When I’m searching for a new wine, I want to hear the story of what’s inside the bottle. Just as every picture tells a story, so does every bottle of wine.
What brought this bottle of wine to fruition? Was a group of investors wanting to try to cash in on the industry? Or was it a hard-working dreamer begging for the day that others can see, smell and taste that dream?
I can tell you if it’s a group of investors, I usually walk away. You will rarely taste the passion in the bottle that a dreamer dreams of making.
Years ago while searching for new wines to bring into the market here in Waco, Ceja was introduced to me by a supplier. The wine was good, very good no doubt, but the story behind the wine makes it exceptional.
I definitely was hooked. As I have said before, wine is an emotion. Each sip is something we take in and equate our moments, our adventures, anything and everywhere. I love watching a small dream grow.
Ceja Vineyards is Amelia Moran Ceja’s dream as a small immigrant coming to America from Jalisco, Mexico, in 1967 working alongside both her parents at Mondavi’s To Kalon Vineyard.
It was here she met her future husband, Pedro Ceja, who had immigrated with his family from Aguililla, Michoacán, and also worked the fields with his parents. The hard work quickly, even at such a tender age, turned into a labor of love. Both of them never lost sight of this dream, no matter how long it took them to reach it.
Amelia and Pedro both went to college and pursued careers. However, it was Pedro’s brother Armando who was a natural enologist, making his first barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon by age 18. He attended University of California Davis.
By 1983, Amelia Moran Ceja, her now-husband Pedro, Pedro’s brother Armando and their parents, Pablo and Juanita Ceja, together scraped up the $400,000 for 15 acres in Carneros. They became the first Mexican-American wine growers in Napa and Sonoma.
For the next 18 years, they concentrated on growing premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes while acquiring more land. The Carneros region is 40 miles north of San Francisco, and is a moderate climate perfect for grapes with the fog rolling in from the Pacific, the ocean breezes, mild winters and warm summer days with cool nights.
This climate allows for the grapes to stay on the vines for a longer period of time, reaching higher acidity and developing full flavor profiles.
It is also this region that has been largely been spared thus far of wildlifes reaching their vineyards.
After selling their premium grapes to the likes of Carneros Creek, Benzinger, Rombauer (how any times have I said Rombauer was the epitome of the perfect Chardonnay? Often!), Beringer, Mumm, Dom Chandon and many more, the family decided it was finally time to take their future to the next level — winemaking.
In 1999, they voted to have Amelia Moran Ceja be president, making her the first Mexican-American of a wine production company.
Still to this day, they sell their grapes, while holding back a bit more for them. Ceja is not mass produced, but is a magnificent boutique wine. The first years were devoted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Amelia is an accomplished chef, nurtured by her maternal grandmother, Mama Chepa, who taught her to cook with the freshest ingredients. She has web videos featuring authentic Mexican cooking and recipes that she incorporates into her wine pairings with Ceja wines.
Amelia likes to harvest the grapes early while the sugar content is low so that the wines incorporate the fruitiness of the grapes to complement the spicy dishes. Targeting immigrants through her wines, as well as others, she is slowly educating, and chipping away the myth that all things a Mexican needs is a beer or margarita.
Amelia Moran Ceja has won numerous awards with dedication in a tough environment for women, and an immigrant woman on top of it. She’s been breaking barriers for her children and the world.
In 2005, the California Legislature named her Woman of the Year, and the accolades keep on coming. She truly is an inspiration to all.
For your special holiday gift giving, and hopefully receiving, here are my top recommendations:
Wines in Review
2018 Ceja Carneros Pinot Noir
Tasting notes: A true representation of Carneros, this Pinot Noir has light floral notes, spice, juicy cherries, with a touch of cinnamon on the back. It’s full-bodied, but with the perfect amount of acidity; it is not overpowering.
2018 Ceja Estate Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Tasting notes: This Chardonnay is loaded with fruits. Aromas that are so enticing it’ll make your head swirl. Pineapple, Granny Smith apples, touches of apricot, vanilla, pears and Meyer lemons folding to flavors of tropical fruit and citrus, and rounding out with toasted oak.
2016 Ceja Mezcla 54, Napa Valley
Tasting notes: A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this red blend is above the others. It’s elegant, yet playful. Aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, caramel and cocoa swirl around boysenberry, currant and ripe red plums. The mouth is full of complex flavors packed with blackberries and vanilla, violets wrapping the palate with medium tannins and a long velvety finish.
2019 Ceja Bella Flor, Rosé of Syrah, Sonoma Coast
Tasting notes: A perfect Rosé that shines bright with aromas of rose petals, strawberries and cherry, with orange zest and raspberries on the palate. Very well-balanced and nice, clean acidity.
The wines are available locally or by ordering direct at www.cejavineyards.com. ￼
Lorrie Dicorte has been in the wine business for 38 years and her family for 90 years. Her grandfather, Billy Dicorte, and cousin, Tony LaBarbera, were the first to import fine wines such as Ch Lafite Rothschild. Lorrie has served on international wine competition judging panels, and is known for her keen smell and taste.