Reynaldo Robledo proves he has a Midas touch when it comes to grapes, wine, and the family business.
By Scott Williams
HISPANIC BUSINESS® magazine
Producing grapes for California’s wine industry doesn’t happen overnight. Plant a crop today, and years later you might see your first harvest, provided you work hard and understand the science and art of viticulture. Reynaldo Robledo, a Mexican immigrant who rose to become owner of his own vineyard, winery, and vineyard management company, understands that as well as anyone, so it’s only fitting to draw parallels between the fruit of his labor and the great success story that is his life. Like the grapes he knows so well, Mr. Robledo’s success didn’t reach fruition quickly, and like the delicate vines he carefully tends, his triumphs have been the product of hard, steady work. The oldest of 14 children, Mr. Robledo left the town of Zamora in the Mexican state of Michoacan at age 16 to join his father on a work crew headed for Calistoga, California, in the northern edge of the Napa Valley. Today, he owns 31 acres in the California wine country and leases another 80, producing grapes for the family winery and others in the region. He also owns another 70 acres in Lake County, a two-hour drive from his home, producing grapes on nine of those acres. The 1998 production of a Chardonnay and a Los Carneros Merlot under the Robledo Family Winery label fulfilled a longtime dream. “When I started having my own property, I wanted to have my own wines,” says the 50-year-old vintner. “You want to possess everything – you want to produce and make your own.” Mr. Robledo arrived in the United States in 1968, beginning his career pruning Petite Sirah and Carignane grapevines. “The first thing I learned about pruning was that you can control the plant in the pruning, and I liked that idea,” he recalls. “I found that a person who understands pruning can control the amount of fruit the vine will produce.” He also learned to train a vine to its trellis, to graft a bud, and to control mildew and pests that can damage fruit and leaves. His hunger for knowledge and for new opportunities was quickly noticed, and within three months he was promoted to crew manager, overseeing 18 to 30 workers. A few months later, Mr. Robledo went to work for Sonoma Vineyards in Healdsburg, California, pruning, tying canes to trellises, grafting, and training young shoots to their proper positions. He supervised a crew of 30 to 35 men, including his father, and worked 14 to 16 hours a day, every day. “When I started working here I made very little money – $1.10 an hour – and that made me work hard, because I wanted to make more and I wanted to send more money to support my family in Mexico,” he says. Mr. Robledo sent money to family members until 1985, by which time they had earned residency, enabling them to work in the United States. In 1974, Mr. Robledo took a job with Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, tending the winery’s estate vineyards in the Russian River Valley – the renowned Les Pierres vineyard near Sonoma, California. Wine from Les Pierres vineyard is considered among the best in California’s wine country, selling for $60 a bottle or more. Overseeing the winery’s estate vineyards, as well as a 90-acre ranch near Oakville in the Napa Valley, was a prestigious job, especially for a former field hand.
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