Great Hispanic Owned Wineries in California
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Fausta Franco-Guerrero spent her entire childhood among grapevines and formed a bond that lasted for decades. Owning a vineyard was her “American Dream” and she managed to make it come true in the year 2005 when she purchased the family’s first piece of land. Fausta Family Vineyards produces 1000 to 1500 cases of wine every year and is most famous for its 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2015, a decision was made to re-brand the winery to Fathia (victorious) to celebrate the success achieved after so much hard work.
Queens of vino: A toast to Latina winemakers
Amelia Moran Ceja was only 12 years old when she decided she wanted to become a winemaker. She had just arrived in the Napa Valley from the Mexican state of Jalisco, and was picking merlot grapes in one of Robert Mondavi's famed vineyards along with her father.
Ceja belongs to a small but growing group of Latina winemakers in California's Napa and Sonoma valleys — hard-working and tenacious women whose journeys from humbled beginnings to winemakers are the embodiment of the American dream.
"We never had anything. My dad never owned a house. He was responsible, but he never had a great income," says Fausta Franco-Guerrero, who owns the boutique Fathia Vineyards with her husband, Roy Guerrero. "This is my American dream."
Like Ceja, Guerrero, 38, knew she wanted to be a winemaker since she was very young. Raised in Sonoma, Guerrero's playground was the vineyard where her father worked and lived (in a 500-square-foot home) with her and her mother. Her favorite childhood memories involve being among the grapevines and the workers who took care of the luscious fruit — blissful moments she wanted to recreate for her three young children.
Fausta Franco-Guerrero owns the boutique Fathia Vineyards with her husband.
In 2005, Guerrero took the initial step toward making that dream a reality by purchasing the family's first piece of land in Sonoma. Despite several setbacks, including losing their entire first harvest due to a disagreement over the company's branding with an early associate and a trademark infringement issue that forced them to change the winery's name from Fausta to Fathia, the Guerrero family now owns 10 acres and produces between 1,000 and 1,500 cases of four types of highly rated wines per year. Their 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was rated excellent (91 points) by Wine Enthusiast.
"Someone once tried to put me down (by) telling me winemaking was an industry for men where no females were allowed," Guerrero says. "But I wanted to show my kids that you should always go for your dreams. So I kept going."
Ceja remembers people trying to discourage her, too. A supposed mentor once told her that "people of color don't have the discretionary income for a luxury product" like wine when she shared her plans to pair it with Mexican cuisine — something no one was doing at the time.
So Ceja set out to prove him wrong.
"The wine industry has done a really good job at being arrogant and elitist. But we've changed the way wine's made," she explains. "We're not making wines for wine critics. We're making wine to pair well with all the food that we love — Mexican, Peruvian, Cuban and Asian."
"We're showing everyone that there's a place on the table for wine, regardless of what the menu is," Ceja says.
Field of Dreams: Latina Winemaker Fausta Guerrero
Fausta translates to “lucky”, but Fausta Guerrero of Fausta Family Vineyards would consider herself blessed. The daughter of a grape-picker and a housekeeper, Fausta sees her grapes growing on their vines as a symbol of her dreams blossoming right in front of her eyes.
Latino winemakers are a rarity, and Latina winemakers are even more rare, which makes Fausta’s story that much more special. Growing up on a vineyard, Fausta’s passion is deeply rooted in the wine industry. Her hard working Mexican-American parents instilled a fire in her that cannot be extinguished, no matter what obstacles have come her way through the years as a Latina in a competitive wine industry. Together, she and her husband Rogelio, a successful landscaper, are making their dreams of winemaking a reality in the very place Fausta grew up watching her father pick grapes.
In 2013, Fausta Family Vineyards won a Platinum award at an international competition for their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, which has also received 91 points (out of 100) from Wine Enthusiast. They are expanding their vineyard to produce more wine, and hope to open a tasting room soon.
The road to success has not been an easy one. The wine industry is highly competitive, political, and unpredictable. Fausta has overcome many obstacles and barriers with her fierce determination, passion, and love of winemaking. She credits the support from her parents, husband, and an uncle who is also a winemaker, for her success. Her children inspire her every day to go out and show them that anything is possible if you follow your dreams, no matter what forces may try to keep you down.
From picking grapes in the vineyards, to owning the land that they are grown on and producing an award-winning wine from those grapes, Fausta is the embodiment of the Mexican-American dream. Proving that no matter where you came from, your dreams are only a leap of faith away.
Fausta Family Vineyards: Growing a dream
Fausta Franco Guerrero walks through the gold-tinged grape plants that encircle her family’s home, searching for a straggler cabernet grape. She finds one, tastes it and says, “See, they are so sweet. I have a feeling the wine from this year will be the best yet.”
Fausta and her husband, Roy Guerrero, own Fausta Family Vineyards and have just won a platinum award for their 2011 cabernet sauvignon – the only wine they entered – in the Sommelier Challenge. The international competition had 898 entries from 15 countries and judged sparkling, red and white wines, giving 517 medals from platinum to silver. Fausta was one of 52 contestants to receive the platinum recognition, going up against prestigious wineries such as Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros, Ravenswood Winery, and Moët and Chandon.
But Fausta’s story isn’t about winning an award. Her story is about hard work. Her success lies in the 3,000 grape plants on her 4.52 acres, working her way up from a 500-square-foot house in Schellville and achieving her childhood dream of cultivating her own vineyard.
Fausta’s father came to the United States with her grandfather who was a brassero; he eventually went back to Mexico where he met Fausta’s mother and the two then moved to Sonoma. Fausta, an only child, lived with her parents in a modest house. Her father worked as a grape picker at a Sebastiani Winery vineyard, eventually working his way up to a job at the winery. Her mother cleaned houses and would often take Fausta with her to her jobs.
Fausta says her dream to work hard and have a vineyard first started as a way to make her mother proud, noting how her mother grew up in a small Mexican town and, at the age of 7, left school to support her 11 siblings.
Today, Fausta and Roy live with their three children in the home they designed. Fausta’s mom lives on the property in a smaller home and helps Fausta take care of her children. “I feel so thankful that I was able to build that house for my mom. She worked so hard her whole life to take care of people, and now she can relax and let other people take care of her,” Fausta said.
Fausta jokes that a man once told her he’d like to name a racehorse after her because “Fausta” means lucky. “Of course, I went home and looked it up and my name does mean lucky. For me, though, I feel more blessed than lucky.”
For Roy, his wife’s success in life doesn’t seem to be guided by luck. “She works hard, she barely sleeps,” he said, noting determination is one of the things he admires most about Fausta. “Her secret is that she is always going and going,” he said.
Fausta Family Vineyards currently produces three wines, the 2011 cabernet sauvignon, a 2011 reserve cabernet sauvignon and a 2012 viognier. Fausta says she is looking into making a rose. She sells her viognier at girl and the fig in Sonoma, her 2011 cabernet sauvignon at the Glenn Ellen Inn and, most recently, her cabernet sauvignon and viognier at Meritage Martini and Oyster Bar.
Fausta said she is careful not to compare her wines to others, noting she respects other winemakers and their different tastes. For Fausta, it’s all about learning through trial and error and working to make wine that she and her family want to drink all the time.She describes her viognier as crisp and light with aromas of peaches and pineapple. Her cabernet sauvignon is creamy and rich with cherry and chocolate aromas and boasts a stronger alcohol flavor on the finish, rather than at first taste. Fausta feels empowered as a woman winemaker and has even designed a curvier bottle and label to look more feminine.
“We live in world where we can have the greatest opportunity,” Fausta said. “Everything is possible and if you really want something then you should try – you have to keep dreaming.”
Roy, who was born in the United States but grew up in Mexico, believed in the same opportunity when he started a landscaping business in 2005.
In 2008, the couple purchased a decrepit property with three small homes that needed to be demolished, and worked for a year to build their dream house with a vineyard for Fausta. A devout Catholic, Fausta feels called to her property. She keeps a white Virgin Mary statue at one edge of her vineyard and has her grapes blessed by a priest at each harvest.
Fausta took viticulture classes at the junior college in Napa and Roy worked with his landscaper colleagues to learn about vineyard maintenance. Fausta Family Vineyards was officially making wine in 2010.
Building their vineyard on this trial basis wasn’t always easy, Fausta and Roy say. The couple recalls one of the hardest times when they had to throw away their crush because they did not have the appropriate paperwork to take it from a facility that was helping them. But, Fausta says, when she struggles she thinks of her children and how much she wants to make her family proud.
“The reason that I can do this (achieve my dream) is because my family is dreaming with me,” Fausta said.
Along with the help of her husband, Fausta also gets guidance from her uncle who works at a vineyard in Napa and whose grapes, grown in the Alexander Valley, make her viognier.
Before pursuing her career as a winemaker, Fausta worked for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and credits a former colleague for pushing her to start making wine and motivating her to continue in the toughest times. Fausta’s family and friends also help with the grape harvesting.
On a recent autumn day, Fausta and her family gathered around their kitchen counter, which was covered in dishes Fausta worked all night to prepare. She’s used her mom’s recipes to make pico de gallo, molcajete, guacamole and ceviche. She has even used some of her viognier to cook garlic shrimp and her cabernet to make lasagna and steak tacos. “This is Fausta,” said Roy, “she doesn’t do anything halfway.”
Fausta took a break from the feast to hold up her platinum award. She got goosebumps and cried, remembering how she felt when she found out she won. “I felt overwhelmed that this came from the effort of us working the land, a dream I’ve dreamt all my life.”
On Nov. 22, Fausta will test the legs of her award-winning 2011 cabernet sauvignon again, at another competition. She is currently working to expand sales of her wine in Sonoma, Napa, St. Helena and Healdsburg. While she hopes to have a production facility with an onsite tasting room in five years, she is working on achieving a shorter-term goal of finding a property where she can build a tasting room in 2014.
Fausta Franco of Fausta Family Vineyards
It’s exciting to see more and more Latinas jumping into winemaking. Women long ago proved that they belong on the top rung of winemaking with the likes of Heidi Barrett, Merry Edwards, and Helen Turley. They broke down barriers and proved that a woman can do the hard labor and yet use their gentle palates and touch to make wine that appeals to a wide audience. We now have more and more Latinas joining the ranks and one of our personal favorites is Fausta Franco.
Fausta grew up in Sonoma in a family immersed in the wine industry with uncles who worked in the vineyards. Now, with help of her very loving and supportive husband, she owns her own vineyard. We are so proud of Fausta and all her accomplishments. Fausta’s brand is Fausta Family Vineyards a small boutique winery in the heart of Sonoma Valley.
SVL: Did you grow up with wine in the house?
Fausta: Yes I grew up with wine in our home. We would mostly collect bottles of wine and open one up on special occasions.
SVL: When did you know you wanted to be a winemaker?
Fausta: In the late 90’s when I started noticing that there were female wine makers in the industry. It gave me motivation to pursue my dream.
SVL: What are some challenges you face as a Latina winemaker?
FAUSTA: The major challenge I have faced as a latina winemaker is starting from the bottom financially and working my way to the top and getting my brand recognized and have it grow each day.
(Incidentally, her inaugural release reserve cab just earned a 90+ score from wine enthusiast. Talk about brand recognition!!)
SVL: Where did you learn to make wine?
FAUSTA: With the help of my uncle and the classes that I took at Napa Junior College
SVL: You make cab, moscato, and viognier. What is a varietal you enjoy that you do not make?
FAUSTA: I enjoy a Merlot and I don’t make it because I have not found a small lot that can sell me their grapes.
SVL: Viognier is not a common wine, why did you decide to make it?
FAUSTA: When we were making our portfolio of the different variety of wines we wanted to make, it was between Viognier and Chardonnay. We had both varietals on hand so I decided for Viognier. Just like a Chardonnay the Viognier has the potential to produce a full-bodied wine. So I decided to experiment with the grape where I could make a different wine that has more natural aromatics.
SVL: What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
FAUSTA: My favorite food paring is our Cabernet Sauvignon with lasagna that I make from scratch. Also our Viognier is wonderfully paired with grilled chicken and our garlic spicy shrimp.
SVL: When you aren’t making wine, running after kids, and taking care of your vineyard, what do you do for fun?
FAUSTA: What I do for fun is watch mystery or suspense movies and try to travel with the family as the children are growing really fast each day.