In the latter part of July, I was introduced on Twitter to Amelia Ceja, President of Ceja Vineyards. Ceja Vineyards is a family operated Winery in Carneros Valley, California.
I had heard lovely things about Amelia , her Winery and Tasting room in Napa from TV correspondent Lori Moreno.
At the mere mention of my desire to visit Ceja Vineyards, Amelia issued a personal invitation to come and visit, while learning about the business , its delightful owners and the exceptional employees of this remarkable family business.
Within a week of that invitation, Amelia called me and invited me to come visit on Saturday, August 23, 2014. I was honored and deeply grateful for this opportunity.
Amelia went on to explain to me, that this would be the last day she had available to personally allow me to ” shadow her” as she served her wine to guests at the Downtown Napa Blues and Brews festival.
After that event, I headed with Amelia to their winery in Carneros, where Amelia was hosting a benefit for a Liberian village in Africa. This year the goal was to build a school in that village. In 5 hours, the charity raised about $ 30,000 to build that school.
At last year’s event, the same group was able to raise enough money to bring fresh water to this same village.
We started the day with lunch date , in which Amelia gave me her story. What a story it is.
At age 12, Amelia immigrated to Napa Valley to pick grapes in the vineyard alongside her parents. At that time she spoke no English, so she was placed in a special education class.
That was a common practice that many years ago. Not only did she learn English that year; she also met her future husband, Pedro, who was in the same class as Amelia.
This was the beginning of a very important socioeconomic development in California agricultural industry. Amelia and Pedro met Cesar Chavez, Founder of United Farm Workers. This is the man Amelia calls her Hero, and adds that he , along with her parents are her truest heroes.
Not only did Amelia learn English , she excelled in school, and went on to UC San Diego, where she graduated with 2 degrees in 1980.
During that time, she and Pedro married and started a family. In 1999, Amelia, Pedro and family members Armando and Martha , first-generation Mexican-American immigrants, founded Ceja Vineyard and Ceja Winery.
Armando is the winemaker and earned his degree in Enology at UC Davis. Amelia is President and was also the first woman President of the California Wine Board.
In the past 15 years, they have developed and expanded the business. While doing so they have been dedicated not only to good wine , but to sustainable agriculture and a commitment to raise wages and provide excellent benefits for the employees of this company, who they view as family.
Pedro, Amelia, Armando and Martha are making excellent wines, while honoring the environment and compensating well their employees.This is their daily goal; to make the world a better place and to make the finest wines, that which Amelia calls, “Liquid Art.”
And yes, the wines are exceptional. While Amelia was serving wine in front of her tasting room to festival celebrants, she encouraged me to start tasting each of 8 wines they were pouring at their tasting room.
I started with a trio of whites. First, a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. I was enchanted. The crisp aroma of lemon & lime yielded to a faint grapefruit scent. The palate was tart and crisp. At $22 a bottle, it’s very drinkable.
My 2nd pick was the 2011 Ceja Chardonnay. The bouquet is fragrant with hints of Apple pear and citrus. The palate is fresh, crisp and creamy. At $ 34 a bottle, a real treat.
My final white was ” dessert and apertif” wine. It is called 2008 Dulce Beso. It retails at $ 40 a bottle. Such a great aroma, with noire of white peach, tropical essences and a sweet citrusy finish which is in my opinion, an almost irresistible palate that echoes the strength of the bouquet. They currently make 650 cases a year. It is aged for 14 months in French barrels and the grapes were 94% Sauvignon bland and 6 % semillion. The high sugar content is easily tasted but it is not syrupy. Absolutely, even though I really liked the other 2 whites, Dulce Beso stole my heart and my palate.
As we moved on the benefit at the winery, we were happily fed some of the best paella I have ever eaten. And, I got to really taste the 5 dynamic reds that were being poured. First start was the 2010 Ceja Merlot. Incredibly fruity with hints of chocolate , raspberry and spice. At $ 34 a bottle, a real treat.
The 2nd red pour was a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. The aroma of black cherry, dark chocolate, wild berry, plum and anise give way to a delicious palate, probably my personally favored red, at $50 a bottle, I agree with Amelia, ” Liquid Art.”
The final 3 I tasted were 2010 Ceja Carneros Pinot Noir, truly divine, Ceja Vino de Casa, a table red and finally the 2010 Ceja Syrah. These sell at $40 a bottle, $20 a bottle and $34 a bottle respectively.
I thoroughly enjoyed these consistently good wines, across the board.
As much as I love wine , and this wine in particular, the privilege of getting to know Amelia Ceja was my truest joy. She is an amazing business woman and their entire operation is steeped in excellence and service in paralleled.
Thank you, Amelia and Pedro. What a privilege to get to know you both. Looking forward, already, to seeing you and your enchanted wine soon.
Ed: Fresno State University would like it on record that they had the first working commercial winery in the nation! Beating UC Davis for that honor!