The Mexican Influence on Napa Valley wines

I have known Maurice DiMarino since he began with the Cohn Restaurant Group at Island Prime. As he proved himself as a sommelier he was assigned more restaurants and now he proudly can say he is the Certified Sommelier/Wine and Beverage Director for the entire San Diego chain.

All the while, stories of the success of a small group of Mexican-American winemakers, some of who began as fieldworkers in the vineyards of Napa Valley, kept coming up.

The mighty struggles of families to learn and place their brand on wines they had created were stories that needed telling, DiMarino thought.

With the help of Tom Bracamontes, a wine marketing professional in Napa Valley, who has seen the maturing of this group, “Wine Without Borders” was created, and eight Mexican-American wineries assembled for a wine tasting event at Vintana in Escondido.

Names like Delgadillo, Encanto, Gallegos, Honrama, Maldonado, Mario Bazain, Renteria and Volcan have taken their rightful place in the same Napa Valley that made Grgich, Caymus Winery’s Wagner and Mondavi famous in the wine world.

TASTE OF WINE visited Mexican-American wineries in Napa Valley last week to see first-hand Honrama Cellars, Encanto Vineyards and Mi Sueno Winery.

Honrama is named in honor of Honorio Ramirez Mata, who worked in the fields with his wife Esther and saved up for a better tomorrow, as told by daughter Miriam.  Her father got the break of his life when he was recommended to Charlie and Chuck Wagner of Caymus, one of the top winemakers in Napa Valley, who showed Honorio how to also make premium wines.

Honorio then taught Miriam.

Honorio passed away before realizing his dreams, but his daughter and her husband Juan opened Honrama Cellars in 2011 turning her father’s dreams into reality, making only Cabernet Sauvignon.  See www.honramacellars.com.

Encanto Vineyards is owned by Rosaura Segura and Enrique Lopez.  Rosaura’s father came to NapaValley in the mid-50s and worked for Beringer and Mondavi. They have a full lineup of varietals to offer including Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, winners in international competition and the ever-popular Cabernet.  All are single vineyards wines.www.encantovineyards.com.

Rolando Herrera owns Mi Sueno (“My Dream”) Winery.  He worked many jobs in Napa Valley, starting as a dishwasher and line cook, and then more than 20 years in winemaking, starting at Stags Leap.

Herrera proudly exclaims that, “I am a winemaker by trade, but a farmer by passion. I love what I do and since the first day I set foot in a cellar at the age of 17, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Some favorites include:  2010 Chardonnay, 2010 Pinot Noir, 2009 Syrah and a 2010 Cabernet.  See more at www.misuenowinery.com.

Interestingly, the Valley of the Guadalupe in Mexico, just two hours from San Diego, is about the size of Napa Valley. That’s where the comparison ends. There are 83 vineyards in the Valley of the Guadalupe and over 500 in the Napa Valley, but the Mexican influence is strong and getter stronger in California’s legendary valley.

Wine Bytes

Thornton Winery in Temecula has the “Heart of Rock & Roll” band with Huey Lewis ‘80s music Aug. 22 from 6 to 8 p.m.  Details at (951) 699-0099.

Orfila Winery in Escondido has Sunday Music on the Terrace with Blu Gruv Aug. 24, from 4 to 6 p.m.  Free admission.  Call (760) 738-6500 ext. 22 for details.

Il Fornaio in Coronado has an exceptional Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Wine Tasting Dinner, Aug. 28 with a reception at 6pm and dinner at 6:30pm.  All wines are paired with a gourmet five-course special dinner from Executive Chef Giorgio.  Cost is $75.  Call (619) 437-4911 for an RSVP.

Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas and the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce present a Napa Valley Vintners Grand Tasting event Sept. 6 from 3 to 6 p.m. Ten premium wineries will be pouring their best with the owners and winemakers in attendance and you can meet and greet them, plus live music and food sampling; $65 each. A special $200 VIP ticket is available and will include the tasting event from 3 to 6 p.m. followed by a four-course wine pairing dinner at Bentley’s Steak & Chop House from 6 to 9 p.m., with eight of the wineries.  Contact Meritage Wine Market for tickets at (760) 479-2500.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View and link up with his columns at www.tasteofwinetv.com

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