Category Archive: Wine Education

A Better Understanding of Baja Wines

Posted on June 23, 2016

Baja Wines Uncorked

The first Baja Uncorked went down last week.  Baja what?  Baja Uncorked is the first buyers trip to the Guadalupe Valley put on by La Mision Associates and La Competencia, two distributors of wine from the Guadalupe Valley.  Wineries of Baja invited wine writers, retail shop owners and sommeliers on a three-day journey exploring the wines of the valley.  They were treated to three packed days of seminars, winemaker greet and meets, tastings, winery tours and extraordinary meals.  The wineries presented their valley to a small group of wine professionals in hopes that people will have a better understanding of Baja wines. Today I’d like to fill you with intrigue and shed some of the mystic of Baja  wines.


To really understand Baja, we have to go back and see how it all began.  The first vines in the Americas came by way of Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500’s.  Once their supply of wine ran out, they turned to planting grapes in the Parras Valley in the state of Coahuila in central Mexico.  The first winery was established in 1597 by Lorenzo Garcia called Casa Madero.  The main grape planted in those days was a red grape known today as the Mission grape.  It is said to be the same grape as Listan Negro in Spain, also known as Criolla and Pais in other areas of South America.  This grape made light bodied wines intended for brandy production. Just as Mexico began to produce its own wines, the Spanish crown put an end to it.  The Spanish saw their wine trade suffering, and outlawed Mexico from producing wine.

Casa Madero

Valle de Parras

For many years, the production of wine in Mexico was limited to the missionaries wine for sacramental use.  Two Jesuit “padres”, Juan Uguarte and Junipero Serra made their way into Baja and established the first mission in 1767, in Los Cabos.  These were the first grapes planted in California.  Junipero Serra was tasked to move north and build missions in Alta California while Juan Uguarte built missions in Baja California.

It was not until the 1880’s that Baja built its first commercial winery, Santo Tomas in the Santo Tomas Valley, 30 minutes south of Ensenada. The first European grapes to come into Baja were Grenache and Carignan.  They came to Mexico by way of the Spanish.  During the turn of the century they were the work horses for Baja and Alta California.  It was not until the 1930-40’s when we saw Italian varieties make their way into the valley.  The man responsible was Camilo Magoni, who worked at L.A. Cetto for 50 years.  He was an Italian immigrant from Northern Italy.  Over many years he planted many Italian varieties such as Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Sangiovese and Aglianico.  The challenge he faced was Mexico’s warmer climate and lack of water. It was a very different climate from the mountainous cool region of Piedmont.  Today some of the best single varieties come from these Italian varieties brought by Magoni.

In the 1950-60’s winemakers started to look for fruitier, softer wines that could be enjoyed with pizza and tacos.  They turned to California nurseries and began to plant cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. These Bordeaux blends made more sense in the market place. People had just heard about  the growth in California in the 1970’s.  Their Cabernets and Chardonnays were winning competitions in France, the Mexican winemakers decide to follow in their northern neighbor’s footsteps.  Back then there were just a handful of wineries such as Santo Tomas, L.A.Cetto and Cavas Valmar.  Cavas Valmar was started in 1983 by Fernando Martain.  He worked at Santo Tomas from 1978-84 and worked with the famous André Tchelistcheff.  Fernando has since been a great inspiration and significant part of the Baja wine movement.

Camilo, Zamora, Martian

Laura Zamora (Santo Tomas), Camilo Magoni & Fernando Martain

His friend Hugo Acosta came on the scene in 1988, he too worked at Santo Tomas.  Hugo Acosta studied at the School of Agronomy in Montpelier France and the Agricultural University of Turin.  He returned to the valley and began teaching people how to make wine.  There was plenty of fruit in the valley, but no one outside the major wineries knew what to do with it.  Hugo started “La Escuelita”, a wine making school for the people in the valley.  He has inspired many of the wineries in the valley and has been a crucial part of the valley’s success. Today he is regarded as the godfather of the Guadalupe Valley.  His brother, Alejandro has been an instrumental part as well.  Alejandro is an architect and has built many of the hotels and wineries that dot the valley.  His creative designs give the valley a special character you can find nowhere else.

glasses baja uncorked


The Guadalupe is about 1 1/2 hours south of Tijuana and 20 km east of Ensenada.  It was first settled by Russian colonies. In 1834 missions were built, however; the natives of the valley destroyed the missions and kicked out the missionaries. Today the valley is divided into 3 sections.  The first area is called San Antonio de las Minas and you come across it as soon as you enter the valley driving in from Ensenada.  If you continue on the Highway 3 eastward, you will reach Francisco Zarcos.  To the north is an area called Porvenir.  The wines of Baja California are not all grown in the Guadalupe Valley. There are many more vineyards outside the valley.  40 km to the east on the other side of the mountains is Valle de Ojos Negros.  Ojos Negros is a newer region where we are seeing much experimentation such as plantings of Pinot Noir.  20 km to the south of Ensenada is a small valley, the Uruapan Valley. 40 km south of Ensendada is the Santo Tomas Valley, the first area to plant grapes for wine production.  60 km further south is Valle de San Vicente where many of the grapes are harvested.

The Guadalupe valley is unique in that the soils are granite base with loamy sandy top soil.  Soils are great for drainage and repelling pests. The Valle is surrounded by mountains, blocking off the marine weather and allowing cool breezes to cool the valley at night.  The change in elevations is excellent for planting varieties on valley floors and at higher elevations providing winemakers with different choices.  Today there are about 120 wineries in Baja, and that number is growing everyday.

Guadalupe Valley Map


So why don’t we see more of these wines in the USA?  The first thing we have to understand, is that although grapes have grown in Mexico longer than anywhere else in the America’s, production of wine is fairly recent.  Baja California is still a very young region.  It was not until the 1980’s when we saw an increase in production.  While California was winning awards in Europe, Baja was still trying to figure out what to grow and how.  The Alpha part of the equation is water. There is very little water in the valley.  Low amounts of water limits the amount of wines which can be produced.  Yields are low due to the inability to irrigate.  Lack of water hinders the building and expansion of wine making facilities.

The Omega part of the equation is marketing.  How do they market their wines in the USA if production is so low.  Lower yields means less production and higher prices.  Wineries have to be sustainable, therefore increase prices to cover overhead and production.  The Baja winemakers choose to make wines that are more intense, from lower yields, therefore require a higher price.  This is very difficult for the general consumer to understand.  No one wants to buy expensive wines from an unknown region.  Why should they, there are so many quality wines at lower prices from Argentina, Chile and California.  The Chileans used another model, they bombarded the market with high yields and inexpensive wines.  Today they struggle to get recognized as a premium wine region.  Baja winemakers have decided to approach it differently, and aim for quality versus high yields.

Baja Vineyards

Now let’s say that the Baja wines make a splash in the market place. Let’s say that everyone falls in love with their intensity and flavor.  People start to seek them out and now Baja wineries cannot keep up with the demand. This can have two outcomes.  One, distributors become upset when they cannot fulfill orders to wholesalers and retailers, so they stop importing Mexican wines.  Or two, the wine collector, infatuated with hard to find wines,  will pay premium prices which increase the cost of wines for the public.  The wines become cult like in status.  Unfortunately, the more likely scenario is number one.  Baja wineries first need the importer and distributor to get the wines across the border, so the cult status would be a long ways down the road.


So what is the next step for Baja wines?  Remember, Baja is still very new.  They are sandwiched between veteran producers and consumers of California and South America.  At this time all they can do is grow and learn.  The new generation of winemakers are going outside of “la Escuelita” and learning from other great winemakers in other countries.  While studying abroad and working in other regions they bring back creative ideas on how to deal with their issues in Baja.  Baja already has many grape varieties planted.  Baja is diverse in elevation and soils.  This diversity along with their proximity to the ocean, allows them to plant and experiment with many grapes.  Today, Baja wines are known for their unique blends. In Baja, single varieties have a different expression and are atypical. Hence, allowing winemakers to create blends no one else can make. Sure, Australians can blend Cabernet Sauvignon with Shiraz, but they can’t do what the Mexicans do.  They cannot get away with blending Cabernet, Syrah, Tempranillo and Nebbiolo, crazy new blends only seen in Mexico.

guadalupe Valley

The future of Baja is based on wineries finding their niche and improving their wines.  What they have going for them is that they are not arrogant nor set in their ways.  Baja is one of the few regions which is open-minded and ready to try anything.  Baja is a great haven for bored winemakers of France, Italy and California.  They would have a field day exploring Baja’s wild west of wine.

Distribution is the next issue to tackle.  Baja winemakers need to enter the market with affordable wines.  This is becoming more and more possible.  More plantings are occurring each year.  Winemakers are learning to use what they have and will hopefully begin to produce by the glass offerings.  They need to enter the market with $10-15 wines.  I would suggest they put more focus on whites and roses.  These are far cheaper to produce, they use less water and can generate a profit quicker than reds which need to age. If you are a consumer and you enjoy an affordable Baja Chardonnay, wouldn’t you be inclined to buy a more expensive red from that producer?

People like Michelle Martain, daughter of Fernando Martain is an important part of this growth.  Her import company, La Mision Associates imports Baja wine into the US and is going on 5 years.  She goes door to door, winery to winery trying to make this work.  She was raised in her father’s winery and is determined to share her country’s wines with the world. After much sacrifice, she has opened many doors for her wineries.  She is also very smart.  She knows she cannot do it herself and reached out to Tom Bracamontes of La Competencia Imports, a new Baja wine import company.

Baja uncorked

Michelle Martain (La Mision Associates), Myself, Michael Langdon (Whole Foods), Tom Bracamontes (La Competencia) & Danny Fancher (Estancia Hotel)

Tom’s background was in the music industry, hip hop.  Tom, a “Gringo-Mexican” who does not speak Spanish made a name for himself at Tommy Boy Records.  Tom does not pretend to know it all. However, he understands people and how to approach situations with transparency and a no bull attitude.  This has earned him trust among wineries in Napa Valley and wine buyers in many states.  He represented Mi Sueno winery for many years and took a handful of Mexican-American owned Napa wineries under his wing helping to bring their wines into a competitive market.  He is a marketing all-star who today has opened 5 new markets for Michelle and the Baja Winemakers; California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Chicago.  Together, Michelle and Tom will open the doors for these Baja wineries and our palates to new intriguing wines.

I suspect that one day when our children are drinking a glass of Baja Pinot Noir in Paris, they will be telling this history of Baja wines. They will mention Father Juan Uguarte planting grapes, Santo Tomas producing wines, Camilo Magoni expanding the horizons, Fernando Martain’s influence, Hugo Acosta’s inspiration and the risk and hard work of Michelle Martain and Tom Bracamontes.

Team Baja Uncorked


While spending those few days in the valley, I decided to make a wine for my restaurants.  My intention was to make a red blend which could be enjoyed by itself, but better with carne asada tacos.  I worked closely with Laura Zamora, winemaker of Santo Tomas, the oldest winery in Mexico. Tempranillo was my backbone.  The Tempranillo was aged for 6 months in American oak and provides the tannin and structure.  I then tasted several samples of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Barbera and other grape varieties.  I landed on adding an un-oaked Syrah.  I am looking for fruity, juicy freshness and the Syrah gave it just that plus body.  Something was lacking, so I turned to one of the grapes that I think grows best in the valley, Barbera.  The Barbera brought the wine together with acidity and red fruit.

Costa Tierra Blend

Blending Costa Tierra Wine

The name of the wine is Costa Tierra, meaning seacoast and land.  The reason for this is to unite California and Baja California.  For centuries we have shared the same sea-coast, the same land and the same people. When it comes to food and wine the border is a fictitious border.  I want to tear down the wall and unite the two regions.  We may speak different languages and celebrate different holidays, but we both share in the rewards of a thriving epicurean future.

Costa Tierra Wine

The wine will be available at Coasterra and other Cohn Restaurants.



Posted on July 17, 2015

California broken

Civil war might break out in California at any moment.  Northern California is up in arms about sharing their water with Southern California.  Can’t we just call it a truce?  Northern California took our wine industry, so why not share water with us?

Long before Napa and Sonoma made wines, San Diego had a thriving wine business.  The first vines planted in California were in San Diego around 1769 by the Spanish missionaries coming up from Mexico.  There were no borders back then.  The area from  the Guadalupe Valley  to San Luis Obispo was one region.  Mexico gained control of Alta California in 1821 after Mexico’s independence from Spain.  American settlers were in search of Mexican citizenship to buy land and build ranches throughout Alta California.  Jean Louis Vignes, a Frenchmen founded the 1st California winery, Aliso Winery in Los Angeles.  He became known as the Father of California wine. Vigne along with other European settlers brought grapes and wine-making techniques to this region.  By the 1830’s ranchers throughout San Diego, the Guadalupe Valley, Riverside County and Los Angeles were growing grapes and producing a fair amount of wine.

Some of the most important people in the history of Sonoma and Napa passed through San Diego before settling in what was to become California wine country.  Agoston Harazthy, San Diego’s first sheriff arrived in San Diego and tried planting vines.  Unfortunately, he planted his vines in Mission Valley, where as we all know in the rainy months can flood.  This was “no  bueno” for grapevines.  Instead of planting in the mountains of Ramona or in Valley Center he decided to leave San Diego in search of wealth in San Francisco.  As history would have it, he ended up becoming the “godfather of California wine”, known for bringing hundreds of grape varietals from Europe.

Another very important man was Cyrus Alexander, a fur tradesman who came to San Diego to work in Captain Finch’s ranches.  After a short stay in San Diego, Finch sent Cyrus to Northern California in search of land.  After many ups and downs, Cyrus found success selling food to the gold miners.  He then loaned money to settlers so they could buy land and plant grapes.  Today that region is known as Alexander Valley.

Although many people left San Diego in search of gold, San Diego still had many reputable wineries, some reaching consumers in England.  One of the largest wineries was the Daneri Winery.  Emanuel Daneri produced well over 20,000 gallons of wine from his underground facility in Otay.  Back then, wineries would sell their barrels to retail shops downtown where shop owners would sell growlers to thirsty consumers.  Some of these wines were getting national recognition such as the Zinfandel produced at Monte Vino in Alpine.  Asher Maxcy, an arrogant and cruel rancher had a very large production in what is now Valley Center called Vineyard Ranch Winery.  He brought French wine maker, Pierre Hagata to make his wines.  Pierre was very influential, spreading proper wine-making techniques and assisting other wineries throughout the region.  His heirs continue making wine today.  Steve Hagata is the winemaker for Falkner Winery.  All was fine and dandy for many years, both Sonoma and San Diego were thriving.

Unfortunate circumstances put a stop to our wine culture.  In 1916 the Otay dam broke and destroyed Daneri’s winery.  Daneri lost his winery, equipment and several workers.  He was never able to rebuild.  Prohibition also took down many wineries.  Few survived by making sacramental wines.  The few surviving wineries in San Diego grew grapes for home wine makers.  This business was not lucrative. Grape quality was no long a concern for wineries, proper growing and wine making techniques were soon forgotten.  But why did the wineries in Napa and Sonoma continue to grow after prohibition? Why did San Diego wine get left behind just when California wine was beginning to boom?

There was a small clause in the repeal of prohibition which did not allow wineries to sell bulk juice to consumers.  This was not a concern for Sonoma and Napa, they had bottling lines.  The Northern Californian wineries had financial support from investors in San Francisco.  Cash flow allowed them to invest in bottling lines.  Bottling wines allowed the wineries to sell directly to consumers, transport was easier and led to consumers collecting wines from a particular vintage.  I believe that this is when we see a shift in the perception of wine.  Prior to this, wines were made in ranches to be enjoyed by all.  Once wine could be packaged, labeled, shipped and sold, wine became a status symbol. The birth of pretentiousness.

We have to remember that although San Diego and the rest of the South Coast were making good wines, post-prohibition they could not compete.  South Coast wineries were in the business of bulk wine direct to the consumer.  The sale of bulk wine was prohibited.  Wineries in Southern California did not have the same infrastructure as the wineries in Northern California.  Industry in San Diego shifted from ranches to fishing and military.  With the start of War World II, the agricultural landscape changed.  Grape growing subsided to grains and other crops to support the war effort.  Wine never had a chance.

San Diego wineries have fallen way behind those of Northern California.  Land is much too expensive for farmers to convert into vineyards.  Those that are planting vineyards and making wine cannot compete with other regions such as Lodi, Paso Robles and Mendocino. Not because of quality, but the cost of production is higher and cannot compete in the marketplace. We are starting to see an interest in wines from San Diego and the Guadalupe Valley.  There are more and more wineries and winemakers shifting their attention towards the South Coast.  We are still a ways away from making a dent in the market, but with more awareness we may see more investors exploring our local wineries.

Why San Diego wine?  What does San Diego have to offer? San Diego can grow grapes at some of the highest elevations which allow for better ripening, intense UV light and wind, a natural pest control.  The soils are predominately gravel and sand, which are bad for bugs and stress vines.  San Diego’s hot days provide excellent ripening while the Pacific Ocean brings cool nights which balance sugars and acids.  Many different types of grapes can grow in San Diego, allowing wine makers to experiment with unique varietals such as Carignan, Vermentino and Barbera.  Lastly, the people here are super cool, no egos and all about making wine for pleasure and not business.

Many people don’t even know that San Diego produces wine.  A town known for beach and beer seems to be an unlikely place for wine connoisseurs.  What people don’t know is that San Diego has a rich history and was the starting point for California. Heck, the Wine Spectator was founded on the streets of Ocean Beach.  If it wasn’t for the Wine Spectator tooting Napa wines, Napa may not have had the same popularity. So stop complaining about giving us water, you took our wine.  It is only fair that you trade.

Go visit a local winery and support our long wine making history, drink San Diego wine.


How Can I Learn About Wine?

Posted on April 9, 2015

learn about wine

This is an article I wrote for Escondido Magazine.

“How can I learn about wine?” Is a question I always get asked.   Many people think the approach to learning about wine is the same approach we use to learn math, social studies or science, meaning we read a book and/or attend a lecture.  I wish it were that easy.  It took me many years to learn about wine, and I am still learning.  Sure, I read books and attended lectures but most of my learning comes from practicing, or should I say drinking.   The problem arise when people aren’t willing to practice.  They might drink wine regularly, but that is not practicing.  Many people put limits on what they drink.  “I only drink red wines” or “I don’t like Riesling because it is sweet”.  I hear these comments all the time. As the Japanese Zen master would say, “their teacup is full”.  I don’t have much hope for them, practicing means getting out of your comfort zone and experimenting.  If someone really wants to learn about wine, he/she needs to have an open mind and an open palate.   You can read all the books in the world, but if you don’t try the wines you read about, you will never understand them.

My best advice is “DRINK FRENCH WINE”.  In order to really get a grasp on wine, one must learn French wines.  Most of the varietals we use around the world originated in France.  French wines are the framework of what wines should be like.  They have strict regulations which limit winemakers and help keep the grapes’ integrity, allowing the wines to show “terroir”.

Where does we turn once we  begin to expose our palates to unique wines?  Luckily, living in San Diego we have many opportunities to advance our wine skills.  The real learning begins with tasting, holding the bottle in your hands and reading the label.  The supported learning comes in the form of classes, seminars and tests.  Each person has his/her own goal or purpose why they’d like to increase their wine knowledge. Here are some of my recommendation for the many types of oenophiles.

wine trade

The Trade

Those in the trade or looking to join the trade whether it be wine sales, wine production or the restaurant business have several outlets.  There arecourses through the WSET, CSW and Court of Master Sommelier which are especially meant for the trade.  Some of these course might be several weeks long and others are independent learning with supported seminars and tests.  Each of these will give students the certifications they need to build their resumes.


The Perpetual Student

What if you are a traditional learner and the college format works best for you?  No need to go to UC Davis, San Diego has some great options.  If planting a vineyard in your back yard or making wine is your interest, Mira Costa College offers a wine and viticulture technology class.  If you are the casual drinker who wants to learn more about your life long hobby, San Diego State University offers the Business of Wine through the Extended Studies Program.  This program covers almost everything from regions of the world, marketing wine, distribution of wine and offers a study abroad program.  You can pay me a visit and take my class, the California Wine Intensive course, I will teaching it again this November.

on the go

Always on the go

Now, for those of you that do not have time and would like to learn at your leisure there are a few programs and books I recommend. First of all, the “Wine Bible” by Karen McNeil is a must in your library.  It is comprehensive and easy to read.  If you’d rather learn online, The Gallo Academy offers an online course which is excellent and covers everything you need to know.  My friend Kirstin Fox, at the Fox School of Wine offers an excellent online course helpful in getting you started.


The Socialite

If you are social and like to learn with your friends, look for special events many restaurants offer.  I have a wine club, Prime Cru which holds events around the county where we learn about Chilean wine, Blind Tasting, Food and Wine pairing and much more.  There aren’t any membership fees and you can sign up at  The next Prime Cru class will be South African wines with winemaker Sebastian Beaumont and Master Sommelier Candidate, Chris Lavin. Stay in the loop by joining the club.  There are other restaurants and wine bars that offer wine classes after work.  It might be a good idea to look for one and get the office together for an educational happy hour.  I have been toying with th eidea at 100 Wines, we’ll see what comes of it.

No more excuses.  You can learn about wine anytime.  Remember, do not over think wine, but share it and enjoy it.  Take whatever path suits you best and have learning.  The fun is in learning, knowing is boring.

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My Paisanos, Mexican-American Wine Makers

Posted on July 20, 2014

Mexican American Wine

On Saturday, July 19th I connected with some of the most humble and talented wine makers in Napa Valley.  I am happy to call them my paisanos.  For two years I have been working with Tom Bracamontes of Total Brand Alliance and Latin American Wine Makers Alliance in creating an event which would showcase and honor the hardworking Mexican-American wine makers from Napa Valley.  Finally, we did it!  It was a great success!  At Island Prime restaurant,  overlooking the San Diego bay, the wine makers sat in a panel where they told their stories of grape pickers to wine makers.  Later that evening we drove North to Vintana in Escondido for a walk around tasting where they engaged one on one with guests and shared their wines and stories.  I was blown away by the positive responses from our guests and winemakers.  Everyone had an amazing time.

During my introduction I touched on why Tom and I decided to bring 8 winemakers to San Diego.  Many of you have read my blog post and seen the video about the history of San Diego wine.  Without San Diego, Sonoma and Napa would have not been producing wine. The first grapes were planted here.  The fathers of California wine, Agoston Harathzy and Cyrus Alexander first came to San Diego before moving North to profit from the Gold Rush.  At that time, California was Mexico.  General Mariano Vallejo invited the Americans to come to California, offered them land to harvest grapes. Americans had to become Mexican citizens to own land.  The process was fairly easy, because the Mexicans welcomed them with open arms.  As history would have it, it was not enough for the Americans and they wanted it all.  Hence, the Bear Flag rebellion occurs and with the help of indigenous people, they overthrew the Mexicans.  In a dramatic change of events, Mexicans became second class citizens.

As time passed by, Americans found the need to continue to expand their power and went over seas to join the wars in Europe.  When World War II started, many American youths joined the army.  This left a void in the labor force in California’s agricultural industry which needed to support the war effort.  The Bracero program brought many Mexicans back to the U.S. to work.  These laborers were under paid, worked in dangerous conditions and faced much discrimination.  Problems escalated when American soldiers returned home to find an increase in Mexicans in their towns.  Tensions were high and many Mexicans suffered from discrimination from the police, press and neighbors.  However, this labor force had now become a necessity for the agriculture business.  These Mexicans worked hard and earned less.  The economics was simple, keep them working as contracted slaves and see profits soar.

Many of the wine makers’ fathers came to the U.S. during this time.  They ended up in Napa picking grapes.  They put their head down and worked, paid close attention to the vines and learned how to make wine.  Their children have carried on their family’s legacy and have continued the business in honor of their fathers.  Their strong work ethic has paid off in the form of solidifying relationships with the land and other wine makers and growers in the valley.  Today, they are making wines with the same fruit that the most glorified wineries use.  However, their end product is one of pure heart and soul and zero marketing.

A question that was asked during the seminar was, “Why would we, as consumers looking through a wine list, order a bottle of one of the unknown Mexican-American wines versus one that we are familiar with such as Caymus?”

Ignacio Delgadillo of Delgadillo Cellars answered, “because at the end of the day you are getting a better value for the same or better quality of wine.”

However, I liked the reply of one of the guests who said to me later, “It’s like deciding where to eat.  Do you decide to go to that hole in the wall Italian restaurant nobody knows, where the owner came straight from Italy and cooks home cooked Italian meal? Or do you go to  Olive Garden?”  Clearly, it is the same decision you make when choosing a wine which has been hand crafted with heart and soul versus one manufactured to meet the marketing behind a label.

We also touched on the difficulty of distribution and marketing for these small production wineries.  Juan Puentes, of Honrama Cellars put it, “It was so much easier when I made wine without a label and sold to my friends and acquaintances.  But once I got a label and paid for permits and licensing fees, selling the wine became much more difficult.”

The Mexican-American wine makers struggle to compete in The Napa wine market saturated with large mega wineries and corporations pumping out juice for labels with large marketing budgets.  The price of land drives the price of the wines in Napa, but some seem to think that because they are rich and build an extravagant winery, they deserve to charge more for their wines.  Mega wineries and “cult” wineries hire the most sought after wine makers, viticulturists and consultants to build their brands. The opposite is true for my paisanos, the Mexican-American wine makers.  They are grassroots.  They have the “hands on” knowledge of the land and the vines.  They carefully craft their wines to fit their personal style.  They don’t have a label that needs to conform to their marketing teams year and year out.  The wine in the bottle is a direct result of their hard work, soul and art.

Enrique Lopez and Rosaurra Segura from Encanto Vineyards specialize in Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.  Enrique has been managing vineyards for so long that he knows the fruit so well and what he can and cannot do to the wine.  Rogelio from Volcan Cellars not only makes a robust high elevation Napa Cabernet, but he also makes wine in the Guadalupe Valley and grows avocados in Michoacan. He is a true man of the land.  Ignacio Jr. and Ignacio Sr. of Delgadillo Cellars make a wine that is not released until it is ready to drink.  Their latest release is 2005, a wine that has held its color, fruit, tannins and acidity.  Hugo of Maldonado Family Vineyards continues to craft Chardonnay that rival Peter Michael and Konsgaard.  They are rich, robust and more importantly retain generous acidity.  Oscar Renteria from Renteria Wines, has hired Karen Cullen to produce elegant and feminine wines from the fruit grown from his own hands.  Eric, the young son of Ignacio at Gallegos Wines is proud to represent wines that show typicity.  His relationship with ex-roommate Garret Boekenoogen has allowed him to make a Pinot Noir that some people at the seminar said it was the best Pinot they have ever tasted.  Juan and Miriam Puentes make Cabernet, damn good Cabernet that is approachable and honors their father, Honorio Ramirez Mata.  Lastly, Mario and Gloria Bazan of Mario Bazan Cellars work as a team to craft a Napa Cabernet which shows the magic of Mario’s workmanship and captures the true essence of Napa Valley.

I am so happy to have spent the day with these wine makers sharing their stories to an eager public.  I hope that we begin to see a trend where consumers start to support my paisanos, the under dogs.  The only thing missing from these producers, excluding Maldonado, is the word “Family” on the label.  These are truly family owned and run wineries.



Mexican-American Winemakers Unite to talk About Wine

Posted on July 8, 2014


Cheech and Chong once sang, “Mexican-Americans…don’t like to get in gang fights…they like flowers and music and girls’ named Debbie and wine”.   The wine part I had to slip in because I am Mexican-American and I like flowers, music, I knew a girl named Debbie and I love wine.  I bet the same could be said for the 8 Mexican-American winemakers that are coming to San Diego on July 19th.  I teamed up with wine promoter, Tom Bracomontes from Total Brand Alliance and the Latin American Wine Marketing Alliance to bring 8 Napa Valley wineries and their Mexican American winemakers  here to San Diego for two amazing events.

On Saturday, July 19th from 12-2pm at Island Prime, there will be a class and tasting with the winemakers offering insight to their lives, wine styles and future of the Napa Valley through the eyes of Mexican-Americans.  The winemakers will then head to North County and pour their wines from 6-8pm at Vintana in a walk around tasting.  All of the Mexican-American winemakers make small production wines and some of which have never been sold in San Diego.

Why me?

As I mentioned before, I too am Mexican-American.  Most people probably would not believe me, I usually get called Italian or Middle Eastern.  Well my name doesn’t help.  Maurice DiMarino.  It sounds like I am a French-Italian.  Here is a brief history about my background.  My mother was born in Camargo, Chihuahua and my father in Jerez, Zacatecas.  My mother is a very light-skinned Mexican, mostly with Spanish blood.  My father was a dark-skinned Mestizo with Huichol Indian blood.  I turned out a fair-skinned, Moor looking fellow.  I was born in San Diego as Maurice Ramirez, while my parents were living in Tijuana and my mother was studying French.  After my birth, we moved to Jerez, Zacatecas where my father was building a hotel.  Things did not go as planned, and when I was of school age my mother brought my brother, my sister and me back to the U.S. to start school.  My parents soon divorced.  When my mother re-married we took our stepfather’s name, hence DiMarino.

I still remember when we first came to San Diego.  We were living with my grandmother in a one bedroom hotel room downtown next to the fountain at Horton Plaza.  Very different from the small town in Jerez.  I did not speak English, and felt like an outsider especially when there were so many blonde kids in my pre-school class.  I can still remember learning “one little…two little…three little Indian” song and looking around and wondering where the Indians were.  I learned English at school, but we spoke Spanish at home.  It was long before I just wanted to speak English.  I felt embarrassed when my mother would speak Spanish to us in public.

As I grew older I started to connect with my Mexican roots more than being an American.  However, I was no longer a Mexican.  My family from Mexico called me Gringo, so I did not fit in with Mexican’s in Mexico.   Because I received my mother’s fair skin, I did not have problems fitting in here.  However, I didn’t feel as though I really belonged.  I was raised differently, with different values. My Mexican-American classmates thought I was Italian.  I am sure many Mexican-Americans have felt the same way. They don’t fit in Mexico and they don’t fit in the U.S..  I was always fascinated with this.  Then I got into wine.  There are not that many Mexican-Americans in the wine business.  Although they were essential in creating the wine business through their labor, we don’t see many Mexican-American sommeliers, wine collectors, wine writers, wine salesmen or for that matter, winemakers.

When I met with Tom Bracomontes, he had just finished establishing a Mexican-American winemaker alliance.   Tom and I decided to create an event where California wine began, San Diego.  It would feature  the men and women whose families help start the wine revolution.  We have planned this event for over a year.  I am thrilled that it is finally here.  Eight winemakers will discuss their family’s history, their stories as growers and how through hard work and perseverance they now own their own wineries.  Over the years I have come across a handful of Mexican-Americans in the wine industry.  However, there are not many.  The Mexican-American winemakers’ perspective will be insightful and unique.

Meet the Mexican-American Winemakers…

Encanto Vineyards

 Enrique Lopez & Rosaurra Segura owners of Encanto Vineyards are first generation Mexican-Americans producing Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon. They make 600 cases.  Their winemaker, Rudy Zuidema will not be in attendance.  Enrique started working at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 1987.  In 2000 he formed Servin-Lopez Vineyard Management and today manages the vineyards for Schafer, Donmum and Ehlers.


Eric Gallegos from Gallegos Wines will be representing his family winery. His father, Ignacio Gallegos Sr. arrived in Napa as part of the Bracero Program from his home, Michoacan Mexico.  The Bracero Program was a program in 1942 that contracted laborers from Mexico to come into the United States to work.  Ignacio created the Gallegos Vineyard Management which manages 100 acres in Napa Valley including Somerston & J.J. Cohn.  The family winery, Rancho de Gallegos is located in the Rutherford Bench and produces 1,000 cases of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir,  Petit Sirah & Cabernet Sauvignon.

honrama cellars

 Juan & Miriam Puentes are the owners of JP Honrama Cellars.  Juan is also the winemaker.  The winery’s name comes from Miriam’s father, Honorio Ramirez Mata.  Honorio came to the U.S. in search of work through the Bracero program.  He had a strong work ethic which allowed him to catch the eye of winemakers.  He eventually worked closely with Charlie & Chuck Wagner of Caymus.  Although Honorio never produced a wine himself, a few years after he passed away, Juan Puentes honored his wife Miriam and her father by launching Honrama Cellars on February 14, 2011.

Maldonado Vineyards

 Hugo Maldonado will be representing Maldonado Family Vineyards, a winery co-owned with his wife, Lidia.  His father, Lupe Maldonado was the vineyard manager at Newton Vineyards for over 30 years.  He eventually turned the reigns over to Hugo.  Today, Hugo manages vineyards for Luc Morlet of Peter Michael, Hartwell Vineyards and Alpha Omega.  Their family winery produces 7,500 cases of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Red Blend and Cabernet Sauvignon.  They have received high accolades for their Chardonnay.  They constantly receives 90-94 pts from the Wine Spectator and in 2004 the “los Olivios”  Chardonnay was poured at the White House.

Bazan Cellars

 Gloria Bazan co-owner of Mario Bazan Cellars will be her representing the wines of her and her husband, Mario.  Their winemaker is David DeSante and they make 1,000 cases of Sauvignon Blanc & Cabernet Sauvignon.  Mario is from Oaxaca and has worked for over 20 years with premier wineries such as Joseph Phelps, Robert Mondavi Winery, Opus One, To-Kalon and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.  He began his vineyard management company in 1997 and in 2005 founded Mario Bazan Cellars.  In 2007 he received 90 pts from both the Wine Spectator and Wine enthusiast.

Renteria Wines

Tom Bracomontes founder of the Mexican-American Marketing Alliance will be sitting in for Oscar & Denise Renteria from Renteria Vineyards.  In 1987, Salvador Renteria launched Renteria Vineyard Management.  It was the first Mexican owned vineyard management company in Napa.  Today it is the 3rd largest in Napa Valley.  Their client list includes Rombauer, Frank Family, Chiarello, Duckhorn, Patz & Hall and Andy Erickson.  Oscar and Denise formed Renteria wines and contracted famed winemaker, Karen Culler.  In 2013 they purchased the Brown Ranch in Carneros and  will soon produce their first estate wines.

Volcan Cellars

 Rogelio Morales, owner and winemaker of Volcan cellars will be representing the winery owned by he and his wife, Flor.   Rogelio also came from Michoacan in 1988.  Immediately he began to work in the vineyards at Spring Mountain Winery.  In 1992 he became the cellar master at Spring Mountain Winery.  By 2011 he was appointed assistant winemaker.  He produces 250 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon of his own wine, Volcan.  The wine is named after the volcano in his homeland, Paricutín.


 Ignacio Delgadillo Jr from father and son owned winery, Delgadillo Cellars will be in attendance to support his father, Ignacos Delgadillo Sr.  The senior Delgadillo is the winemaker and makes 250-500 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon.  They differ from many other wineries in that they believe in extended aging.  On average, the Delgadillo Cabernets are aged for nearly 8 years before they are released to the public.  The 2005 will be tasted which is their current release.  Señor Delagdillo was the cellar master at Freemark Abbey for 20 years and helped craft the “Bosche Vineyard” Cabernets.


For tickets to the Island Prime Winemaker Discussion Panel and Tasting click here:

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For tickets to the Vintana walk around tasting click here:
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Mexican-American Winemakers

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