Ladies of the Valley
By Robbie Kaye
Christina Larner grew up in Southern California and graduated from UCSB, where she fell in love with the Santa Barbara area. When a job opportunity came up, she was thrilled to move to the Santa Ynez Valley, where she has lived for the past 14 years.
What drew you to the valley?
The wine industry … . I began working for Sunstone Winery in 2002 and a year later Sunstone opened Artiste Winery, and I worked there until 2008. Artiste was a great fit for me since I had both a strong artistic background and an art degree from UCSB. Prior to Sunstone and Artiste, I worked for a couple of wineries in the Temecula wine country.
Tell us a little about how you came to open the Los Olivos General Store.
My husband Michael and I started making wine for our family wine brand, Larner Winery, in 2009. Our plan was to open a tasting room at our vineyard but the permit process was taking longer than expected. We began looking for an alternate location to sell our wine in Los Olivos. With a little luck, we found out that our friend — who owned a gift store in the location we are in now — was planning to move to Napa. He recommended us to the landlord and the next thing we knew, we had ourselves a great spot in the center of town. Our wines weren’t quite ready to sell so we decided to open the Los Olivos General Store and focus on retail until the wine was labeled and ready.
Tell us more about you as an artist.
My passion for wine led me to explore it as an art medium. While working at Artiste I came up with an idea for an event where we would use wine as paint. I figured it would be like using watercolor, so I gathered all of the paper and brushes but instead of paint we used various types of wine … and it’s been my medium of choice since then.
Do you have plans to share or show your work?
Yes! I currently have my work on display in Santa Barbara at SB Wine Therapy and in Big Bear at Barrel 33. I am hoping to have an art show at the General Store in the spring.
How did you get into growing grapes and making wine, and what plans do you have for your vineyard?
My husband’s family purchased a ranch in Ballard Canyon in 1997 and planted 34 acres of vines in 1999. At the time they purchased the land, my husband switched careers from geologist to winemaker and vineyard manager.
After we were married in 2008, I joined the family business and now help with the winemaking and wine sales. We recently received a permit to build a small winery and tasting room at our vineyard, so by next year we should be ready to welcome guests to our vineyard to try the wines.
How do you balance being a mom of young children, running a store and everything else? What’s your secret?
I absolutely love being a mom! My kids bring me so much joy but they do keep me busy. I would say flexibility is my secret. I try not to be too hard on myself if I can’t be the perfect boss, mom, wife — I just do the best I can. I am lucky and grateful to have three awesome employees at my store and tasting room — not to mention a loving husband, mother-in-law, and babysitter to help when needed.
What is your favorite part about owning the LO General Store?
Making customers happy and being part of the Los Olivos community are my favorite parts … . When people have a good experience and give us positive feedback it fuels my desire to continue to find unique merchandise and ultimately succeed as a small business. We sell shirts that say “Happy Place Los Olivos,” and it really is a happy place. There is something wonderful about a small town — a place where every day you can say hello to people you know.
What is your process for curating the products in your store?
I would say my store is eclectic. I buy things I like or that are useful or interesting to me. In addition, my talented store manager, Judith, is great about staying up to date on trends and spotting artisan products on social media. We work together to decide on new lines to bring into the store.
What do you do for rejuvenation?
I try to work out at least three times per week. It’s a great stress reliever and improves my energy level.
What hurdle have you had to get over?
I was somewhat of a retail rookie when we opened the General Store five years ago. I remember the fear I had prior to opening, wondering if the store would succeed. Owning a business has its challenges and frustrations, but I’ve learned a lot since opening in 2012. I am proud of our little store and what we have accomplished.
Can you tell us one thing about you that most people don’t know?
My most impressionable life journey was backpacking through seven countries in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. I still can’t believe I lived out of a backpack for five months!
What advice do you have for people who want to start their own business?
Have a solid business plan, patience, flexibility and a positive attitude.
The Los Olivos General Store has rotating art exhibits, trunk shows with featured suppliers, and open houses throughout the year. Get more information on Instagram @losolivosgeneralstore or on Facebook/losolivosgeneralstore, or by sending email to Christina@losolivosgeneralstore.com
Robbie Kaye is a photographer, fine artist and the author of “Beauty and Wisdom.” She is working on a Ladies of the Valley documentary. Follow her @ladiesofthevalley or @robbiekaye on Instagram or at www.robbiekaye.com.