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Six Latinx Experts Changing the Face of American Wine

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The North American wine business has been indelibly shaped by global influences, much of it linked to the contribution of Latinx and Hispanic hands and minds.

With ties to the earliest years of grape growing in the U.S., these communities have shaped the landscape of the bottles we enjoy. These are the people woven through a viticultural history that extends through statehood, the Mexican Revolution, Prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II.

These six industry experts talk about the best parts of their jobs and offer advice for young people seeking a future in the wine business.

Man kneeling in vineyard, looking at baby grapes
Rolando Herrera of Mi Sueño Winery / Photo by Rocco Ceselin

Rolando Herrera

Co-founder/winemaker, Mi Sueño Winery
Napa, California

Rolando Herrera and his wife, Lorena, started Mi Sueño Winery in 1997. They came up with the name together, which is Spanish for “my dream.”

“As a Mexican immigrant with agricultural roots, I started here in the Napa Valley as a dishwasher, yet my passion for farming never wavered and I transitioned to wine in the 1980s,” says Herrera. “I’m in my 33rd harvest this year and I can still say I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

The parents of six children, Rolando says it’s fulfilling to share his wine and conversation around the family table and then bring the kids to the winery on the weekend, “so they can see what papa and mama do for work.”

The best part of his job? The freedom to manage their own vineyards and wines. “The opportunity to be totally free and creative, both in the cellar and in the vineyard, is my favorite part of the job,” says Herrera. “We are proud of the wines we create because they are 100% our own, and not to benefit any corporation or investor’s bottom line. Getting to share this love and pride in what we do with our employees, our friends, and our family is priceless.”

Woman and husky at end of a vineyard row
Elena Rodriguez / Photo courtesy of Alumbra Cellars

Elena Rodriguez

Owner/president, Alumbra Cellars
Dayton, Oregon

Rodriguez’s father, Baudelio, planted the vineyard in 2005, but Elena took it to the next level with the creation of a brand that shares her family story through wine. Alumbra Cellars, which launched earlier this year, is the newest Latina label in Yamhill County. Rodriguez says that being a young business owner requires commitment and an important path to growth is learning from others in the industry.

“I hope that Alumbra brings more Latinos into the wine community, and wine industry as well,” she says. “Wine is a story that begins from the workers out in the vineyard to the tasting room. When we share our wine, I share our story. And when we take the time to listen to a story, it brings families, friends and communities together.”

The best part of her job? “I get to wake up and walk the vineyard with my dogs as my first task of the day,” she says. “[That] really doesn’t get any better. I grew up on a farm, and I appreciate the outdoors, especially growing up in Oregon. Being able to be outside for most of my job is the best part for me.”

Rolando Sanchez

General manager, Walsh Vineyards Management
Napa, California

Sanchez is inspired to match young people with opportunities in the wine industry. To develop the next generation is a priority for Sanchez, who’s on the education committee for the Napa Valley Grapegrowers’ Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation.

“It’s important that the children in our high schools know that we are genuinely interested and looking for bright, young, hardworking and positive-minded people,” says Sanchez. “It’s good for students to have a direct connection to growers, wineries and other businesses within the wine and vineyard industries, and to see a broad, in-depth look at many career opportunities.”

Sanchez is a second-generation employee at Walsh Vineyards Management. His father, Manuel, started there at 18 when the business was in its early stages. Sanchez says he loved the way the company treated their employees and was happy to be offered a job immediately after college. This path isn’t uncommon.
“We have former employees’ children that have graduated from prestigious universities, wanting to come back and be a part of something their father and mother helped create,” he says.

The best part of his job? “I have worked my way up to a point where I now get to manage how and when the company expands,” says Sanchez. “If you had asked me at 18 years of age, I never would have imagined that I would be helping run one of Napa’s largest and most successful companies.”

Black and white image of woman looking at machinery
Aurora Cória of Cória Estates / Photo by Tyler Mead

Aurora Cória

Winemaker, Cória Estates
Salem, Oregon

Cória has been called “Jill of all trades” at her family winery, where life as winemaker can be “beautiful chaos.” Still, she says the crux of her job isn’t simply about the many tasks in her job description. Instead, it’s to make a product that represents her voice.

Cória says that to work with family is a blessing. As a winemaker, she says, “it is your responsibility to share the history and story behind each wine you create.” A big part of her history includes the knowledge she acquired from her parents, Luis & Janice Cória, who planted the estate vineyard in 1999.

“Luis, my father, has more than a green thumb,” she says. “He has an innate sense of what plants need to thrive and has been farming since he was a little boy in Mexico. Now, years later, our vineyard has thrived because of this intuition in agriculture.”

The best part of her job? “Watching someone fall in love with your wine. To see the expression on their face when they taste a sip of your Pinot Noir is priceless. I think to myself, ‘Wow! I helped create that!’ It is humbling, enriching and always makes me want to work harder to keep creating those happy moments.”

Woman standing in front of stainless steel tanks
Janet Llamas of Lede Family Wines / Photo by Madison Scarlata

Janet Llamas

Director of finance, Lede Family Wines and Poetry Inn
Yountville, California

Llamas supports all departments of Lede Family Wines’ multi-brand portfolio including Poetry Inn. That means her daily interactions vary, depending on who needs her expertise. She’s built her resume at Clos du Val Winery and a previous stint at Lede, as well as spending almost a decade in public accounting.

“My father, Esteban Llamas, helped develop Stagecoach Vineyards,” she says. “My sister and I spent a few summers working in the vineyard. Very hard work.”

She always liked numbers, even back to childhood when her favorite toy was a cash register. The challenge to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is the most fulfilling reward of her work.

“After becoming fully licensed, I remember framing my certificate, and my daughter, Valeria, was beyond proud of me…it was priceless,” she says.

“I was the first person in my family to go to college, and I haven’t seen many other Latinos in finance,” says Llamas. “If you’re not exposed to it, how would you ever know? Maybe if they see someone like me in finance, they’ll think, ‘If this person can do it, then so can I.’ ”

The best part of her job? “Personally, I enjoy the relationships that I have developed with all the different people that I’ve worked with. We spend so much time at work that I consider them my work family. Some days are good and some days can be more challenging, but I always remind myself that all experiences give us growth in our jobs and in our personal lives.”

Man sniffing red wine
Adolfo Hernandez / Photo courtesy of Benovia Winery

Adolfo Hernandez

Associate winemaker, Benovia Winery
Santa Rosa, California

Hernandez is a trained chemist with a rich background of work at small-production wineries before landing at Benovia Winery. “Choosing winemaking as a career is probably the most complete profession you can have,” he says. “It’s physical, scientific, tasty and so expansive.”

In addition to his passion for wine, he’s also a professional pianist. Hernandez says that wines benefit from a “positive and beautiful environment.”

Hernandez recalls an afternoon spent with Jean-Michel Comme at Pontet-Canet in Bordeaux.

“He stressed how vineyards and wineries should exude and reflect holistic and altruistic practices, and I was admittedly skeptical about many of his applications,” says Hernandez. “Towards the end of the tour and discussion, we tasted the wine. It was one of the purest, most vibrant and harmoniously complex wines I have ever tasted. It exemplified everything he talked about and absolutely changed my perspective.”

The best part of his job? To taste a newly assembled wine right after racking.

“At Benovia, we have three sustainably and organically farmed estate vineyards throughout Sonoma County, so we have some wonderful options for blending,” says Hernandez. “Of course, we’ve already tasted what the blend should be after doing our tasting trials, but experiencing it for the first time right when it’s been brought together is so marvelous.”