Did you know our very own T Beller was featured in a beautiful hardcover book called Wine Country Women of Napa Valley? This glossy collection of profiles – and gorgeous photographs by Dona Kopol Bonick – celebrates some of Napa’s most colorful and inspiring women...and naturally, T was asked to be a part of it. Her profile (and her Nonnie’s caramel cake recipe) start on page 256.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we wanted to share some excerpts from an interview T did as the book was being written. Read on to peek behind the scenes at our Verve Napa Valley Founder and Curator-in-Chief, T Beller!
Where did you grow up? Do you ever go back to visit and why?
I was raised up in a progressive, arts-oriented household in the South of the Civil Rights Movement, with a mother who was an activist and civil rights attorney and a father who was a businessman entrepreneur. I grew up the eldest of three sisters in a remarkable mid-century modern home designed by my parents and architect uncle decorated with contemporary art and furniture. It was considered a real oddity in Montgomery, but I loved it and that house informs my taste and aesthetic sensibilities to this day.
Family trips with my parents and two younger sisters to Europe, South America, New York and the Grand Canyon shaped my appreciation for the larger world outside of the provincial South. When my parents suggested that their three daughters leave the South to go to college, I came to the Bay Area to attend Stanford. I have always thanked them for their vision in encouraging me to go West.
I haven’t been back in a couple of years, but I’d love to coordinate a tour of the southeast that would be just as carefully curated and unique as the tours I do here in wine country, featuring the history, the architecture, the food, the “adult beverages,” the gardens, and most of all, the culture and the people of the South.
Tell us about a unique characteristic or hobby that you have.
Gardening is in my genes—I have a photo of my great-grandfather on a tall ladder tending an 8-foot okra plant in his Victory Garden in Shreveport. My country property is a thriving garden full of unique and beautiful plants. There’s a ginormous assortment of dahlias, heirloom roses, rambling vines, fruit trees, and of course dogwood and magnolia trees, but also some really esoteric treasures like Brazilian starfish peppers, South African protea, and black ruffled hellebores.
I also have a prolific Indian Red Peach tree that I received as a start from Ruth von Uhlit, who was the owner of the massive von Uhlit Ranch fruit and nut orchards that used to be just north of downtown Napa when I first moved here. Ruth was a gardening mentor for me and the little peach start she gave me flourished into one of my most cherished plants. It reminds me of my Southern heritage, as well as Napa in the old days.
What’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I co-founded River School – Napa’s first charter school, second in the State of California. I have a Master’s in Education and Psychology and have testified before Congress about the benefits and challenges of alternative education models. River School school empowers students to take responsibility and become trailblazers in their communities. Being apart of this project has been one of my most rewarding achievements and I am grateful to remain connected to many of my past students to this day.
Another past life was as an Interior Designer…and before starting Verve, I was the designer for Ubuntu, a highly regarded vegetarian restaurant in Napa (now Torc). My home reflects my love of color and my playful approach to contemporary design and architecture.
My given name is actually Mary T – a traditional Southern double name handed down from my grandmother, Mary T Badt. She was my confidante, inspiration, and mentor. She rooted in me my love of plants and gardening, as well as my enjoyment of cooking with family and friends – she added a dash of bourbon to everything she cooked, whether cookies or tomato sauce. She also used to make an amazing caramel cake for me every year on my birthday. Even when I was in college in California – 2,000 miles from Shreveport, Louisiana – she’d send the cake to me. And every year, people would be fighting over the crumbs.