Few things excite us more than wines that have both fascinating backstories and the potential to change the industry for the better. Such it is with California’s Ashanta Wines, from makers Chenoa Ashton-Lewis and Will Basanta.
As a woman of color in a traditionally white industry, Chenoa has made a big impact in a small amount of time, due to her unconventional methods, her ability to flex with California’s inconsistent climate, and her palpable skill for her craft.
Chenoa and Will, partners in work and life, met via the film industry. The meaning behind the name Ashanta is twofold: a blend of the couple’s names (Ashton and Basanta) and a mark of gratitude for Chenoa’s African ancestors — Asante means thank you in Swahili.
Art, nature, and wine are in Ashton-Lewis’s bloodline. Her mission-driven, playful style is rooted in her family’s own legacy: In the 1960s, her grandfather, Stephen, purchased a vineyard in Glen Ellen, California, where he organically grew Pinot Noir and Syrah grapes by day and hosted film festivals in wine caves by night.
In 2017, the Nun’s fire hit the Sonoma area, decimating the majority of the family vineyard; though she was in film school, Chenoa felt pulled to return to her family’s land. She graduated, charged with a newfound appreciation for her grandfather’s winemaking tradition and a desire to learn everything she could from him.
Sadly, Stephen passed away before he was able to pass on his knowledge. Rather than abandon her pursuit, Chenoa leaned into her curiosity, guided by a framework of re-connection. She traveled to Sicily, where Stephen had ancestral roots, working on organic farms, planting permaculture vineyards, and growing six different grape varieties on 350 acres of land above the Mediterranean.