Since the 1950s, migrant families from Mexico have played a vital role in the California wine industry—planting, caring for, and harvesting grapes, and supplying labor in the vineyards, crush pads, and cellars. By the 1990s, several of these families had made the move from winery laborers to winemakers and vineyard owners. Their sense of cultural identity and traditions brought from various regions in Mexico have shaped their winemaking. Their stories of migration, hard work, and successes embody the American dream.
We all participated in that growth, all my family. . .
The community was small when we came here. . . . The attitude had changed . . . it wasn’t about, I’m just a cellar rat. . . . What they were doing really did matter. So there was more pride in their work.
This microscope led Gustavo Brambila—the son of a former bracero (guest worker from Mexico)—to the science of winemaking. As a boy he examined wine and grape juice under its lens. He went on to study winemaking at UC Davis. He worked with winemaker Mike Grgich before starting his own winery in 1999.
[S]o the whole family unit comes to the Napa Valley, goes out and harvest first thing in the morning. . . . [T]he family’s work ethic, speed, and technique were so impressive to this individual that he decided to hire a lot of my uncles, my father included, for full time work here in the Napa Valley.
—Alejandro Castillo Llamas
I was the daughter of a farm worker. . . . I did work under the United Farm Workers Union and it was awesome because it really gave the workers some power. You know, unity is power.
A new era
By the 2000s, the number of wineries owned and operated by Latino families was increasing. The Ceja family, the Herrera brothers—Rolando and Ricardo—and Mario Bazán, all in Napa, and Ulises Valdez in Sonoma produce and market wines in ways that celebrate their Mexican heritage.