FOOD: Transforming the American Table

La Familia

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. . .

—Everardo Robledo

Winery family, 2010

Winery family, 2010

Courtesy of AP Images

Reynaldo Robledo with sons Everardo, Lazaro, and Jenaro

Budding box

Oscar Robledo carried budwood, tools, and supplies in this box to graft grapevines in the field.  He worked in the family’s vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, and Lake County.

Gift of Robledo Family Winery, through Everado Robledo, CEO

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Hat

Hat

Reynaldo Robledo’s cowboy hat signifies his history as a former cattleman, and his current status as a landholder and winery owner.

Loan from Reynaldo Robledo

Chair, about 2000

Reynaldo Robledo’s tasting room in Sonoma is filled with family photos and history. The furniture was crafted in the family’s ancestral home of Michoacán, Mexico, and features the Robledo logo of grapes set into a horseshoe—a sign of his former life as a cowboy.

Gift of Robledo Family Winery, through Everado Robledo, CEO

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Label, about 2006

Label, about 2006

Pride in his family’s history is reflected in the names of Robledo’s wines: “Seven Brothers” Sauvignon Blanc (after his seven sons) and “Los Braceros Red Blend” in honor of his father and others who had worked in the contract Bracero Program in the 1950s and 1960s.

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.
—Gustavo Brambila

Gustavo Brambila looking through a refractometer to determine the sugar content in grape juice, around 1980

Gustavo Brambila looking through a refractometer to determine the sugar content in grape juice, around 1980

Courtesy of Gustavo Brambila

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.

Microscope, around 1970

Gift of Gustavo Brambila

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[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 

Alex Llamas and family sorting grapes, around 2015

Alex Llamas and family sorting grapes, around 2015

Courtesy of Alejandro Castillo Llamas

 

 

Branding iron, around 1950

Gift of Alejandro Castillo Llamas

Alex Llamas, the son of migrant farm workers, arrived in Napa in the 1980s as a young boy. The branding iron in the shape of a scorpion belonged to his grandfather, who had a cattle ranch in Mexico. Llamas used the brand as a design on his wine labels, honoring his Mexican roots.

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Cap, around 2016

Gift of Alejandro Castillo Llamas

A baseball cap with the scorpion logo of the Llamas family winery.

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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.
—Amelia Ceja

Amelia and Belen Ceja at Heirs of My Dream Winery, 2017

Amelia and Belen Ceja at Heirs of My Dream Winery, 2017

Shawl or rebozo, 1980s

Gift of Amelia Ceja

Winemaker Amelia Ceja acquired this shawl or rebozo in Mexico in the 1970s. She used it to carry her small children around or to set out food for her family working in the vineyard. The shawl connected her Mexican culture with her family and the land they worked in California.

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Poster, around 2004

Gift of Ceja Vineyards

Poster for Macy’s Flower show that featured a cooking demonstration by Amelia Ceja. Ceja uses her cooking skills to teach about Mexican food that pairs with her wines.

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Sunset Pictorial Magazine, 1973

Sunset Pictorial Magazine, 1973

Enrique Segura and Oscar De Haro at the Charles Krug Winery in 1973. The Segura and De Haro families were among the first Mexican families to settle and work in the wine industry after the World War II-era Bracero Program

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.