Like the vineyards that produce the classic vintages she adores, Amy Christine Ellis’ palate has been carefully cultivated for years. Recently, she was named a master of wine by the Institute of Masters of Wine—one of only 312 people to hold that title worldwide, and one of only 10 women in the United States.
“It took me about seven years, which is the norm,” says Ellis. “You are expected to do all the work and study on your own. The exam is four days, and you blind-taste 36 wines. You have to know where the wine is from, the grape variety or varieties, and the wine-making technique. In some cases, you even have to know the vintage. Of course, it’s not a master of fine wine [designation], so you also have to recognize merlot from a box or white zinfandel.”
A career in wine wasn’t Ellis’ first choice—she arrived in California with hopes of becoming an actress. She wound up working as a sommelier and met her husband while visiting a winery. In 2005 they started their own venture, Black Sheep Finds, in Santa Barbara. In the beginning they bought high-quality juice from growers to finish off. This year they’re planting their own grapes.
“We’ve leased five acres in Santa Rita Hills where we’ll plant pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah,” she says. “It’s my husband’s dream and my dream, and it’s actually happening this year. There goes our life savings!”
Black Sheep wines include Hocus Pocus, Holus Bolus and Genuine Risk.