Tale of Two Wineries

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Betty Williams

Being born in 1963, Virginia lamented being born too late. She loved my stories of being an original hippie and compared them to the scene her older sister Caroline had out in the big barn next to the ancient salt-box house she grew up in Old Lyme Connecticut. At thirteen, Virginia is smoking pot with her sister’s hip friends, and later takes a trip on LSD. All three sisters took a trip to France when they graduated from High School and stayed at the family Chateaus. Here is Virginia’s aunt whose husband founded Brimstone Hill winery that goes well with the name Buttonwood:

“Miss Valerie de Ghaisne de Bourmont, daughter of Comte Joseph de Ghaisne de Bourmont of Chateau de Bourmont, Freigne, Maine et Loire, France, and Comtesse Mary de Ghaisne de Bourmont of 132 East 82d Street, was married here yes­terday to Richard Clement El­dridge. He is a son of Mrs. Ar­thur C. Eldridge of Baltimore and the late Mr. Eldridge.”

In 1965 I tripped at Jiyarl Zothian’s Ranch, and Betty Zorthian-Williams home in Pasadena. I was with Nancy Hamren and Barry Zothian. In 1966,  Keith and I, and his girlfriend are doing poppers on LSD as we stare into the fire at Betty’s home. We could not get enough beauty. I ended up sitting in the rose garden. Betty got up and made us breakfast. We were nineteen. We were so friggen free!

Betty had a small barn where she kept horses. Her ex had horses at his ranch, and went skinny-riding with Charlie Parker. Buttonwood Winery was first a place Betty bred horses. But, what makes Betty famous in my books, is she kept a gaggle of hippies in a commune in San Francisco called the ‘Idle Hands’. Our friend Nancy Hamren mentions this commune in her history she made at the Kesey family creamery. Nancy took care of Ken’s farm when he went to England to do a gig with the Beatles. There is a famous yogurt named after Nancy made from an old family recipe, and is liken to the wine business.

Betty bought her two daughters, Seyburn and Barry, two brand new Land Rovers for their move up north. For days Keith, Nancy, Barry, and I, went driving around looking at big homes. We settled for one out on 30th. Ave near Geary, and Betty bought it with her legacy. Her father owned William’s Shave and left her everything. We never wanted for anything. Everything was paid for by William’s Shave. The board of directors, did not have a clue.

My sister, Christine Rosamond Benton, came to live with us, and she went on a date with Nick Sands, Nancy, and Stanley Augustus Owsley. Keith and Barry became lovers, and Carol Schuerter and I shared a room as we had on Pine St. where we partied with two members of the Jefferson Airplane on a regular basis.

We are talking about The California Renaissance – and Creative Families! In my next post I will show two works of Renaissance art that depict members of Virginia and my family render by Bosch and Durer. My kindred are in Bosch’s ‘Wedding Feast at Cana’ and were members of the Swan Brethren. I married the artist, Mary Ann Tharaldsen, who was married to Thomas Pynchon and was a goof friend of Mimi Baez. The dinner scene in Inherent Vice, is like the dinner scenes at the ‘Idle Hands’ where round a goblet of wine gather the Who’s Who of Hippiedom. We were the Super Hippies that Pynchon keeps eluding to in his novels.

Seyburn became an artist like her father whose early work  was influenced by my kindred, Thomas Hart Benton. My late sister became a famous artist, and married the muralist, Garth Benton, who was a friend of Lawrence Chazen, a Getty man who owns shares in Gordon Getty’s PlumpJack Winery. Garth did the murals at the Getty Villa, and was friends with Gordon Getty, he doing a mural at his home. Chazen was a partner in Christine’s first gallery in Carmel, and is a member of the Big Sur Land Trust. Betty is the founder of the Santa Ynez Land Trust, which eventually became the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.

I remember CB going off to art school. We were up all night, tripping. We wondered at her ambition, her need to capture beautiful images. Why do all that work? We made a million paintings an hour. But then, we had to release them…………let them go.

Jon Presco

Copyright 2015

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Buttonwood Farm is a small gem set amidst the splendor of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley. The farm is a shining example of the vision of our founder, Betty Williams. Betty was always ahead of her time, and in the 60’s set out to create a working farm based on good practices for people, animals and the earth. First there were horses, then organic vegetables and finally, a vineyard.Today, our 39-acre vineyard stretches across a sun-drenched mesa on the eastern portion of our 106-acre property. We started planting in 1983 and now have 33,000 vines, small in the world of wine, but huge to us. Our tasting room is surrounded by other bounty from the farm, including olives, pomegranates, peonies, herbs, summer vegetables and of course, our famous peaches! Our philosophy is beautifully summed up by our Mission Statement:In the far distant future may it be said that the owners and stewards of this land so used and protected it that it has been able to absorb the energies of the other forces, those of the infinitely small, of the winds, the birds and the animals, to once again create a balanced ecological microcosm. In this process, effort shall be made to present a financially viable operation, participating fully in the life of the times, the culture and the community. Where possible, the farm shall act as a model for small family husbandry as a source of gain, as well as a personal resource of food and beauty.
Betty Williams
Buttonwood Farm









Betty touched so many individuals in so many different ways over her 92 years that any tribute is inherently superficial, reflecting only the tip of the iceberg.

Many knew her for her involvement in land preservation and community planning. She was a founder of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and served on the Santa Ynez Valley General Plan Advisory Committee that helped shape the county’s General Plan for the Valley. Although she thought globally with the perspective of history, she was glad to work locally and live in the moment.

Betty established Buttonwood Farm as an equestrian facility, but she subsequently planted a vineyard, built a winery and created an organic farm. She not only talked sustainability, she lived it, with a modest lifestyle focused on what she could do for her family and community. She chose to occupy the small, existing ranch residence that was set into the hill, rather than build a mansion atop it.

Her Louisiana roots, formative childhood and education at Sarah Lawrence, Tulane and USC all served to create a talented and creative individual with a unique skill set and a strong sense of social responsibility. Betty was the consummate networker long before networking came into vogue.She was a patron of the arts and generous supporter of progressive causes and candidates. If she could not solve a problem herself, Betty readily enlisted the aid of others and researched possible solutions, old and new. She was more than willing to pick up the phone on behalf of a worthy cause.

A natural educator, Betty never missed an opportunity to expand the horizons – physical, mental, temporal and spiritual – of those around her. A firm believer in tradition, she was a master storyteller. Like a village elder, she brought history to life with a rich collection of personal stories she was glad to share. Betty treasured literature and art for their contribution to our humanity, and her personal collection served as old and familiar friends. She particularly enjoyed and generously shared her library. She wrote books and poetry, noted for their humor and celebration of life, whether it was enjoying good food, recognizing those around her or appreciating plants and animals.

Betty Williams

She valued both the natural and manmade landscape and was a skilled gardener and flower arranger. Betty had the vision to plant gardens, vines and trees, planning for future harvests and future generations. At Buttonwood, she nurtured the growth and development of successive generations of residents, employees and family members.

Hospitality, humor and sharing were de rigueur for Betty, and she welcomed the opportunity to host a party and celebrate a momentous occasion – the harvest, a family birthday, the solstice or just a gathering of friends.

The Valley was and will continue to be fortunate that this inspired and generous spirit abided here a while.

Making art while dealing with fear is so universal with artists that there are many books on the subject.

Artists Salon No. 11, sponsored by the Artists Guild of the Santa Ynez Valley from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at Buttonwood Farm, encourages area artists to come together to share how to resolve this common challenge in carrying out creative work.

The evening’s discussions will also examine sources of inspiration and its power for different artists, and how admiration of the work of other artists may affect one’s approach and process.

The salon will be hosted by local painter Seyburn Zorthian. An early love of the American and European abstractionists of the 1940s and ’50s and later study of abstract calligraphy in Japan led Zorthian to the development of the work she does today.

She has had an ongoing interest in the relationship of opposites and has recently explored that visually in a series of complimentary color studies. Zorthian is now  working on large-scale abstractions, integrating the expressive brush stroke with color variations and other visual elements.

Zorthian has shown in the United States, France, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. She attended Chouinard in Los Angeles and San Francisco Art Institute and received a BFA degree from the California Institute of the Arts.

She was a student of shodou master Shiryu Morita in Kyoto, Japan, in 1974. She lives in the mountains above Santa Barbara and maintains a studio at the family-owned Buttonwood Farm in Solvang.

The evening’s discussion theme was suggested by Zorthian.

“In my experience, the biggest challenge to making art is setting aside the fear of failure, as it inhibits the openness needed for the creative process,” said Zorthian. “I would assume I share this with many other artists and I would be interested in finding out the various ways people prepare to work in order to become centered and ready to be receptive to the soul’s intuitive flow. Also, I am interested in sharing a few artists whom I admire and would be interested in seeing other artists’ interests as well.”

Artists are invited to bring books or pictures or screen images of works that they admire or that provide ongoing inspiration. This is a cooperative social event and those attending are welcome to bring a finger-food appetizer to share, or a bottle of wine or favorite beverage.

Buttonwood Farm is at 1500 Alamo Pintado in Solvang. For more information, email Rebecca Gomez of the Artists Guild at rrgomez@hwy246.net.

Contemporary abstract paintings by Seyburn Zorthian of the Santa Ynez Valley are on display through Aug. 12 in the Kwan Fong Gallery of Art and Culture at California Lutheran University.

“In the Rhythm” is a free exhibit of large-scale works in acrylic, oil and metal leaf on canvas. All of the paintings, which were produced over the last two years, are visual expressions of movement inspired by music.

Zorthian’s creative process is informed by her early exposure to jazz and her study of abstract calligraphy in Japan, where Shodou master Shiryu Morita trained her in traditional practices using enormous brushes with ink.

She has spent decades refining her approach to composition and her use of color and Western non-ink media within this Eastern framework. In her current series, Zorthian’s first brushstroke usually became the bones of the composition, directing the course and character of each painting.

Zorthian paints from a studio at her family’s Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard, where the labels feature her works. Her paintings have been exhibited at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, Rutgers University in New Jersey, the Municipal Museum in Kyoto, Shanxi Historical Art Museum in China and Galerie Tendri in Paris.

Zorthian attended the San Francisco Art Institute and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the California Institute of the Arts.

The gallery is located in the Soiland Humanities Center at 120 Memorial Parkway on the Thousand Oaks campus. It is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

For more information, contact curator Michael Pearce with the CLU Art Department at 805-444-7716.






About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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