Sam Parra believes he was destined to work in wine.
“I was born and raised in Napa Valley, and both sets of my grandparents came from Mexico to work through the bracero program,” he says of the 1942 farm labor agreements between Mexico and the United States. One of his grandfathers spent his entire, 37-year career working with Beringer in St. Helena, California.
Parra left Napa to pursue his own wine career in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 2016. “I always had a dream to have a brand,” he says, and found that Oregon was more affordable than California. In 2019, he launched Parra Wine Co., a boutique label of small-production, single-vineyard wines made from grapes he sources across Oregon.
He recently cofounded the nonprofit organization AHIVOY (Asociación Hispana de la Industria del Vino en Oregon y Comunidad). It’s dedicated to amplifying the skills and careers of vineyard workers, who Parra calls “vineyard stewards” to highlight their expertise.
“Vineyard workers as a whole don’t get enough credit for the hard work they do.” —Sam Parra, Parra Wine Co.
“There’s so much backbreaking work in wine,” he says, and suggests that anyone who wants to understand the industry work at least one harvest. “Find out the nuts and bolts of winemaking as a harvest intern,” he says. “Dive in and do the work.”
Here, the industrious entrepreneur shares details about AHIVOY, what he wished he’d known earlier in his career and more.
What do you wish you knew when you started working in the industry?
I wish I had been the one to invent apps or companies like Vivino or Cellar Tracker when I first started in the industry, since I started in 1999 when apps weren’t in existence!
What do you think people misunderstand about Oregon wine?
I feel that a lot of consumers across the U.S. misunderstand that the whole state of Oregon isn’t the Willamette Valley, since many brands in the Rogue or Umpqua Valleys don’t have a national distribution presence. Consumers miss out on the Southern Oregon varietals such as Syrah, Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier.
Also, [I’ve noticed] from traveling in the U.S. that you find the same common varieties from the Willamette Valley [available]—Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris—since the large companies that have national distribution concentrate so much on these varietals.
You have done a lot to educate and empower up and coming wine professionals in Oregon. What can you tell me about AHIVOY?
The Asociación Hispana de la Industria del Vino en Oregon y Comunidad (AHIVOY) provides education and professional development opportunities to vineyard workers in the Oregon wine industry. In partnership with Chemeketa Community College and Linfield University, we have developed a wine industry professional training curriculum to further technical grape and wine knowledge while also creating awareness of potential career, entrepreneurial and leadership opportunities in the wine industry.
This English-immersion program has been designed to expand opportunities in the wine industry, serving as a potential pathway to credit programs throughout the state at institutions serving the wine industry, like Chemeketa, Linfield, Umpqua and Oregon State.
Who’s the most underrated person in the drinks business?
My friend Jose Gonzalez of La Familia Cider in Salem, Oregon, makes Latin-inspired ciders with jamaica, tamarindo and more.
I also think vineyard workers as a whole don’t get enough credit for the hard work they do. For example, many wineries on social media show [photos of] the winemakers, company member bios and…tourists having a great time. We don’t see brands showing the vineyard side as much.
The nonprofit I am cochair of, AHIVOY, empowers vineyard workers [and calls them] vineyard stewards. We encourage others to show their highly skilled viticulture staffs with the hashtag, #vineyardstewards.
You’re at a dive bar. What do you order?
Gin and tonic.
Published: February 15, 2022