Bay Area Proud

Bay Area Proud

Inspiring stories of people making a difference

Mexican-American Winemakers Making a Name in Wine

Rafael Rios went from a child working in the fields of Napa to having his own wine label

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Rafael Rios went from a child working in the fields of Napa to having his own wine label. It's a remarkable story, made all the more remarkable by the fact he's not alone. Not by a long shot.

    Rafael Rios remembers his toes hurting. "It is one of my most vivid memories from childhood."

    Rios came to the United States from Mexico at the age of two. His father, a farmworker, took Rios and his siblings with him to the fields as soon they were old enough to tie a vine or pick a grape.

    "My dad got us up at six in the morning to go work in the vineyards."

    It was on early spring mornings, when the grass was covered with frost, that Rios says the pain in his feet was the worst. "My thoughts were I wanted to go to school. I wanted to get out of the vineyard."

    Rios did both of those things, eventually graduating from law school and setting up a law practice in St. Helena.

    Still, in spite of the early hardships, the lure of the vineyards called Rios back.

    Rios is now a winemaker himself, the owner of the Justicia Wines label.

    Rios' journey from farm worker to winemaker is a remarkable one. What is even more remarkable, though, is that he is not the only one to have traveled such a path. Far from it.

    In fact, there are so many winemakers with similar stories, 14 in all, that they have formed their own association: the Napa Sonoma Mexican-American Vintners Association.

    "Fourteen little made-in-America stories," says Ignacio Delgadillo Jr.

    Delgadillo helps his father, once a worker in the fields himself, to run their wine business.

    Delgadillo says this is not just a uniquely American tale, but one that may be unique to the wine business. The "magical" mix of agriculture and artistry, Delgadillo says, is one that can only be learned from work in the vineyards.

    The goal of their organization is to promote the wines made by Mexican-Americans. It also gathers once a year to celebrate their successes and to raise money for a scholarship fund.