Article by LA Sokolowski
Photography courtesy Cheval Winery
Donna “Bubba” Kaufman of San Diego, California, has a laugh and personality big enough to fill a room. She’s the cowgirl you can count on for a great bottle of red, red wine and an even better horse story.
Like how her husband, Randy, suggested they might be growing out of their Vail, Colorado, condominium and should look for a property big enough to include her show horses.
“He asked how many I had. Now I had four bays at the time, that I had him convinced were the same horse,” she chuckled. “So I said, um, two?”
“No, really,” he insisted (knowing his beloved a little better than she thought).
He kept looking at her.
“Okay, OK,” she relented. “Six. We’ve got six horses.”
Neither knew it, but at that very moment 950 miles away in Escondido, California, Cheval Winery began.
A Very Beau Coupe
“I’m French. My maiden name is Russeau,” Donna said. “Cheval is French for horse.”
The burgeoning winemaker and Western rider seems to have found her stride balancing wines and equines on a path she calls nothing short of magical.
With a candor that could make a concierge faint, she confesses she didn’t know anything about wine. Her first impression of the vineyard for sale on Hill Valley Drive was how nice and flat it was. Perfect for some new barns and arenas for Kaufman Performance Horses.
Once all those pesky vines were cut down, of course.
On Donna’s third visit to the sale property its caretaker, Francisco, begged to speak with her.
“He said the vines were his babies, and if I cut them down it would be tearing down his life’s work,” Donna said.
She’d had no idea grapevines could be so important or that the soil she’d just bought was about as perfect as a vintner could want. His plea surprised and touched her; she understood putting one’s heart into what they loved and not wanting to lose it. Two years ago, training under Jill and Murray Show Horses, Donna returned to the show ring for the first time since devoting herself to raising her son, Maverick, now 13.
“My first Paint Horse was named Jack, after my uncle. He was my child before Maverick,” Donna said. “He was my best friend; he taught me love and patience.” She lost Jack to a fatal shoulder injury as a 5-year-old.
“It’s OK,” she assured Francisco. “We can keep the grapes and put the stalls on the other side. We won’t cut down grapes for riding rings. We’ll figure it out.”
As Donna pondered what to do next, she began to attract a herd to help Cheval shake up California wine country and transform her story into its mission: We are making history reality.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2020 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.