Mexican-American California wine producers

From left, Ellie and Dalia Ceja of Ceja Vineyards.

You don’t need to wait for Cinco de Mayo to celebrate with wines produced by Mexican-American vinters in California. The recent tasting at The Mexican Museum in Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, showcased wines from 12 wineries. Not only are the wines excellent, but the winemakers have heartwarming stories to tell about their journey from migrant workers to winery owners.

Amelia Morán Ceja is the first Mexican-American woman to be president of a California winery. She co-founded Ceja Vineyards in 1999 with husband Pedro and his brother Armando, the winemaker. From the grapes sourced from 150 acres in Napa and Sonoma, Ceja Vineyards focuses on creating perfectly balanced wines including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Not only are the wines excellent, but the winemakers have heartwarming stories to tell about their journey from migrant workers to winery owners.

I tasted the 2012 Vino de Casa Red Blend with 70 percent Pinot Noir, 20 percent Syrah and 10 percent Merlot. It had all the aroma you’d expect from these varietals: cherry, spice, plum, dark fruit and on the palate a blueberry and cedar. This medium-bodied wine sells for $30 a bottle; and is 13.6 percent alcohol. The vineyard is in Napa and a tasting room is in Sonoma. | cejavineyards.com

From left, Alfonso and Nereida Elena of Jose Wine Caves

Jose Wine Caves in Coloma in the Sierra Foothills is easy to visit from Tahoe and sits on a lovely hilltop location. When you visit, you’ll likely meet winemaker Alfonso Elena, who has been working with grapes since 1975 when he came to California from Tonalà, Oaxaca, Mexico. After years in Napa, he bought land in El Dorado County and started to slowly create vineyards. The steep slopes of the vineyard mean that all work is done by hand. In 2013, Elena opened and named his winery in memorial to his brother Jose.

Today, winemaker Elena produces 900 cases of wines made in the most natural way possible. The eight varietals produced include Zinfandel, Petit Verdot and the only Aglianico grown in El Dorado County. I tasted the 2012 Zinfandel, which is $22 a bottle and 14.2 percent alcohol, and found it juicy and fresh. In keeping with Elena’s philosophy of natural, this wine is produced with a minimum amount of sulfites. | josewinecaves.com

From left, Everado and Nadine Robledo of Robledo Family Winery

Everardo Robledo, CEO and winemaker of Robledo Family Winery, is the son of Reynaldo Robledo, who, in 2003, was the first Mexican-American migrant worker in California to open his own tasting room. The oldest of 13 children, Reynaldo purchased 13 acres in Carneros: a junkyard no one else wanted. He cleaned it up and planted vines. Today, the winery uses grapes from 350 acres in Carneros and Lake County that they own or lease.

I tasted their Robledo Sauvignon Blanc, produced from Lake County grapes and think it is a great summer wine. It is crisp and clean for $22 a bottle. You can taste at their Sonoma winery, which is open seven days a week. | robledofamilywinery.com

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Barbara Keck
Barbara started writing for newspapers when she was 14 and continues to write, most recently the “Wineries of the Sierra Foothills” book published by Range of Light Media, parent company of The Tahoe Weekly. Barbara wrote the wine column for the Weekly for many years, and contributes occasional tidbits on tourism and entertainment topics. A long marketing consulting career that included extensive international travel led her to conclude that Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Almost 20 years of enjoying the seasons on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe has confirmed her belief.