(July 2017) Last Saturday evening my husband and I were invited to the 20 Year Anniversary Dinner Celebration of Mi Sueño Winery. Given that I knew the wines of Mi Sueno were very delicious and that the dinner was being held at Michelin star restaurant L’Auberge de Soleil, we were very pleased to be on the guest list. However, I didn’t expect to be brought to tears by the speakers, and completely awestruck by the support and mentorship of Warren Winarski and Marketta Formeaux in helping Rolando and Lorena Herrera to start Mi Sueño Winery.
A Double Anniversary of Wine and Romance
The dinner began with a reception on the patio where we were treated to a chilled glass of 2013 Mi Sueno Chardonnay Los Carneros and many tempting appetizers. Then, as the sun was slowly setting over the Western mountains of Napa Valley, the more than 200 guests in attendance were ushered into a sparkling dining room with white orchids on each table and a sea of wine glasses at each place setting. Champagne was poured as Cristina Londono with Telemundo gracefully stood to propose a toast to Rolando and Lorena Herrera. Not only were they celebrating ownership of Mi Sueño Winery, which was launched in 1997, but they were also celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary.
As Rolando stood to address the crowd, he had a large smile on his face. “Thirty-five years ago I started working here at L’Auberge de Soleil as a dishwasher,” he said, “and today I can truly say my dream has come true.”
The American Dream is Alive in Napa Valley
Then Rolando proceeded to tell the story of how he had left Mexico in 1982 at age 15 to attend high school in Napa Valley and wash dishes at night. He took on other part-time jobs, including building stonewalls for Warren Winarski at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. One day Warren saw him building walls, and was impressed by his determination, so he decided to offer him a cellar job. Three years later, Rolando was promoted to cellar master, and during this time began taking winemaking classes at Napa Valley College. Over the ensuring years, he also had the opportunity to work at Chateau Potelle and Paul Hobbs wineries before starting his own very successful Mi Sueño Winery.
Rolando pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and expressed his appreciation:
- “To Warren, thank you for giving me the opportunity and opening the doors to the wine industry. I loved you from day one.”
- “To Marketta, thank you for your trust in me and hiring me as a winemaker.”
- “To Paul Hobbs, you gave me wings to fly, and took me to South America”
- “To my wife and children, you are everything.”
When it was Warren’s turn to address the diners, he confidentially took the microphone and told a story that brought tears to my eyes:
“The day I first met Rolando, he was cutting and placing stones on a wall at my Stag’s Leap property. It was the summer of 1985, and I didn’t know that the workers had been told: ‘Don’t look up at El Senor when he passes. Keep your eyes down and stay working.’ But one worker looked up at me, and I looked down at him. There was something in his eyes that said, ‘I am not a stone cutter.’ It reminded me of myself when I started out as an apprentice. So I fell in love with this man who looked up at me, and I saw myself in that look.”
Warren went on to describe how he offered Rolando a job in the cellar. “Not only did he have to learn English, but he had to learn the vocabulary of wine. This is difficult because you have to find words to describe what you taste on your tongue. Wine has its own vocabulary, and without it you cannot talk the language of wine. But Rolando excelled at all of this. He is filled with passion, dedication, consciousness, and courage. He was recognized at the Smithsonian this May, and his wines have been served at the White House. He produces the highest level of fine wine.”
Marketta Formeaux of Chateaux Potelle Offers Rolando a Chance to be Winemaker
After many cheers and much toasting over Warren’s story, Marketta Formeaux, former owner of Chateau Potelle took the microphone. She explained how she had approached Rolando and offered him the position of Assistant Winemaker at Chateau Potelle in 1995:
“I came to Napa Valley from France in 1980,” explained Marketta in her charming French accent, “and was a partner in launching Chateau Potelle. In 1995 I wanted to hire an Assistant Winemaker, and I met Rolando. As a woman in the wine industry, I know how difficult it can be at times, and the courage and hard work it took for him to achieve what he had done at Stag’s Leap. So we hired him, and he worked for us for two years. Rolando was an exceptional winemaker and perfectly understood our motto that ‘we don’t make wine, we make pleasure.”
Massive applause erupted after Marketta’s speech, and much clinking of glasses and wine toasts “for pleasure.”
Flying Winemaker and the Launch of Mi Sueño
Rolando also had other jobs with Vine Cliff Winery and Paul Hobbs Winery. While working with Paul, he had the opportunity to fly to South America to assist with winemaking there. Paul Hobbs was not able to be at the dinner celebration due to his travel schedule, but I’m sure he would have had an equally compelling story to tell as Marketta and Warren.
Cristina took the microphone again, and we learned that Rolando’s story continued with his marriage to Lorena in 1997, after a decade of courtship. Lorena is the oldest daughter of the famous Robledo wine family, who own more than 350 acres of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties. So in addition to marrying the love of his life, Rolando had access to high quality wine grapes. Therefore, they decided to start their own winery the same year that they married. They christened it “Mi Sueño,” which means “My Dream” in Spanish.
Mi Sueño Winery Today
Today Rolando and Lorena produce seven major varietals, including chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo, malbec, syrah and petit verdot. To honor their six children, they created a second brand called Herrera, naming each wine in this line after one of their children. For example there is Herrera Perla Chardonnay and Herrera Rolando Jr. Cabernet Sauvignon, for their children, Perla and Rolando Jr.
The Wine and Dinner Menu at L’Auberge de Soleil
In addition to being moved to tears by the speakers, we were also treated to an incredible meal by Executive Chef Robert Curry and Pastry Chef Paul Lemieux. Many of the wines were poured from magnum. The menu is listed below:
Sauteed Day Boat Scallop
2010 Perla Chardonnay, Herrera Selection
Grilled Kurobuta Pork Chop
2006 Mi Sueño Russian River Pinot Noir
Filet of Beef with Wild Mushrooms
2010 Rebecca Cabernet Sauvignon, Herrera Selection
2010 Rolando Jr. Cabernet Sauvignon, Herrera Selection
Valrhona Chocolate Mousse Torte
On the drive home my husband and I discussed the evening and how magical it was. It gave us both hope, that though we live in a time now where immigration to the USA is becoming tougher and tougher, there is still opportunity in wine country.
Later, I found out from Amelia Ceja, President of Ceja Winery, that there is a Mexican-American Vintner’s Association. Currently they have around 13 members, but Amelia estimates that there are around 25 wineries started by Mexican-Americans in the US today. Five of these wineries, including Ceja and Mi Sueno, were honored at the Smithsonian earlier this year in a special ceremony focusing on food and wine.