John Hilliard & Christine Bruce
Proprietors and Winegrowers
Husband and wife team, John Hilliard and Christine Bruce, grew up near one another in Houston. Christine was a horsewoman and a musician, and left Texas to study classical piano at Boston University before graduating from the Berklee College of Music. There she fell in love with the contemporary jazz music scene and began working as a professional keyboardist. Meanwhile, as a young man, John Hilliard studied finance and pursued a career selling maritime insurance, until deciding to follow his dreams of painting full-time. He was director and president of Diverse Works, a Houston-based arts organization, and a committee member for both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Glassell Artists in Residence Program. He later returned to manage his family’s shipyard business, where he grew the company from one to four shipyards in just a few years.
After they met, the couple pursued their passions, taking wine classes together at Rice University, and earning certifications as Master Gardeners from Texas A&M and the University of Arizona. Cultivation seems to come naturally to both of them, and it wasn’t long before they had not only a thriving garden with every possible vegetable that might grow in the Texas climate, but also a small breeding operation for Arabian horses at their ranch in Houston.
John and Christine left their home in Texas in 2002, after purchasing the 101-acre Hilliard Bruce estate in the Sta. Rita Hills. Christine wanted a ranch where she could expand her business of breeding Arabian horses, and John was open to new adventures after surviving two life-threatening illnesses. With a love of wine and an eye for precision and design, they planted 21-acres to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, using their own background as gardeners, along with key advice from some of the industry’s best viticulturalists. To further their winemaking experience, they enrolled in courses at UC Davis Extension Program, Allan Hancock Viticulture and Enology Program, and the Grayson County College Viticulture and Enology Program. Today John and Christine are intimately involved with every step of running Hilliard Bruce Vineyard, from viticulture and winemaking to sales.
Sonja joined Hilliard Bruce in August 2017 as winery production manager, carrying out John and Christine’s vision and winemaking directives for their inimitable Sta. Rita Hills estate. Their keen responsibility for the overall environment is a core value for Sonja, as it further accentuates a vital sense of place. This carries through to Sonja’s own winery under her Casa Dumetz and Clementine Carter brands, with her commitment of working with the finest vineyards to produce Rhône varietals in Santa Barbara County.
Sonja’s original academic career trajectory was thwarted by her love of the grapevine. She studied Political Science at the University of Michigan and received her graduate work in Journalism from Michigan State University. She received a Fulbright Scholarship to Macedonia in 1998-1999 to study ethnic conflict in her parents’ homeland with the intention of creating a sustainable framework for tolerance and stability in the Balkans, but came to her senses over a glass of California Pinot Noir. Today she creates world peace one vintage at a time.