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
Odd Ball Grape