'I Like Old Vineyards,' Says Miguel Luna, Viticulturalist of the Year | Wine Enthusiast's 2020 Wine Star Awards | Wine Enthusiast
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‘I Like Old Vineyards,’ Says Miguel Luna, Viticulturalist of the Year | Wine Enthusiast’s 2020 Wine Star Awards

Partner, Silverado Farming Company

Born in Mexico, Miguel Luna came to the Napa Valley at age 13. His father, Esteban, was an established vineyard worker, having come to the region for seasonal work in 1968.

Now 38 and a father himself, Luna worked his first harvest at 14, removing leaves out of bins picked by his father. Once he turned 16, he did vineyard work on weekends and summers.

“And I hated it,” he remembers.

Two years later, out of high school, he says he wasn’t yet mature enough for college so he kept working. He helped his parents put a younger sibling through college, unmoored and unsure of what he wanted to do.

Soccer had always been a passion of his, and that’s how he met his now-wife, Cassandra Grassi, whose family had a small vineyard in Stags Leap District. Grassi encouraged Luna to go back into wine, highlighting classes in the Napa Valley College schedule until he agreed to go.

For five years he attended junior college and worked harvests at Pahlmeyer, Dana Estates and Atelier Melka.

His goals became to attend University of California, Davis, and work a harvest in France. He achieved both, earning a degree in viticulture and enology in 2014 and then traveling to Bordeaux for harvest at Château de Fieuzal.

Luna joined Silverado Farming Company full-time in 2015 and in 2017 was made a partner.

Today, Luna mentors what he sees as younger versions of himself, encouraging them to pursue formal education.

Miguel Luna with arms folded standing near vineyard
Photo by Suzanne Becker Bronk

“As a Mexican-American it is hard to be taken seriously without a degree,” he says. “I tell them how important it is. I’ve now mentored two guys whose dads worked for Silverado Farming and they have both graduated from Davis.”

Silverado employs 90 full-time workers and 300 to 400 seasonal workers every year to farm more than 600 acres of wine grapes, mostly within the Napa Valley. Its clients include Melka Estates, Vineyard 29, Brand Napa Valley, Dana Estates, Lail Vineyards, Black Sears and Bart and Daphne Araujo.

Luna is working hard to make his vineyards herbicide-free, concerned not just about the health of the soils, but the health of his employees.

“I like old vineyards,” Luna says. “I look for ways to keep vines going as long as possible and to minimize our impact on the environment with holistic farming. You need healthier soils to get healthier vines.”

But what makes Luna such an exceptional viticulturalist is his deep understanding of winemaking.

“You cannot separate grapegrowing from making wine,” he notes. “Having good knowledge of how the winemaking process works makes better wine; you need to know what the impact of every decision is going to be.”

In recognition of his mentorship and commitment to the highest level of grape growing, Wine Enthusiast names Miguel Luna as its Viticulturalist of the Year. —Virginie Boone

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