An American Winery, Ceja Vineyards

This is the American story.  In the early to mid 1960s, Pablo Ceja joined thousands of his country-men to leave their native Mexico and work in the brasero program in California, picking crops and otherwise working in the fields.  Ceja landed in St. Helena, picking grapes across the Napa valley and dreaming of owning his own vineyard.

The family, including mama Juanita, immigrated to the U.S. in 1967, and Pablo’s two sons, Pedro and Armando, caught the dream from their father.  In 1983, Pedro and his wife Amelia, pooled resources with their parents and Armando, and the family bought their first vineyard.

Since then, they’ve gone well beyond just growing grapes in Napa’s famous Carneros region to producing up to 10,000 cases of premium wines.  And the third generation of Cejas are helping out with the family business, including two tasting rooms, one at 1248 First St., in Napa, itself, and another open by appointment only – a small house that’s been made over into a gorgeous facility perfect for groups.

The family may be dead serious about producing their wines, but even with the beautiful appointments of the tasting room and almost slick atmosphere there is a sly sense of humor.  Check out the business cards.  We talked with Ariel Ceja, who is listed at General Manager of the winery and “Da Little Guy.”  Wine Educator Javier Hernandez is also the Papi Chulo.  Problem is, there really isn’t a good translation for it, but it’s something along the lines of Pretty Boy or Hot Daddy (both of which Javier is).  He is such a sweetie and very passionate about sharing wine.

“You have to learn the philosophy of the winemaker,” he told us.  “Ours is to produce wines that go with any kind of food.”

Javier was also quick to point out that not all Mexican food is spicy – heat not usually being a flavor component that goes well with wine.  And, in fact, he offered up several examples of traditional dishes, such as mole, that go very well with certain reds.  You can check their website for several other examples.

While Javier conceded that most people associate beer with Mexican culture, he rightfully reminded us that most of the laborers in California wineries came (or come) from Mexico.

“We also know how to do it,” he said.

And they do.

Ceja Vineyards’ website can be found here.

Anne Louise Bannon

Mike Holland

Odd Ball Grape

Up and Running With Twisted Wine

The crush pad.  The tasting room looks better.
The crush pad. The tasting room looks better.

Drat the folks at Sunset Magazine.  According to Twisted Oak Winery Owner Jeff Stai, the magazine’s article on the winery had the money quote: “If Monty Python started a winery, this would be it.”

wine-trip-april-09-113Pirates, rubber chickens, and symbols for language not suitable for sensitive ears.  It’s all part of the Twisted zeitgeist and fun at Stai’s winery in Vallecito, California.  It’s not a winery for the uber serious or for people who do the “nice” thing.  But if you don’t mind the silliness, you can get some lovely, food-friendly wines.  And if you do like the silliness, you can have a grand old time there.wine-trip-april-09-107

Now, keep in mind, Anne has known Jeff for years via the FoodWine email list – an electronic world-wide kitchen table.  But we first met Jeff – or El Jefe, as he is known – last year when we decided to check out the joint after hearing good things from fellow FoodWinos Tina Vierra and Penny Gadd-Coster.  Mike liked the wine so much he immediately joined the Twisted Few wine club, and then earlier this year won the Write the Label contest for this year’s bottling of Ruben, the white wine blend that’s named after Ruben the Rubber Chicken mascot.  So, we are getting a case of it as our prize, but that was before we decided to start the blog.

El Jefe at work on the bottling line - yeah, he really does work!
El Jefe at work on the bottling line - yeah, he really does work!

Schtick aside, it’s all about the wines, first.  The production is relatively small (although we keep having so durned much fun there, we keep forgetting to ask), and the focus is on locally grown, Calaveras County grapes.  Scott Klann (aka El Fermento) has the responsibility of turning it all into wine, using such methods as co-fermenting some viognier with their syrah.  Sadly, the result of this traditional technique from the Rhone won’t be available until next year.

Making wine in the dark, when the grapes are cool
Making wine in the dark, when the grapes are cool

You can check back with us on Wednesday for the first of Mike’s tasting notes.  In the meantime, you can find out more about the winery on their website, TwistedOak.com, the blog, El Bloggo Torcido.  There is a Twisted Oak page on Facebook and you can follow Jeff on Twitter.

Anne Louise Bannon and Michael Holland

Odd Ball Grape