Meet the Latino winemakers making a splash in Sonoma County
September signals a unique time of the year in Wine Country: harvest. Warm days linger to produce juicy and robust grapes that will be crushed into barrels to produce remarkable wines. Latinos play a vital role in keeping the wine industry moving in the region, from planting, growing and picking grapes to involvement in the actual process of making the wine. Among the Latinos who have come of age working in the wine industry, some of them have moved into management and ownership. Here are some Latino winemakers and wineries that are making a splash in Sonoma County.
Robledo Family Winery
The Robledo Family has a long history in Sonoma County. Reynaldo Robledo immigrated to the Napa Valley from Michoacán, Mexico, at the age of 16, where he began working in the vineyards. After three decades of developing his skills and knowledge in the industry, he created Robledo Vineyard Management in 1996. They now own about 400 acres across Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties.
In October 2003, they opened the first winery established by a former Mexican migrant worker. The winery has become a family business, Robledo's son, Everardo, is the current winemaker and CEO.
“I grew up in the business, and there are so many things I love about it,” said Everardo Robledo. “I love being in touch with the grapes, how they evolve into wine and the experience of watching people enjoy the wine we make.”
The Robledo Family Winery has become well-known in the community for hosting festive parties on their property, including their annual Cinco de Mayo celebration. As a Latino winemaker, Robledo has never felt inhibited by his heritage.
“If anything, it makes me want to do better,” he said. It has allowed him to thrive in the field by “speaking the language, knowing the culture and understanding the struggle of being in a country where you don't speak the language,” he said.
Leading an established winery comes with difficulties as well. There is “a lot of hard work, time and money” that goes into having a business in this industry. For those who want to enter the wine industry, he advises they “understand the way the business works and have a good work ethic.”
The winery has created a wide variety of wines including merlot, cabernet sauvignon, rosé, pinot noir, sparkling wines, chardonnay and ports. They are particularly known for their sauvignon blanc. Their 2016 Robledo Sauvignon Blanc is a great wine to try. The tasting room at Robledo Family Winery is open seven days a week. To set an appointment, call 888-939-6903. robledofamilywinery.com. 21901 Bonness Road, Sonoma. 707-939-6903.
For Alberto and Dina Lopez, their love of wine is a team effort.
Their vineyards namesake is a combination of their respective names, creating Aldina Vineyards. The Lopez previously worked in design and publishing, eventually becoming owners of the well-known Lowrider Magazine. After selling the magazine, they relocated to Sonoma County in 1998, where Alberto established a 4-acre vineyard on his property and began his venture into winemaking.
“When we came up here, bought the ranch and planted the vineyards, it was all a very romantic idea,” said Alberto Lopez.
He quickly realized he needed to learn more about winemaking and enrolled in the viticulture program at Santa Rosa Junior College. There, his passion for wine flourished.
In 2012, the Lopez family created their wine label and the rest is history. Aldina Vineyards is a family affair, with their children, Francisco and Monica Lopez, currently managing the vineyards.
“I'm glad that Monica and Francisco also got the bug and are expanding the business for us,” said Lopez.
As a Latino in the wine industry, Lopez has never felt held back by his heritage.
“Throughout by entire career, I have never felt hindered by being Latino,” he said. “My philosophy is to do the best and try to produce the best quality wine. Everything we do, we try to do the best we can.” He noted that he has seen Latinos contributing to all facets of the wine industry, including winemaking, distribution and advertising.
Monica Lopez, his daughter, advises those who want to work in the industry to continue with higher learning and to speak up for themselves.
“You must be your own advocate and insert yourself in the positions you want,” she said.
As for Alberto, he advises that they enter the field, “prepared” and with their “head held up high.”
While known for its cabernet sauvignon, the brand has dabbled with other grapes, creating a rosé and chardonnay in 2018. Their 2014 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon is a great wine to taste. The vineyard plans to open a tasting room in Healdsburg, with a target date in 2020. They currently host events on their property and are available for private tastings by appointment. For more information on tastings, email firstname.lastname@example.org, 830 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa. 707-799-1821.