|Monday, 01 March 2010 17:16|
Rolando Herrera's Mi Sueno
Rolando Herrera used to make a salary that could barely cover his monthly car payments and a bed for the night. He moved to the United States at age 15 and held a night job all through high school as a dishwasher at the Napa Valley restaurant Auberge du Soleil, dreaming he would one day be earning $10 an hour. At 45, his 12-year old wine label, Mi Sueno, produces 6,000 cases of wine a year and sells in sixteen U.S. States, Japan and China. He consults for Red Stitch, a high-end Napa Cabernet. Rolando still dreams. But these days he dreams of building his own winery in Napa Valley. Color spoke with him on what it takes to become a winemaker.
"Working hard is part of my nature," Rolando said, speaking of his days as a dishwasher. But he always thought he was meant to do other things and recalling his ambition, said "the square footage is too small in a restaurant." After his junior year in high school, "I asked one of my cousins to give me a job, but he just laughed." Rolando managed to find work helping to build a stonewall at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. The winery's owner, Warren Winiarski, liked his work ethic. After the wall was completed, Winiarski kept Herrera employed through the harvest doing odd jobs. However, the teenager still had school and raced home every day to work from 3pm to 11pm, saving a few late hours for homework. Rolando remembers stepping into the wine cellar one day when it dawned on him, "The smell of oak barrels and wine hit me. The lighting, the casks. Everything. All this mystery, the questions. I have found my home. I know what I want to do the rest of my life."
The first few years he was just cleaning. Three years later Rolando became Stags Leap's Cellar Master. From Stag's Leap he moved on to the much smaller Chateau Potelle Winery, followed by Vine Cliff Winery and now as a winemaker. In 2001 he joined famed Paul Hobbs Consulting as Director of wine making. With much self-doubt, he then bought a few tons of Chardonnay grape and experimented. "When I started, being a Hispanic winemaker was extremely rare. My friends thought I was crazy." But soon, friends, wine shops and restaurants all thought the wine I was making was French wine, and unanimously declared, "You need to bottle this stuff yourself." The logistics and permits took time, but the result was 200 cases of Chardonnay that were sold out in an instant.
Rolando's biggest challenge is work/life balance. "While it is great to have your own business, you have to give up a lot and need support. I have great support from my wife. She was the first person who said that I some day would have my own label. I have six kids, from three to 11 years old. I want to spend more time as a father, I want to buy a piece of property and have a winery in the country."
His label, Mi Sueno, refers to "what we share, what this country is built upon."
"No matter what you do in life, find something you love," Rolando said, "and since dreams are free: if you are going to dream, dream big".
Medalla Real Cab Chile (2007, $18, 87/100)
Silver Palm Cabernet Chile (2006, $15, 89/100)
The Hispanic Wine Scene
Wine consumption among Latinos has increased tremendously. "Fifteen years ago at a wedding they would serve Tequila and beer, now there is wine at every event," Herrara said. While an earlier attempt to start a Hispanic Vintner's Alliance failed, many individual ventures did not.
Alex Sotelo: alexsotelocellars.com