Maria de la Luz Vineyard: A Tale of New World Trailblazers

Maria de la Luz Ramirez’s storied history with wine reaches far back into the past – to World War II, to be precise. A native of Michoacan, Mexico, she first set eyes on a vineyard in 1972 when she and her young daughter moved to the United States to join her husband, Reynaldo Robledo. Reynaldo’s grandfather had immigrated to the US in 1942 as part of the Bracero program – due to labor shortages during the war, Mexican men and women were brought to the US from agricultural regions in Mexico. 

The Robledos are the first Mexican-American vineyard workers in the country to open a vineyard and tasting room. Robledo Family Winery’s fame reached new heights when Maria started pairing fresh homemade Mexican dishes with the family’s bottles: Sauvignon Blanc with ceviche, tacos de carne asada with a red blend, rosé with chile rellenos. Her pairings have been featured in many magazines and articles. In the kitchen, Maria cooked for her family and vineyard workers, holding an annual feast for three hundred with only three other helpers. In the vineyard, she did almost everything from removing the suckers to cutting the budwood.

“Because my parents worked very hard in the vineyards, they also taught their nine children how to work in the vineyards,” Vanessa, CEO of VR Wine Business Consulting and Maria’s youngest daughter, says. “It's always about having that respect for the workers. It's very important that we give back, even if it's a simple meal that my mom offers them.”

After Maria and her husband parted ways in 2016, Maria De La Luz, a 45-acre vineyard, was born. But the new beginning came with harsh initial challenges.

“We had to replant twice. In 2017, the Red Blotch virus overtook the vineyard completely and we had to pull it out. But in 2019, the nursery sold us virus-infected plants,” Maria explains in Spanish. Vanessa translates. “So in 2023, we replanted. We're just really starting to see the plants begin to produce now.”

Maria de la Luz Ramirez carefully prunes her vineyard

After graduating from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan program, Maria de La Luz Vineyard was referred to California FarmLink for an operating loan to combat the havoc the virus had wrought.

“They were very supportive of us,” Vanessa says. “To be able to get financing, with my mom freshly divorced, was very challenging. We live off what we grow, what we're farming, and that's how we're able to sustain my mom. It is a big deal for us to be able to continue.”

In the wine and viticulture industry, there is only one harvest per year. Wine growers are paid in two portions: during the harvest and the following year.

“California FarmLink allows us to continue operating our business throughout the year without stressing out,” Vanessa continues. “We’re able to sustain the labor, the unexpected costs. If it wasn't for FSA and California FarmLink, we just wouldn't succeed.”

Annual operating loans assist FarmLink clients with labor costs, lease, utilities, and in Maria Robledo’s case, sustainability costs. As a Certified Sustainable Winegrower with the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, she uses minimal chemical applications and plants cover crops to cultivate healthy soils. When replanting, Maria recycles stakes, wires, hoses, and most surprisingly, water. Water recycling is the process of treating wastewater to remove contaminants, making it suitable for irrigation.

“Here on the property, we have wells, but the water has boron,” Vanessa says. “One of the things that is important to us is being environmentally conscious. Is water recycling more expensive? Yes, but that's what we need to do because everything leeches into the soil. Everything affects us down the line. The more we do on our end, the better it is overall.”

Along with strong environmental values, Maria and Vanessa emphasize the importance of supporting Latine- and women-owned businesses and the importance of community.

“There are now a lot of Latinos producing their own wine. I didn’t see that when I first came here,” Maria says. “Our family started the first winery and tasting room by Mexican vineyard workers in the United States. It’s a male-dominated industry but women leadership has grown.”

“Latinas are seen working in the fields or doing certain jobs but not in leadership positions,” Vanessa adds. “We're 100% woman-owned, 100% Latina-owned. It’s rare.”

For fifty years, Maria removed suckers from vines and organized dinners for crowds of vineyard workers. Today, she enjoys harvesting for hours in the vineyard and displaying her excellent cooking knowledge at Vintner’s Diary, a wine label founded by Vanessa and Jocelyn Solis, Vanessa’s daughter, in 2023. After consulting in viticulture and wine for over 25 years, Jocelyn encouraged her mother to start her own label. 

“Throughout my life, my mom’s always been working in other people's businesses, other wineries,” Jocelyn says. “I always felt like she had so much potential and knowledge that she should put towards herself. We had that conversation a year and some change ago…her putting her passion towards her own dreams is really beautiful to see. And I love that I get to be a part of that.”

Vanessa, as founder and CEO, manages sales and partnerships while Jocelyn, as media director and co-founder, handles marketing. Currently, Vintner’s Diary offers a Grenache rosé with notes of strawberries, rose and a hint of pumpkin spice. The fresh flavors are reminiscent of the thoughtfulness and heart of three generations of Robledo women.

“Rosés are a little controversial. It’s looked at as a lesser wine,” Vanessa states. “What people don't realize is that rosés are purposely made. They're not just the free flow of the red grape or sugar bombs. So I wanted to capture something that's a little controversial. I wanted to be able to show people, you can make a rosé, it can be dry, and it can go with a lot of different foods, including Latino food.”

Vintner’s Diary promotes inclusivity in the world of wine–a space characterized by wealth, prestige, and influence. By creating a bottle that aims to complement dishes from all over the world, Vanessa, Jocelyn and Maria welcome everyone of all ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds to try something new and support Latina vintners along the way. 

So, what’s next?

Maria gives a simple, bountiful answer: “Replanting. Little by little, it’s going to produce.”

Vanessa smiles. “The vision for the wine is to continue producing with the purpose of bringing people together. That’s my goal.”

“We want to keep encouraging other women to follow your dreams and to keep working towards what you want in life, no matter what your culture is,” Jocelyn adds. “My mom's done it; my grandma's done it. They have allowed me to not have to worry about that. That's a message we want to get across through our wine: to encourage other women to push through.”

You can learn more about Vintner’s Diary, their Napa Valley Rosé of Grenache, and the Robledo family’s rich history here. Vintner’s Diary social media pages offer wine education tips through their Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

Sherlin Benjamin is an International Environmental Policy Master’s Candidate specializing in Sustainability Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey.

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