How many years have you been in the business? Tell us briefly about your background and your current position today.
Born and raised in Napa Valley, I feel as though I've been in the business all my life. My father initially started off picking grapes in Pope Valley and I remember running around the vineyards as a kid, seeing the hard work he and my uncles endured day in and day out. Speaking formally, I would say I really started my career in the industry around 15 and a half. Thanks to my mother who ran the HR Department for Caymus Vineyards, I was hired to support the tasting room team--initially buffing glassware plus other BOH duties-- and later had the chance (thanks to an incredible mentor/boss) to explore multiple other avenues of the business (office admin, marketing, events, shipping, sales) until I was old enough to actually pour wine and host tastings of my own. My career in wine shifted away from Napa Valley at one point and instead focused on integrating a Spanish wine-importing company into the United States that provided me the ability to create/market a wine for the American consumer. That was fun and helped open up a whole new world outside of California wine. Currently, I am the Trade & Events Marketing Manager for The Duckhorn Portfolio, curating educational and lifestyle experiences for a variety of trade professionals and wine-loving enthusiasts across 7 brands--Duckhorn Vineyards, Decoy, Migration, Paraduxx, Calera, Canvasback, and Goldeneye.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Growing up in Napa Valley, I would actually say it was the opposite for me--I wanted nothing to do with wine. Throughout my youth, I consistently viewed wine as something only affluent white people could enjoy, and that which also capitalized on the back breaking work of mi gente, who were often looked down upon and not treated with the respect they deserved. Couple that with the fact that Napa Valley doesn't have much to offer for anyone who isn't 21 years of age, I felt bitter towards the industry and where I lived in general. It’s not uncommon for young individuals growing up to say “I can’t wait to get out of here.” That shared, because the grape industry surrounded me, I was consistently immersed into it by nature (for ex. we had Viticulture as a science course in high school!). Really cool looking back now, but something I don't think I appreciated at the time. I guess my "Aha" moment really came when I encountered the first LatinX individual in a high leadership level position. His name was Pedro, and he would eventually become my boss at Felix Solis Avantis, the 7th largest producer of still wine in the world, reigning from Spain. It was the first time I felt like someone could understand my innate desire to want to see change in the industry. Change that embodied representation, visibility, access, and respect for the LatinX community--the backbone of the industry. He made me feel like there was a place for me in wine and equally supported my curious nature to want to learn all I could about other regions. It was the first time I really dove in and started to comprehend the wine industry outside of my previous Napa Valley bubble, and it slowly chipped away at that bitter feeling. It made me excited to understand the history behind wine, be in a position to empower others to drink international wines, and find a way to create a wine label utilizing Spanish grape varietals that the American consumer would be excited to enjoy.
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
I love having full autonomy to curate experiences and programming that helps foster inclusivity and diversity, and further promotes a nurturing community--be it language, history and the role the LatinX community has played on the industry's success, how we think about food and wine pairability, or simply encouraging folx to know that wine doesn't have to be something intimidating. Being able to show up authentically as yourself, and be encouraged to learn from and absorb/enjoy the rich environment and people around you is everything! I've had the pleasure of partnering with incredible trailblazing chefs that equally want to showcase the magic that lies within wine and the diaspora of cultural cuisine. Two of my favorite events with The Duckhorn Portfolio last year included a plant-based dinner with pioneering vegan chef and activist Miyoko Schinner, and renowned Bay Area tastemaker, Chef Sean Streete, who curated a 4-course dinner rooted in his Trinidadian and Jamaican heritage to pair with our single-vineyard Merlots. Both of these events embodied luxury at its finest in hospitality, and helped destigmatize what is and isn't possible in the world of food and wine. This year, two event experiences I'm really looking forward to are my collaboration with legendary Chef Tanya Holland, and partnering with various local and global LGBTQ+ icons to bring forth the first PRIDE brunch celebration under the Duckhorn Portfolio. This event is especially near and dear to my heart as we'll also be donating a portion of the proceeds to a wonderful friend of mine who founded the non-profit organization, Co-Fermented.
What do you do to create wellness balance in your life? Any particular activity, practices, etc that are meaningful to you?
I could lie and say it's the gym but Lord knows I don't go as often (or consistently) as I'd like. As great as I feel in those moments when I hit the gym hard, I truly believe the one thing that has brought me balance, wellness, and peace is unplugging. Unplugging from my phone, unplugging from social media, unplugging from work. I make it a point to "log off" my laptop every night no later than 7pm (the goal is really 6pm but that doesn't always happen). Even if I see my phone light up or ping me to say there's a new email, notification, etc I make it a point to not succumb to checking it. Sometimes I think we forget there was a point in our lives when we weren't plugged in all the time, and these last several years have pushed me to really fight for that present time. It's not only helped my mental health, but it's exponentially been beneficial for my in-person relationships--my life partner, my family, my friends. Being in the now, knowing that work and a to-do list are never ending and will be there to say "hello, remember me?" tomorrow, is important. It was really hard at first to adjust, and frankly a bit uncomfortable to have people feel like I was somehow ignoring them, but the more I practiced unplugging the happier and more fulfilled I felt. I like to think I somehow also inspire others to remember it’s okay to not always be plugged in or feel anxious if we don’t reply to someone’s email or texts within the hour. We each have to do the things that feel best for our health and wellbeing, and this is the recipe that works best for me.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
There's a ton! I hope that the current and existing non-profit organizations supporting diversity and access to wine continue to get more support! It's going to take the entire industry for us to achieve the systemic change we're looking for, so we need more of that allyship support and people with big connections, financial pockets, and resources to be the first standing in line asking "how can I contribute and help?" I hope the LatinX Wine Summit that I co-created with Hispanics in Wine and Uncorked & Cultured continues to expand and reach people in different wine growing regions so that we bring more visibility and representation to the backbone of the wine industry, learn the deep-rooted history and role LatinX individuals have played in the US Ag economy, and bolster the confidence for LatinX individuals who have launched their own brands and businesses with further visibility and support! I hope our vineyard stewards have better access and pipelines to career growth opportunities and that BIPOC individuals in wine are welcomed, embraced, and celebrated in higher leadership and executive level positions. Personally, I hope to continue working on initiatives and programming with a wide range of individuals equally committed to improving the experiences of BIPOC individuals in wine.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equality has many faces that includes access to information, language, career advancement and resources in an equitable manner. It means welcoming a diverse group of individuals to the industry, and providing them with the necessary tools to succeed and thrive in that place. It's not about simply creating a diverse looking company, but acknowledging how to include, invest, and incorporate the ideas of a diverse group of people. Equality also means acknowledging that there are people who currently exist in the industry who might not have a formal education but who 1000% have the hands-on experience often working 15/20+ years in the industry and deserve that next level promotion because they know the ins and outs of the business and process better than anyone. The LatinX community in particular is often overlooked when it comes to upward mobility (especially in production and cellar spaces) because they might lack that formal college education (sometimes even high school), or not have the best grammar or computing skills. Rest assured, nonetheless, they could equally excel and thrive when given the opportunity. Equality and equity also looks like tasting rooms having bilingual collateral and bilingual staff so that Spanish speaking individuals can equally enjoy a tasting experience. Although I am not presently an onsite Wine Educator, I don't have enough fingers to count the amount of times I've had to step in to assist for a tasting so that guests could fully enjoy and immerse themselves in the experience and understand the material in a language they're familiar and comfortable with. While it brings me great joy to have been that vessel during these moments, it also highlights the major gap that needs to be addressed to make wine tasting experiences equitable.
How do you feel you’re contributing to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive wine industry?
I really try to utilize whatever resources I have access to in hopes of having a deeper impact and contributing to a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive wine industry. Recently, that's been through my professional career curating event experiences and programming on behalf of The Duckhorn Portfolio, as well as personally through the LatinX Wine Summit, my podcast "The Big Sip,” and being a prideful Board Member of Hispanics in Wine. I also find great joy being a part of the Duckhorn Portfolio's Founder's Fund Committee, our corporate giving program, focused on enhancing diversity and inclusion, and supporting individuals in our communities who are members of groups that have been historically disadvantaged as a result of their race, ethnicity, economic hardship, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or gender identity. Outside of The Duckhorn Portfolio, I am really happy to continue collaborating with people committed to doing the work and curating new programming and events for people to get involved and be a part of the change.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the same sector of the wine industry as you?
Lean into your authentic self! You are you for a reason, and your specific life experiences can help you see and problem solve things in a way others won't be able to. Utilize that! Get creative and own the power you bring to the table. If you find you're met with pushback, then push back. Find the "Yes!"...and sometimes the "yes" might just mean you have to go and create the damn thing yourself--and that's perfectly okay too! It's these moments that will allow you to do things your way, and not water anything down to meet the complicity someone else is looking for. While it might be slightly more challenging, know that you are never alone and will find the community that embraces everything that you are. Great things take time. Truth and have faith in knowing that God’s given you permission to do things imperfectly and simply be you. So figure out who you wanna be and go out and be your wonderful badass self!
Name some people who inspire you in the wine industry and please explain why.
My best friend, Maryam Ahmed. She is a POWERHOUSE! Authentically and boldly herself, unabashed to let people know when they need to do more introspection, have better commitments, and work on their internal structures in order to collaborate with her and her business and programming. She is someone invested in the community, invested in connecting others and bringing everyone up with her, and invested in creating sustainable impact. There's no BS with Maryam. She always acts with humility, grace, compassion and humor, and most importantly holds people accountable. She makes everyone around her a better individual. Truly one of my favorite humans on the planet, and someone I am so grateful to call my chosen family. I'm so excited to witness the trails she continues to blaze!
My family also deeply inspires me. Many of them started from the bottom of the wine industry and have persevered through layers of adversity, always remaining resilient. I feel blessed to be surrounded and emboldened by people who leave me in awe of all they've accomplished, despite the barriers they've faced. My mom fled a war in El Salvador and sought refuge in America. My dad and his 10 brothers and sisters immigrated to California from Mexico looking for a better life. To grow and witness all they've built, knowing where we all came from...it's inspiring to say the least. I am proud to see many of them have launched their own wine labels, brands, and businesses, and hope the legacy I'm able to leave behind is as half as wonderful as the one they've motivated me with. That shared, shamelessly need shoutout and plug Ancestors and Don Chalo Cellars wine—founded by my stepdad, and the latter by my three uncles on my dad’s side of the family. Cheers and saludos!