In Napa County, around 95% of farmworkers are originally from Mexico. Yet, with so many Latinos working on the vineyard fields, why are they so underrepresented in the vineyard tasting rooms?
Thankfully, in the last few years, this has begun to change. Children and grandchildren of migrant workers who worked the vineyards have now begun opening vineyards and wine clubs of their own. Many have pursued wine business degrees or studied viticulture at the nearby University of California, Davis. Others have simply worked their way up from being the person picking the grapes, to the person owning them.
An article in the New York Times described how, for many Latino winemakers, after such a long history of laboring in vineyards, the change to now own your own has “emotional resonance.” Many Mexican-Americans originally came to the Valley through the US Bracero program, a guest-worker program that brought many Mexicans across the border to help with farm work during the labor shortages of World War II. But eventually, low wages, poor working conditions and several other unfair labor practices within the program caused many Mexican-American workers to strike, and ultimately influenced the famous Cesar Chavez-led protests.
These days, there are over fifteen Latino owned vineyards just in the Napa area. Mexican Americans have even created the Napa Sonoma Mexican-American Vintners Association to create greater connections within the industry. Even better, these winemakers are redefining “wine culture” to fit with Latino traditions. They throw harvest parties with Mexican folk dancers and mariachis, and offer wine pairings for Mexican dishes like pozole.
To help support Latino-owned vineyards and organizations, check out any of these below:
1. Robledo Winery
Reynaldo Robledo was the first former migrant vineyard worker in North America to own a winery. He came to the United States at age 16 from Michoacan Mexico in 1968. He lived in a migranrt labor camp near Calistoga, pruning vines for as little as $1.10 an hour. Now, his entire family (including nine children) all work in the family business controlling 220 acres of vineyards in and around Napa, Sonoma, and Lake county, and managing their own vineyard management company. They produce 10,000 case of their own wine.
Owner Ulises Valdez began working underage as a migrant worker pruning vineyards. After gaining American citizenship, he co-started a vineyard management company and then bought out his partner a few years later. The family launched their own winery in 2005. Valdez now owns 50 acres of land in Sonoma County and has earned 90 plus scores from The Wine Spectator. His “Silver Eagle” Chardonnay was served to President Felipe Calderon of Mexico at a state dinner at the White House in 2010.
Amelia Moran Ceja came to Napa Valley from the Mexican state of Jalisco when she was only 12 years old. After spending much of her childhood picking merlot grapes in one of Robert Mondavi’s famous vineyards, she told her father that one day she’d own her own vineyard. Now she’s the first Mexican-American woman ever to be named president of a winery. With her family, she owns more than 110 acres and produced more than 8,000 cases a year.
In an article for USA Today, Ceja describes how one of her “mentors” once told her “people of color don’t have the discretionary income for a luxury product” like wine. But Ceja proved them wrong. Instead she’s creatively found ways to pair her wines with Mexican, Peruvian, Cuban and even Asian cuisine and has shared her passion of food and wine through her vineyard’s YouTube channel youtube.com/user/cejavine yards) My favorite video on the site? Ceja preparing Mexican pozole, paired with one of her own red blends.
Owner Rolando Herrera immigrated to the US from the Mexican state of Michoachan in 1975. Though he never worked in the fields, he worked odd jobs at wineries until at seventeen, Winemaker Warren Winarski hired him as a harvester on one condition: he’d attend school in the mornings.
After than, Herrara worked ten years as Cellar Master at the famous winery Stags Leap, and became Director of Winemaking at Paul Hobbs Consulting. He started his own winery as a hobby but now sells cases of wine through a wine club, a tasting room, and online sales. In 2001, the White House served his wine at a state dinner honoring then Mexican President Vicente Fox.
5. Fausta Family Vineyards
After spending her childhood playing among the grapevines, Fausta Franco-Guerrero told USA Today that owning her own vineyard was her version of “the American Dream.” She purchased her family’s first piece of land in Sonoma in 2005, and now produces between 1,000 and 1,500 cases wine each year along with her husband, Roy Guerrero. Wine Enthusiast rated their 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 91 points.
Owner Chris Madrigal’s grandfather came to Napa Valley to work the farms and support his family of ten children. Through generations of work passed on through his family, Madrigal has now become one of the Hispanic leaders in the Napa Valley business community. Madrigal Winery now has a wine producing facility and a tasting room and produces over 6,000 cases of wine a year.
7. Gustavo Wine
Gustavo Brambila was one of the first Latino graduates from the University of California Davis oenology program with a degree in Fermentation Sciences. He immigrated with his family to Napa Valley from Jalisco, Mexico at age three, where his father started working as a migrant vineyard worker and then became a mechanic. After Gustavo graduated college, he joined Mike Grgich to open Grgich Hills Cellars in 1977 and made wines there for 23 years. He produced his first wine under his own label in 1996.
8. Cesar Toxqui Cellars
Cesar moved to Mendocino County from Mexico when he was sixteen and started working in the fields at Fetzer Vineyards. He later worked as a Cellar Master for Brutocao Cellars while attending school on evenings and weekends. He wrote his senior thesis on organically grown grapes.
The Enriquez family immigrated to the US from Mexico and accomplished the classic American Dream: father Francisco become the first minority Chief of Surgery in the South New Jersey area, son Eduardo served as president of several medical societies and founded the 1st Community National Bank, daughter Cecilia graduated from Boston University and worked in finance with Wells Fargo.
But when Cecilia found her career unfulfilling and lacking the passion she remembered from her childhood, she moved to Petaluma to begin running a family vineyard. She now lives on the property, producing high-quality Pinot Noirs.
In Oregon, Jesus Guillen is said to be the only Mexican-American wine maker in the state. He received a college degree in computer systems engineering, but ended up crossing the border and laboring in vineyards when he came to the States. He became the head wine maker at White Rose in 2008 and in April of 2013, he launched Guillén Family Wines where he sells wine to a mailing list of customers.
- Vino Latino USA- Owner Ramon began the organization after visiting wineries owned by Latinos (like Ceja and Robledo) yet noticing that there were few Latinos in the tasting room. The organization offers wine tours, an online wine club, and an in-home wine tasting program called “Vino With Amigos” where they bring customers wine from four different Latino owned wineries (specifically paired to the dinner you’re serving).
- Alex Sotelo Cellars
- Delgadillo Cellars
- Maritas Vineyard
- Renteria Wines
- Voces Wine