Sometimes it’s a mystery as to why certain people are ‘bitten by the wine bug,’ and others are not. But for a group of 12 Hispanic winemakers in Oregon, there is a strong common bond of growing grapes and making wine to reflect the beauty of the land, as well as to provide a legacy business for their families. And part of that legacy is sharing the joy of wine paired with food to bring friends and family together to celebrate the ‘good life.’
Recently I had the opportunity to meet Sam Parra, Owner of Parra Wines. “I have such a passion for grape growing and winemaking, and sharing that knowledge with others,” said Parra. “My inspiration to make wine was to keep a family tradition alive.”
Indeed, Parra grew up in Napa, California, where his family worked in the vineyards and made wine to share with family and friends in their garage. Upon moving to Oregon 10 years ago, Parra realized that there was a need to provide education for the many Hispanic field workers, so he became involved in an organization called AHIVOY.
Forming an Association to Celebrate Hispanic Roots in Oregon
Through his association with AHIVOY, Parra was able to help many vineyard workers learn the skills to become winemakers. He also discovered that there were a few small Hispanic owned wineries already operating in Oregon, so he helped to organize Celebrating Hispanic Roots, which is a small group of Oregon winery owners and winemakers who share a Hispanic background.
Now, each year during Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15), these winemakers come together to celebrate by hosting a series of wine and food pairing dinners. The proceeds from the event are donated to !Salud!, an organization that makes healthcare affordable for vineyard stewards and their families. In addition, each winery will be offering special wine selections during Hispanic Heritage Month and 10% of bottle sales will be donated to ¡Salud!.
“What is unique about our winemakers is that we are not only producing Oregon Pinot Noir wine, for which Oregon is famous, but we are focused on planting new grape varietals as well. For example, Albarino, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Tempranillo, Gamay, Malbec and Syrah all can grow quite well in Oregon,” said Parra.
Conversations with Five Hispanic Winemakers in Oregon
In order to prove his point, Parra connected me with other Hispanic winemakers in Oregon who participated in email interviews and provided wine samples. Each winemaker commented on what inspired them to become a winemaker in Oregon, and provided a food pairing suggestion for their wine(s).
#1) Cristina Gonzales, Owner of Gonzales Wine Company, was inspired to start her winery when she came to the realization that if she wanted to achieve her career goals, she would need to start her own company.
“I was inspired and motivated by the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to work my way up the ladder and get promoted to winemaker in a large winery setting. I was going up against an industry full of tradition and dominated by white males. So, I made a promise to myself that I would forge out my own path and in the process celebrate my heritage and who I am,” stated Gonzales.
She is also hopeful that she can inspire others who look like her from marginalized communities to realize that anything is possible and that there is room in the industry for everyone.
Gonzales makes a special wine called The Revolutionary ($45), which is a red wine made from Petit Verdot grapes, and is brimming with flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and notes of dried strawberry, leather, and earth. It is quite complex with a long finish, and she recommends pairing it with mushroom risotto, chicken tikka masala, and creamy rice and pasta dishes.
#2) J.P Valot, Owner of Valcan Cellars, said that his family in Argentina and college education inspired him to start his own winery. “My nonno worked for the biggest winery in Argentina and my dad is a wine broker in Mendoza. I got the inspiration from them but I got the desire of making wine when I went to the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo en Mendoza and I’ve become an agricultural engineer with a focus in vineyard management and winemaking.”
Coming from Argentina, it may not be surprising that his passion in Oregon is growing and making wine with the Malbec grape. In fact, he not only makes a traditional red Malbec, but also a rather rare White Malbec and a Sparkling Malbec.
The Valcan Cellars White Malbec ($24) is a rare rendering of a medium-bodied white wine made from the red Malbec grape. It has a notes of raspberry, service berry and pear with a crisp refreshing finish. Valot recommends pairing it with “sea food or dishes with some spices and sweetness.”
The Valcan Cellars Sparkling Red Malbec ($30) is a cheerful red sparkling wine with a floral nose and bright black cherry and strawberry flavors. Valot describes it as a “summer outdoor sparkling that can go really well with appetizers outdoors or by the pool.”
#3) Sofia Torres, Wine Grower Proprietor of Cramoisi Vineyard, explained that it was working in the vineyard and being close to the land that inspired her to become a winemaker and start Cramoisi Vineyards with her husband.
“The more I was learning about the process of wine growing, learning organic and biodynamic practices to respect the land, the people, and the environment; the more I realized that the most rewarding and beautiful part of this business is the people involved. Therefore, my passion for wine growing grew, and now I am obsessed with wine growing, the people, and sharing a bottle of wine at the dinner table or at a special celebration. It is fun and interesting,” reported Torres.
She continued, “For my husband and me, it is a ritual to open a bottle of wine, see the shape of the bottle, the label, to learn about the stories inside the bottle, smell the aromas, to savor the wine…. and to pair it with the right food…. is perfection.”
Torres shared a bottle of her 2021 Cramoisi Sofias Block Estate Pinot Noir ($58), which is a more structured, ripe pinot noir with dark black cherry, cranberry and allspice. She recommends pairing it with rack of lamb, dressed with a thin layer of black mole, risotto on the side, and fresh arugula salad.
#4) Carla Rodriguez, Owner of Beacon Hill Winery, described how the winery she built with her husband is intended to be a legacy for their children.
“We firmly believe in being stewards of the land so that it is here for future generations (aka our two daughters). We currently farm around 75 acres and do so under LIVE and Salmon Safe practices. We are a small, family, Hispanic owned business and we are incredibly fortunate to be able to share our product with all our guests,” said Rodriguez.
Gonzales shared an exquisite bottle of 2022 Beacon Hill Albarino ($32), which she says is one of her favorites. It has notes of apple, pear, and a hint of honeysuckle and salinity, with a refreshingly long and crisp finish. She says, “it is best paired with ceviche, spicy Thai dishes, oysters and seafood such as seared Halibut or Boquerones.”
#5) Sam Parra, Owner of Parra Wine Co., who started his brand to keep his Napa Valley family tradition alive, has a clear vision of where he wants to be in the future.
“My goal for the wine brand is to grow to reach national distribution one day,” he stated. Sam provided two exceptional wines to taste:
Parra Wine Co. Gewürztraminer 2022 ($28) – a vibrant and beautifully aromatic, dry white wine with a nose of orange blossom and flavors of dried pineapple, nectarine, and a zippy lemon peel. Parra suggests pairing it with, “spicy Thai or Vietnamese noodle dishes.”
Parra Wine Co. Tempranillo 2021 ($39) – an elegant and perfumed red wine with medium body and notes of dried strawberry, red cherry and cloves. “I recommend this wine with paella or short ribs,” enthused Parra.