New York Times
By Dave McIntyre
May 31, 2017
Hugo Maldonado carved his own place in Napa Valley. In 2007, he purchased a small, rocky piece of land just off the Silverado Trail in Jericho Canyon, north of Calistoga. “It was an old billy goat hill,” he says, with little to offer except a view of the Calistoga Palisade Mountains and a valid winery-use permit. When mining companies told him how much it would cost to dig a cave out of the granite, he decided to learn excavation and do it himself.
Today, the small cave is nearly overflowing with barrels, bottles and the equipment he uses to produce Maldonado Vineyards wines, and he’s thinking of expanding. Not back into the hillside, though. “We’ll put a building in front,” he says.
Hugo’s father, Jose Guadalupe Maldonado, known as Lupe, came to California from Michoacan in 1962. He picked apples in Sebastopol, then tended vines at Christian Brothers, Sterling Vineyards and finally Newton winery, where he stayed nearly three decades. In 1982, he brought his family north from Mexico. Hugo was 10.
In St. Helena, he led what he calls “a typical Mexican family life.”
“I went to school, then worked afternoons, evenings and weekends at multiple jobs,” he recalls. “I graduated high school in 1989 at 17, then married that year. I was a father by 19.” His wife, Lidia, is second-generation Mexican American. Hugo graduated from the University of California at Davis with a degree in viticulture and oenology, then joined his father in what was by then a family business.
The Maldonados bought their first vineyard in the early 1990s, selling the grapes to Newton. They began making their own wine, a chardonnay, in 2002, to immediate critical acclaim. It was also served at the White House. Today they own 56 acres of vineyard and manage more than 200 more for other wineries. They produce up to 10,000 cases of wine each harvest, including their own label and a second line called Farm Worker.
Lupe Maldonado moved to California from Michoacan in Mexico in 1962. His son, Hugo, earned a degree in viticulture and oenology. Part of their winery is in a cave that they dug out themselves when they learned how much it would cost to have it done. (Maldonado Vineyards via Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History)
“The basis has always been sweat equity and trying to build something for ourselves,” Maldonado says.
The migration from Mexico has slowed, and now there is a shortage of labor in Napa Valley. “It’s hard to get a quality employee, and their knowledge of agriculture is poor,” he says.
Maldonado, 45, cites better economic times in Mexico — “strawberry farming is booming” in Michoacan — and tougher deportation policies implemented seven years ago by the Obama administration as reasons for the shortage. He predicts another immigrant community will eventually fill the need.
“The Italians were the workers, then they became the managers and the people who knew how to graft, and the Mexicans became the workers,” he said. “Someone will come.”
But his generation of Mexican migrant workers, and the two or three before them, have seized the opportunities to rise from the ranks in the vineyard rows, to the tractor seats, to the barrel caves and tasting rooms. They may be viticulturists, winemakers or chief executives, but their proudest title is “owner.”
“A lot of us, when we were growing up, never thought we’d be winery owners,” Maldonado says. “Winery owners were rich people. We’re not getting rich, but it’s nice to have some security for our kids.”
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com