IT'S AN UNSEASONABLY WARM NOVEMBER DAY AS I WIND MY WAY through the roads of Montecito, Calif., to an estate tucked behind an imposing gate. A security guard checks my credentials as I arrive. I'm a bit tense, but who wouldn't be? In a matter of minutes, I'll be interviewing the most famous woman in the world.

The iron rails open to reveal grounds so exquisite, they could be confused for a five-star resort. The guard has hopped on a golf cart and now is leading me through manicured greens that stretch 42 acres. For a second, I catch a glimpse of the property's main house, a neoclassical edifice in the distance. Scurrying about is a sea of workers, who are a year or so into a remodeling project still months from completion. We take a sharp left, meandering down a long cobblestone road toward another property, this one shielded by a wall of bricks. I park my car and am ushered through a door that leads to a modest, multibedroom cottage -- and suddenly I see her, Oprah Winfrey.