of water threaten agriculture as development outpaces the economic return from growing food and availability of water.

Erik and Hans have a “world” of experience between them and continue to use their knowledge both in service of their immediate community and the global community. They are heavily involved with improving the quality of life locally and globally.  Today, Erik runs the ranch and is involved with non-profits, including the Elverhoj Museum, “I’m passionate about preserving the history of the Danish community.” He is also active with The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and the California Rangeland Trust. “Our grandparents had 2200 acres, cattle and also beans and barely. When they passed, there were too many heirs and taxes soour parents’ generation was forced to sell. If we had the ability [at that time] to put a conservation easement on it we could have kept it together. That’s what The Land Trust allows.”

Hans continues to work with various groups on deforestation and global forest policies, and is currently working on global forestry contributions to the new UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. When asked about the challenges facing the Santa Ynez Valley, Hans reflects, “I feel people will adapt to the changes taking place. Hirschman’s principle of the ‘Hiding Hand’ applies here:  We tend to underestimate the emerging issues, but we also underestimate our ability to resolve the issues.  ”


By Katherine Bradford


Richard and Thekla Sanford

Sometimes,  you need a "do over".  Richard and Thekla were so early in the project that we did not have a professional videographer.  So we came back and got to meet with Richard and Thekla Sanford, and their daughter Blakeney in their new Alma Rosa Tasting Room and on the old Rancho Jabili.-

See below for the new video.

History of Wine        

Wine has an ancient history, with a long cast of characters including the Roman God Bacchus, best known for his Bacchanalia festival. In our own California history, Father Junipero Serra planted our first sustained vineyard at Mission San Juan Capistrano two hundred years ago.  One hundred years after that, Jean-Louis Vines was the largest wine producer in Los Angeles and his peer, Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian soldier, promoted vine planting over much of Northern California, including Sonoma Valley. All of these men were immigrant adventurers, each fulfilling their own quest.

          I think there is something in our genetic code or our own Manifest Destiny that has brought all of us here to the Central Coast. Either, within ourselves, or in the temperament of our fore fathers, we are adventurers, free thinkers and/or entrepreneurs. These are all common traits you find in gold miners, immigrants and hippies, all of which have made up our collective California culture.

   Let me focus on a very specific time in our state’s history. In 1965 Berkley was the home to Flower Power, people wore Birkenstocks and marched for civil rights. Meanwhile our nation was in the midst of the Vietnam war which left our country questioning the establishment and authority. These two countercultures converged to shape the next century. Imagine graduating as a Geography student at UC Berkeley in 1965 and then suddenly be drafted into the Vietnam War for the next 3 years. This was Richard Sanford ‘s reality.  After his service as a naval officer, Richard wanted to work with the land and felt agriculture would help him reconnect with his former life.  He had been introduced to a Burgundy wine during his time with the military and thought, “Out of all different agricultural products, why not grapes?” Combining his knowledge of geography, he began to study our climate records for the last 100 years and compare them to the Burgundy region of France.  It was here he discovered our transverse mountain range created the perfect environment for the Pinot Noir grape.

            This history only underscores Richard Sanford’s adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit.  With incredible insight, the birth of our central coast wine country was established in 1970 when he planted the first Pinot Noir vines in what is now the Santa Rita Hills.  California is now the 4th largest wine producer in the world and garners a $61.5 BILLION impact in our state economy.

            Meanwhile, the other half of this story, was moving west. Thekla Brumder, a nice girl from Wisconsin, had spent her childhood outdoors, in tune with nature and investigating the wonders of her grandparents’ dairy farm. As a young adult, she stopped off at the University of Arizona to pick up a BA in Art History and a few minors in Spanish and Italian. She then spent her 20‘s in the Colorado Rockies before moving to Santa Barbara.

            Fast forward to 1976. This is when Richard and Thekla, meet on a sailing adventure in Santa Barbara. In the same year, there is a blind wine tasting in Paris with a panel made up exclusively of French wine experts. Six out of the 9 judges ranked California wines as the best in the world.  Two years later, Thekla and Richard marry in 1978 and start Sanford Winery by 1981. Together, they have produced award-winning wines for over 30 years. Their latest venture is

Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards

 Using their life’s experience, they have created a business that produces high quality wines.  It also is the benchmark for organic, sustainable farming and is environmentally responsible to the land, it’s employees and customers.

And it is here ,on their home ranch, Rancho El Jabali, that the Sanfords were sharing their mutual life story in a lovely room designed by Richard and built sustainably from bales of hay and stucco. Thekla humorously recollects about how Richard stuck a thermometer out of the window while driving his car through the Santa Ynez Valley in order to measure the temperature on this hillside or on top of that range. This was to find the perfect location for the first vineyard.  Likewise, Richard gives Thekla all the credit for starting their organic farming practices, an offshoot of their family vegetable garden.  The El Jabali Vineyard was the first OCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) certified vineyard in Santa Barbara County.

While the fire crackles in the fireplace and radiates its warmth throughout the room, I observe a couple who have shared a common goal throughout a life that has been filled with hard work, successes and challenges.  They have a thoughtfulness about their legacy and future.  Their efforts and business enterprise reflect what is important to them and what they stand for.  

Remember at the beginning of this story, I talked about the spirits of adventure, free thinking and entrepreneurship. These common attributes are what make this couple so dynamic and forerunners in both winemaking and conservation.  They both share a love of the land and this has been the foundation in their success as vintners and conservationists. While Richard brought his understanding of the land and agriculture to winemaking, Thekla brought her love of nature and community. The arc of their commitment starts with organic farming and sustainable agriculture and includes ecological packaging, green building, wildlife protection and culminates in the slow food movement, which addresses the quality of the food we eat, where it comes from and how this affects the world.  They were even honored by the Environmental Defense Center as Environmental Heroes. Most recently, they recieved the inaugural Sanford Award for Sustainable Stewardship from the Edible Communities. All the while, they make award winning wine!  And Richard Sanford was just added to the Vintners Hall of Fame at The Culinary Institute of America.

Their incredible commitment to our environment while operating an enlightened enterprise is just the beginning of their contribution.  I always find their support and sponsorship at so many of our non profit events.  They have consistently made one good decision after another to operate with integrity, be good stewards of the land, and serve humanity.  Cheers!

By Holli Harmon

Luis Ramirez


-“A very small amount of people feed the world.”

Luis Ramirez

A Farmer and so much more

(Read this story in Spanish)

Luis Ramirez, oil on canvas By Holli Harmon

Luis Ramirez, oil on canvas By Holli Harmon

The fertile Santa Maria River Valley yields some of the most important crops in the state—lettuces, broccoli, strawberries, grapes. These vital crops are harvested by migrant workers who are proud of their work and in their ability to provide for their families. State and federal policies are in place to guard the safety of these workers and the food they handle. On the fields are hands-on agricultural managers like Luis Ramirez. “Our food safety program ensures that produce is harvested and shipped in a hygienic and safe manner.”

Luis works for Rancho Harvest, a company that is contracted by farmers to provide labor and hauling to processors or directly to stores. “Training crews is a big piece of it. I go to the crews and do visual inspections. I have an enormous amount of respect for the workers. I’ve tried harvesting lettuce, broccoli, berries—it’s humbling.”

Before being hired as a manager, Luis attended Cal State Long Beach, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. “Doing a drive along the fields with my friends from Cal State Long Beach is eye-opening. The general public doesn’t know what people should know; a very small amount of people feed the world.”

Luis was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. “My earliest memory is of crossing the river on my father’s shoulders, but most of my memories start here.” His parents were hired to work on a Santa Ynez Valley ranch and he grew up with his brother attending the local schools including Santa Ynez Union High School. “The school was about 40% Hispanic and 60% Anglo. I grew up poor but I had a unique experience, growing up on a ranch, riding horses. When you’re a kid, you just want to fit in.” Luis shares that he felt like he was raised in two cultures; the culture of his parent’s Mexico and the SYV ranch culture. “You’re culturally rich that way.”

His major influences were his strict parents who instilled values of respect and hard work. “Respect is built into our language. Me dio la oportunidad, y abrió muchas puertas saber que comunicarme con la gente.”

 He had an early passion for art. “My dad was not excited about me changing my major to art but my parents were always supportive.” Luis transferred to CSULB from Alan Hancock College. While at CSULB, he attended a summer program in Italy and then had a year of education abroad at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in China.

“I’ve always been able to learn things. I branched out to wine [working at Bridlewood Estate Winery and Fiddlehead Cellars], and eventually agriculture. It was tough to get hired [with an art degree]. Even stronger than a degree is your ability to talk to people and get things done.”

In his early 30s, Luis is a master painter. “I paint my experiences--family, the ranch, field agricultural operations. I’ve been painting the same thing since I can remember; the agricultural community in California and a bit of the immigrant experience.”

“I paint the field workers in sunlight; they are squinting. I use a Spanish palette.” Using just four colors to mix his paints, Luis captures a range of light that retains the rich colors of the area. “I have no political agenda. I just paint field workers.”

Luis has worked for Rancho Harvest for two years. “It gives me a level of security.” In a typical day he visits several crews in the Santa Maria area, but his territory also includes Salinas, Bakersfield, Oxnard and Coachella. “Broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, wine grapes. This is our food supply. I don’t know what else is more important. I’m just a food guy. What a cheap labor force we are. We keep food on the table and at a reasonable price.”

“H-2A [seasonal agricultural worker visa program], I think is the future of agriculture. The program allows us to recruit in Mexico and then [workers] return after the season is over. There’s a labor crunch. There is not enough labor in the Santa Maria Valley. Working in the fields is an act of necessity. If you have few options for work it’s a default; there are monetary benefits for working here.”

“There is a necessity to provide for your family. I don’t think the workers say, I’m here to provide food for the world. They say, I’m here to provide for my family. It’s a point of pride.”

As alluded to in Holli’s portrait, Luis is part of fabric and heart of the Santa Maria Valley. His experiences bridge the cultures of the valley. Moreover, in his role as an agricultural manager, his work to ensure safe food affects all of us who live in the central coast region and beyond.

When asked what he would like the public to know, he reflects, “be connected to the food supply. Understand that months of preparation go into it. Remember the people that work it.”

By Katherine Bradford




Mike Lopez & Kathleen Marshall


Samala Chumash Siblings, Santa Ynez Valley

"Now we can give back."
Portrait of Mike Lopez, oil on canvas, 36x36

Portrait of Mike Lopez, oil on canvas, 36x36

Portrait of Kathleen Marshall, oil on canvas, 36x36

Portrait of Kathleen Marshall, oil on canvas, 36x36

 “In our native language, we are called Samala.” The Santa Ynez Valley is home to the Samala people, historically known as the Ineseño Chumash. Siblings Kathleen Marshall and Mike Lopez are leaders in the Samala community. In their personal stories, we can glimpse the development of the modern Samala in terms of economic prosperity and cultural renewal. Kathleen is a gaming commissioner and a credentialed teacher of the Samala language -- she carries the stories and traditions that are central to Samala history and identity. Her brother Mike serves as a business committee member.

 Their family has always been part of the Santa Ynez Valley. Their ancestral villages include Kalawshaq, which was located near the current reservation, and Soxtonokmu, on Figueroa Mountain. Their great-great-great-great grandmother was Maria Solares, who worked with anthropologist J.P. Harrington to record the Samala language, including many stories and the names of village sites.

The stories many of us tell may be meaningful to our friends, and perhaps to our children. It is inspiring to think that the stories and language of Maria Solares, recorded so long ago, continue to resonate in the community of her descendents.

Kathleen and Mike have warm memories of visiting their grandfather's house on the Santa Ynez Chumash reservation. "We were here all the time; we'd play in the riverbed and eat meals together." They participated in many cultural events at the old tribal hall and made frequent field trips to Zaca Lake, a place that is central to many Chumash stories.

"Our house was built next to my grandfather's house." Kathleen and Mike were raised on the reservation during the 1970s. Their memories include challenges as well. Like other families on the reservation, they experienced poverty and racial discrimination.

During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Samala language was nearly lost. Natives were told to assimilate, to fit in, not only by outsiders but often by their own family members. Many natives were sent to boarding schools where they were forbidden speak their own languages. With cultural renewal movements in the 1960s to regain tribal rights, many Indian communities made inroads into improving conditions for their communities. In today’s generation, appreciation of cultural diversity continues to increase, but there is still a lot of education that needs to take place.

For the Samala people, economic conditions improved with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which recognized tribal sovereignty and allowed gaming on federally recognized reservations. The Chumash Casino was established in 1994, and expanded into a new facility with an entertainment complex in 2003.  Resort operations also include the Hotel Corque and several restaurants. Revenue generated from the casino and related enterprises has helped the Samala people grow their business interests, and in turn they are also able to give back to the community.

“We’re an economic leader; we give to places that helped us, now we help them,” Mike observes. The tribe supports dozens of causes in the community including Cottage Hospital and the Unity Shoppe. Gaming revenue also helps to support education efforts, including Kathleen’s work to sustain traditional culture.

Kathleen has studied the Samala language and is now credentialed to teach the language. “A group of us began working with linguist Dr. Richard Applegate several years ago. He helped us to learn our language.” In turn, Kathleen is bringing the language and traditions to a new generation, and uses Samala with her own children at meals.

“We also have Camp Kalawshaq which is held every summer for tribal children. The tribe holds language and culture classes for their youth twice a week.” Kathleen enjoys teaching non-native kids too, “Some of them think we live in teepees.” She also serves on the museum advisory committee. The tribe is in the process of designing a museum to share their culture.

Cultural pride extends to community events and ceremonies. The tribe sponsors an inter-tribal pow-wow each year, which is attended by Indians and others from all over the country, and Chumash Culture Days, which provides an opportunity for Santa Barbara area neighbors to become more familiar with the Chumash and other California natives. Among the highlights of the year are preparations for the tomol crossing; the rowing of a traditional plank canoe to Santa Cruz Island.

 “We’re a big family; some people are involved in education, business, investments…,” shares Mike. There is also an environmental and sustainability council. When asked what is unique about their community, Kathleen and Mike both mention the land. Zanja de Cota Creek runs through the middle of the reservation and is a constant reminder of their connection to the land. At the head of the creek is a spring near which the old village was located; it is called Kasaqunpeq’en (where it stops).

Chumash heritage today includes the legacies that people like Kathleen and Mike are building, from the classroom to the boardroom. Kathleen and Mike are representative of the modern Samala. They are each working hard to ensure the economic vitality of their community and the continuity of Samala traditions.