It’s Time for Wine: Napa Valley Mexican-American Vintners Association

A Historic Day with the Napa Valley Mexican-American Vintners Association

By Monty and Sara Preiser

About three years ago we wrote a column about our attendance at the (then) new African American Vintners Association. Afterward, we penned an introduction that is as relevant today as it was then:

There is a cultural phenomenon that only occurs in the United States. It is the rise of different ethnic groups from hard times to the top of their professions. Witness the chronological rise as a people of the Irish, the Jews, the African Americans, and the Hispanics/Latinos. Perhaps this postulate is best illustrated in politics, entertainment (especially comedy), and in certain sports that have been around for a hundred years or better.

Take, for example, the champions of the welterweight division of professional boxing. From Irish Mickey Walker in the 1920’s, to Jewish Jackie Fields in the 30’s, to African American Sugar Ray Robinson in the 40’s and 50’s, to Hispanic Ricardo Mayorga in this decade, these men are representative of their brethren striving upwards, and succeeding, in our society.

In California, one sees to some degree the same evolution in the wine industry. Started by (and still major players) the Italians and the Germans, in the middle of the 20th century the Anglo majority set down roots. It was not long afterwards that the Jewish community began to expand its mercantile expertise to wine and has, for a number of years, been an important part of the industry. More recently, African Americans and Hispanics are flexing their advancements in education, business, and finance, and transferring those successes to the production and sale of quality wines.

And we concluded:

The rise of the Mexican-Americans from indispensable vineyard workers to noted vintners and winemakers mirrors the advancement of the African-Americans and Jews. We anxiously await word of (and in invitation to) wine events sponsored by the Hispanic community, whether it be through the vintners in Napa Valley, Vino con Vida (a wine education company that celebrates Latino flavors and people in the culinary and winemaking world), or some other organization.

Yesterday our anticipation ended as we attended an event hosted by the newly constituted Napa Valley Mexican-American Vintners Association, an organization created to serve as a collective marketing vehicle, as well as to be a source of motivation and support for future generations of aspiring Mexican-American winemakers and winery professionals. The classy kick-off event was named Bautizo (Christening Party), and it mirrored the gentility and talent of the Latino vintners and winemakers themselves. For over three highly enjoyable hours we tasted some beautifully crafted wines, snacked on Mexican inspired food prepared by some of the leading Hispanic chefs in the Valley, spoke with those who shepherded the Association into existence, and educated ourselves about the group’s purpose.

As our long time friend Rolando Herrera, President of NVMAVA and owner of Mi Sueno Winery, explained:

“From its inception we felt that we owe it to our community, our heritage, and most importantly, to our ancestors whose strong work ethic and sacrifices laid the foundation for our own success. Through our collective and united efforts we will strive to nurture and support future generations of Latino growers, vintners and executives.”

Rolando’s thoughts were echoed by one of the most recognized Mexican American vintners in the world, Amelia Ceja, and she then added, “We, the Latino vintners, are all friends, and just as Robert Mondavi urged of his colleagues 50 years ago, when we share with each other we spread the enjoyment of wine to all.”

It is most unusual to attend a tasting of 20 – 30 wines and not find at least a few that are, as we like to say, not ready for prime time. But that was not the case at this function. Without exception, each wine poured was reflective of its terroir, well balanced, and characteristically correct. However, where the wines really shined was in their exhibition of fruit. When we say this we are not implying at all that they were “fruity” wines, but that we found the grapes to be so well nurtured in the vineyard that they allowed for various uses of oak, differing aging times, immediate drinkability, and, ironically, long term aging.

Winery members of the new group that were pouring such excellent wines included Alex Sotelo Cellars, Ceja Vineyards, Delgadillo Cellars, Encanto Vineyards, Maldonado Vineyards, Mi Sueno Winery, Solovino, and Robledo Family Winery.

It is an old axiom in Napa (and probably throughout the wine growing world) that good wines start in the vineyard. In other words, without grapes (universally referred to as “fruit” in the industry) of high quality, one cannot make a concomitantly high quality wine no matter how much of a super star the winemaker might be. Sort of like the Chicago Bulls in their glory years. Phil Jackson might have been the maker of a team, but without a nucleus of players such as Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippin to work around, Jackson would have produced only something average. The same holds true in the wine industry.

Where we are heading is to the inescapable conclusion that the Latino farm and vineyard workers have been, and still are, the backbone of the wine industry. Because their experience in the fields is second to none as a group, it should come as no surprise that the vineyards owned or farmed by the vintners comprising the NVMAVA are some of the best.

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It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November.  Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.