Oct 31, 2014

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Interview with Robert Reyes, a Latino Vineyard Owner & Wine Producer

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Today’s Spotlight Interview is with Robert Reyes, Wine Producer and Owner of Reyes Winery- a vineyard based in California. Roberts spoke with New Latina and shared with us his history and his thoughts about wine and Latinos.

New Latina: Robert, you are one of the few Latinos in this country who can say they own a vineyard and a winery.  Please tell us what is your family’s country of origin and share with us some family history.

Robert: I was born in Valverde Mao, Dominican Republic. My father was a second generation Spaniard, he died before I was born.  My mother raised my three sisters and I working from home as a seamstress in Santo Domingo.  I remember she would get up at 4 AM every day to cut fabrics and make patterns for her clients.  Mom never remarried. She devoted her life to her work and raising her kids.  She went to New York City in 1962 to look for a better life for her family, like most immigrants.  In 1963, my two older sisters came to New York City, and in September of 1964 my younger sister and I came to NY. My mother is now 90 and still lives in the same Manhattan apartment since 1963.  I am so grateful- she has been such a blessing in my life, she’s a true heroine. As a little boy I remember an aunt who used to make orange wine, and I was always fascinated by that.  In fact, as a young boy I remember doing my own wine experiments. I remember my aunt’s wine was a sweet and very delicious wine.  Yes, I did try it!  She is now in her 90s and every time I visit Dominican Republic. I bring her a box of See’s Candies chocolates and a bottle of wine.

New Latina: Tell us more about your journey into the wine industry and owning a vineyard.  Where it’s located, how long did it take you?

Robert: I always thought about having a small vineyard to make wine for home consumption, family and friends, strictly as a hobby, but never thought about owning a winery.  I have been fascinated and have had a passion for wine and winemaking for as long as I can remember.  I enjoy every aspect of what I am doing, whether it’s being out in the vineyard with the crew or in the wine lab or talking to visitors about wine, I thoroughly enjoy it all.   I had a picture of a small vineyard pasted in a collage I made many years ago related to my goals and aspirations.  Well, that goal became a reality.  I especially enjoy having a glass of wine with friends once in a while.

Reyes Vineyard and Winery is located in Los Angeles County, about 45 minutes north of Downtown Los Angeles, in the small town of Agua Dulce, California. The property is 16.25 acres.  I acquired the property in 2003 when a good friend called to tell me about the property while I was traveling abroad.  My friend  thought I should buy it, and he emphasized there were other offers on the table so I needed to move fast.  I was at an airport nowhere near LA to initiate the transaction but my son got involved, signed offers and the deal happened.  Upon return from my trip, I was pleasantly surprised the first time I saw the property; the open 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains truly inspired me.  There were two old abandoned houses on the property, which I completely gutted and refurbished.  Can you imagine the condition? The main house was built in 1915.  We planted the vineyard in 2004 and had a first small crop in 2005, which was made into our house wine for that year.  All 150 bottles of it!  After four and a half years of working in the permit process, we were finally licensed in time to bottle our 2009 vintage wines, which we did in April of 2011.  At that point we went on the market with our wines.  Total production from our own vineyard is approximately 2500 to 3000 cases per year, or approximately 30,000 to 36,000 bottles.

New Latina: What is a typical day as a vineyard owner and wine producer?

Robert:  I get up every morning at 6 AM. After my prayers, I start by checking on the condition of the stock market and the news related to the market.  Then throughout the day I deal with a multitude of tasks as ordinary as ordering materials used in the winemaking process, or as interesting as working in the lab at the winery. The day may also involve talking to our sales reps, or making decisions about equipment, it’s always busy. The vineyard manager starts his day at 7 AM and there is constant work in the vineyard, sometimes more than others depending on the time of year.

In the spring, when the vines come back to life we deal with thinning the vines and making sure we don’t get mold on the vines.  In the summer we deal with preventing or treating plagues. In late summer we get into harvest, and in the winter we prune vines to get them ready for the next growing season.  I have several other business and personal interests with which I must deal almost on a daily basis.  Consequently, I don’t spend 100% of the time everyday working in the winery, besides, we are a small winery and we  have great people in place to handle most things.

New Latina: What types of wines do you produce and which ones are your favorite ones?  How did you decide on which varieties to plant?

We produce five varieties, three reds and two whites. The reds are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.  On the whites we have Chardonnay and Muscat.

As to which are my favorites, frankly that changes with me, my most favorite is the 2009 Syrah.  Sometimes, I prefer a Merlot or a Cabernet depending on how I feel that day but regardless, I’m always pleased with the wine.  We have a unique micro climate in our area, which help us produce the quality wines we have been producing.  We entered our reds in three different competitions and won medals in all competitions.  At the LA International Wines and Spirits Competition our Cabernet Sauvignon won two awards, a “Best of Class” 95 points, and a gold medal.  Our Merlot won gold and silver medals, and our Syrah won two silver medals.  Our small town of Agua Dulce was recently designated as an appellation its name is “The Sierra Pelona Valley Viticultural Area.”  This appellation brings additional prestige and credibility to our wines and we can now label them as “Estate Bottled.”

New Latina: Do you see a trend in terms of Latinos in this country consuming more wine in social gatherings and at home?  If so, any thoughts on why this might be the case?

Robert: There is a clearly defined trend, Latinos are consuming more wine than ever before in the US.  I believe as Latinos have become more acclimated and established in this country, and have become more affluent and more sophisticated they are definitely becoming wine drinkers.  I have personally seen this trend developing over the years.  I recently read an article, which stated that Hispanics are the fastest growing wine consumer group in the United States. Wine consumption among Hispanics is increasing at a faster rate than in any other ethnic group in the U.S.  There was a survey done by the Wine Marketing Council, which revealed that 31% of Hispanics claim that they drink more wine now than they have in the past.  This is a great thing to see, Hispanics, especially Mexicans, have worked in the vineyards for generations, and it’s only until recently we have started to consume what we have helped create in this country

New Latina: What’s a good wine for the following dishes?

Robert: The main thing to remember about pairing wine with food is that there are no rules.  You basically drink the wine you like with the food you like.  However, there are some basic guidelines that help you maximize your enjoyment of food and wine.  You want to try to match the texture of the food with the consistency and structure of the wine.  For instance a heartier fish like salmon, would pair really well with a more structured, richer wine like Chardonnay.  A Chardonnay would also pair well with a Caesar salad with chicken and anchovies.  A lighter fish like sole would probably go better with a lighter white wine like Pinot Grigio.  Try to match the intensity of the food with the intensity of the wine so that one does not overcome the other.  In some cases where you’re having a really spicy food, you may want to go with a lighter fruitier wine like a Riesling to tone down the heat of the spices.  As for our own rice and beans and grilled onion steak, that goes really well with a Cabernet Sauvignon, I have that combination often.  Again, remember there are no rules and each of us develops our own personal favorites in food and wine.

New Latina: How can we find and purchase your wine?  Do you have any special recommendations for the holiday season?

Robert: Reyes wines can be purchased at a multitude of stores in the Los Angeles area.  They can also be purchased at the winery and on line in our website store www.ReyesWinery.com   Additionally, we have a wine club and we ship via UPS every three months to our members.  I invite anyone visiting or living in Los Angeles to come and visit the winery. For the holidays we’re just releasing a new wine, which is our white Port style wine, and it’s absolutely fabulous to enjoy with dessert.

The winery is open for tours on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 AM to 5 PM.

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Marlyn Nunez

Marlyn Nuñez is a graduate of New York University, earning a Bachelors Degree in Communication Studies. She also received a Masters Degree in Education from CUNY's City College.

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