The term Wine Country evokes images of moneyed estates and even Hollywood winemakers, but historically, both Napa and Sonoma have been destinations for migrant farmers looking to achieve their version of the American dream—a family-owned, small-batch vineyard and winery.
Since the 1970s, numerous immigrants have made their way here from Mexico to work the land that yields our most prized export (and our favorite way of passing most any weekend), and a handful of those immigrants have worked their way up from harvesting the grapes of others to producing their own wines under labels that honor both their Mexican and American heritages. Celebrate their tenacity and ingenuity this Cinco de Mayo with tastings and holiday parties at Napa and Sonoma's Mexican-American-owned wineries.
Mi Sueño Winery: A Dream "Side Project" With Presidential Pedigree
Winemaker Rolando Herrera among the vineyards at Mi Sueño Winery.
(Courtesy of Mi Sueño)
At the age of 15, Roland Herrera left his home in Michoacán, Mexico for a shot at the American dream in the Napa Valley. Beginning as a humble harvest laborer for Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, over the years Herrera clawed his way up the winemaker's chain, from cellar master to assistant winemaker at Chateau Potelle to winemaker at Vine Cliff Winery. In 1997, newlywed Herrera and his wife, Lorena, began Mi Sueño Winery (Spanish for "my dream") as a "side project." Within two years, Mi Sueño's chardonnay was making its debut at the White House, served for a state dinner in honor of then-Mexican-President Vicente Fox.
It was Mi Sueño's first brush with Washington, but not its last: Herrera's Russian River Pinot Noir and Herrera Rebecca Cabernet Sauvignon have graced the wine glasses of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Now, 22 years after their side project began, Mi Sueño has expanded its portfolio to produce bold, balanced tempranillos, juicy chardonnays, and elegant pinot noirs, among others. At their seated tastings, held in a Spanish Colonial–style space of dark hardwood and red accents among the wine casks of the winery's cellar, Mi Sueño pours five current releases ($40-$60/person, depending on the tasting you select) like the rich 2015 Napa Valley Syrah, with its flavors of vanilla and spice. Although tastings at the winery are only available Monday through Saturday by reservation, Mi Sueño is holding a Cinco de Mayo party on Saturday, May 4th for their club members, complete with mariachi music and Mexican food.
Their standalone tasting room at Vista Collina Resort (850 Bordeaux Way, Napa), an elegant chandelier-lit salon with a marble-topped wine bar and comfortable back patio with seating arranged around a stone fireplace, is open daily from 11am to 7pm.
// Mi Sueño Winery, 910 Enterprise Way (Napa), misuenowinery.com
Ceja Vineyards: A family of Mexican immigrants lives the American dream
Cofounder Pedro Ceja with his wife, Amelia, celebrating his birthday at the vineyard.
(Courtesy of @cejavineyards)
Thirty-six years ago, Pablo and Juanita Ceja, the Mexican immigrant patriarch and matriarch of a brood of 10, pooled their resources with their two grown sons, Pedro and Armando, to purchase 15 acres in Napa's Carneros region. The family began with pinot noir and celebrated their first harvest in 1988. Today, their vineyards have grown to include 113 acres of pinot, cab, chardonnay, and merlot spread across Napa and Sonoma.
At the Ceja winery, the family pours from their portfolio on an outdoor patio with a bocce ball court amongst the vines (an indoor space serves when the weather is poor). Both here and at their downtown Sonoma wine salon, tastings include vintages like the 2016 Sonoma Coast Sauvignon Blanc, crisp with classic citrus blossom and green apple notes, and the 2012 Carneros Pinot Noir from the Ceja's original vineyard, a fresh and floral vintage with aromas of red plum, black cherry and hibiscus. Both tasting rooms are open 11am to 5pm Friday through Sunday and, while reservations are recommended, walk-ins are welcome.
// Ceja Vineyards, 22989 Burndale Rd. (Sonoma), cejavineyards.com
Robledo Family Winery: From Michoacán to Napa Valley, with international acclaim
Reynaldo Robledo immigrated from Michoacán, Mexico and worked for 30 years in Napa Valley vineyards before starting his family's namesake winery.
(Courtesy of @robledofamilywinery)
Reynaldo Robledo had never seen a vineyard before he showed up for his first day of pruning at a Napa Valley operation. Just a teenager when he left Michoacán in Mexico for Northern California, Robledo went on to spend the next three decades among the vines, eventually establishing his own vineyard management company for Napa Valley wineries in the mid-1990s. Little-by-little, the vineyard whiz purchased his own property—more than 350 acres across Sonoma, Napa, and Lake Counties—and opened Robledo Winery in 2003.
Among their extensive portfolio, Robledo produces cab, merlot, tempranillo, sauvignon blanc, riesling, and even a cuvée brut, many of which have won awards in international wine competition and from the San Francisco Chronicle. Tastings at the Spanish Colonial–style winery in Sonoma include six estate wines ($20-$25 each) like the 2014 "El Rey" Cabernet Sauvignon Red Hills, a medium-bodied, balanced wine with aromas of currant, blackberry, and spice with a velvety finish. The tasting room is open daily from 10am to 5pm (11am to 4pm on Sunday). On May 4th, the family will hold their annual Cinco de Mayo celebration, a party that will include traditional Mexican dance, mariachi music, and authentic Mexican food ($55/ members; $65/non-members).
// Robledo Family Vineyards, 21901 Bonness Rd (Sonoma), robledofamilywinery.com
Maldonado Vineyards: Father/son farmers make affordable wines in Carneros and Calistoga
Lupe and Hugo Maldonado at Maldonado Vineyards.
(Courtesy of Maldonado)
This Napa Valley winery began with Lupe Maldonado, another immigrant from Michoacán, Mexico, who purchased 10 acres of land in Jamieson Canyon after years working the vineyards of others. After attending U.C. Davis' acclaimed program in viticulture and enology, Lupe's son, Hugo, joined the operation. For the last 20 years, they've farmed the original plot of Carneros land, built a wine cave, and overseen winemaking at Maldonado together.
At their humble tasting room in downtown Calistoga, the Maldonado family pours tastes from their eponymous Maldonado and Farm Worker labels, like the ultra-affordable Farm Worker Chardonnay, a refreshing, dry wine with aromas of nectarine and asian pear. Their modest variety of cabernets, pinots, and zinfandels, including the 2012 Napa Valley Zinfandel—a rich red with blackberry and black pepper notes—hail from vineyards around the region. The winery is open for walk-in tastings daily ($10) from 11am to 6pm, but call ahead on weekdays to make sure their small staff will be available to host you.
// Maldonado Vineyards tasting room, 1307 Lincoln St. (Calistoga), maldonadovineyards.com