For years, I’ve been wandering through California’s wine county, privileged to hear riveting stories about the diverse paths that have brought winery owners and winemakers to where they are today. I recently came across two particularly inspiring family stories I want to share with you.
The Cejas have made the impressive journey from working the vines to running businesses in a single generation. Amelia Moran Ceja’s parents emigrated from Mexico. in pursuit of a better life, and worked the vines in Napa Valley. There, Amelia helped her parents picking grapes before she was a teenager. It’s also on the vineyards where she met her future husband, Pedro Ceja. The two learned everything they could about the wine industry literally from the ground up. Flash forward, and this family has launched an expanding dynasty that blazed trails for Latinos in the wine trade.
Ceja Vineyards launched in the Carneros area of Napa by Amelia, Pedro, and his brother Armando in 1999. Amelia became the first Latina vintner in California when named President of the vineyard. Armando has earned respect as a talented winemaker. Daugher Dalia heads marketing and sales for Ceja Vineyards Son and entrepreneur Ariel Ceja created the much-respected contemporary Latin American restaurant Bistro Sabor, which is currently seeking a new location. The Ceja family also runs a wine tasting room in downtown Napa.
Another such impressive family story comes from the Gallegos family. In August, three generations of this Napa Valley family announced the launch of a new line of family-made wines. The creation of their own limited-production wines is a celebrated next step on a path that started in 1956 when family patriarch Ignacio Gallegos came to St. Helena and the art of grape cultivation. Ignacio Jr., taught by his father, earned his own stripes for managing premier Napa Valley vineyards since 1976. Ignacio Jr. passed on the passion and knowledge to sons Ignacio III and Eric, who joined the family business when settling into careers.
The new venture encompasses even more family. Uncle Maurillo and cousins Ozzie and Milton provide some of the grapes from the Rancho de Gallegos family estate in the Rutherford Bench area.
The wine list includes a food-friendly 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay, from the Charmer Vineyard planted by Ignacio in 1983. The chardonnay already tastes well, featuring good if lean fruit. I found the 2011 Pinot to be a special wine. Sourced from the Boekenoogen vines, the wine opens with cherry and cranberry aromas, then evolves with olive, fig, blackberry and earthy notes on the palate, and then finishes with velvety tannins and smoky notes. I look forward to trying the Sauvignon Blanc, which will come out in November. I also enjoyed meeting the family’s media contact, Laura Madonna, who is a fellow colleague from the Circle of Wine Writers of the UK, and look forward to following her US adventures.