Reynaldo Robledo began his career in winemaking at the age of 16 when he immigrated from his small hometown in Mexico to tend to someone else’s vineyards for $1.10 an hour. Now, as the owner of the Robledo Family Winery near Sonoma, California, he produces wines that have made it to the dinner table at the White House.
Robledo, 59, says he tried to learn everything he could about the wine business during the decades he worked for other people. He started up a family-owned vineyard management company and eventually saved up enough money to buy his first 14 acres of Pinot Noir.
“I would work my regular shift and then pester the vineyard manager with questions until I knew everything he knew,” Robledo said in Spanish.
The family now owns 300 acres of vineyards. A framed menu from a White House dinner earlier this year which featured Robledo wine is displayed in the tasting room along with Mexican art and family photos.
The Robledo Family Winery is part of a small but growing number of Hispanic-owned winemaking businesses across the country. The timing is on their side with the consumption of wine increasing more among Hispanics than any other ethnic group, according to a 2006 survey conducted by the Wine Market Council, a nonprofit trade association.
Hispanic wine drinkers are interested in quality and a connection to their heritage.
“There are people like me who are very proud of our roots and don’t mind plunking down $125 for a bottle of wine,” Esau Herrera, a member of the Hispanic Vintners Association, said. The loose-knit marketing group has about a dozen members in California and Florida.
A Mexico City Native, Fabiola Sotomayor, says she saw a flier for an event at a park in Sonoma advertising an event by the Robledo Family Winery in celebration of Mexico’s bicentennial this past September. She says she was “intrigued by the family’s history.”
“Part of it was just that there was this Mexican family and they weren’t just working the land,” Sotomayor said. “You get used to the same immigrant story you always hear, but they are more than that. It’s powerful.”