California trial lawyer Theodora R. Lee, also known as Theo-patra: Queen of the Vineyards, first envisioned having her own vineyard in the 1980s while enjoying fine wine at the homes of her law firm partners. “I fell in love with the wine lifestyle—great wine, great food, and being out in the vineyard,” Lee recalls. After preparing herself by taking classes at the UC Davis Viticulture & Enology School, she was able to found Theopolis Vineyards in 2003, starting with five acres in Mendocino County’s Yorkville Highlands.
Originally focused on growing for premium wineries, Lee focused on her own brand when her harvests received high ratings. Today, Theopolis Vineyards is regularly recognized for excellence, and specifically lauded for its rich petite sirah, pinot noir, plus a white wine Lee calls Symphony. But whatever she bottles tends to be well-received. “I love serving pleasure in the bottle,” Lee says. “Plus, lawyers love drinking wine, so my two careers complement each other.”
As a Black woman, Lee has faced her share of challenges in the wine industry. “I face a double-edged sword,” she says. “I not only face the problem of systemic racism, but the belittling fist that sexism and misogyny have wrapped around my throat.” Sometimes industry leaders won’t take her seriously, and finding distributors and brokers to get her wines in high-end restaurants and wine bars can be a problem.
To combat these systemic issues, Lee established The Theopolis Vineyards Diversity Fund for the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis in 2021, through which she hopes to support and inspire others to become vintners. “As my father taught me, one must lift as one climbs, so I hope this fund will help diversify the wine industry.”
Theopolis Vineyards wines can be found at Montage Healdsburg, among other hotels and restaurants, and at the winery’s website.