Napa Valley: Cejas, Cejas, everywhere!
Road Journals Blog—Although immigrant Latino families have long been the backbone of the Napa Valley wine industry—they’re frequently the ones who tend to the grapes—few of the valley’s founding Latino families actually owned their own wineries or offered their own labels.
One exception is the Ceja family, generations of which today operate multiple businesses—some of the friendliest in the Napa Valley, with the highest fun factor.
Their story goes like this: In the 1960s, when Napa’s wine industry was just getting started, Pablo and Juanita Ceja immigrated to St. Helena from a small Mexican village, with six children in tow. (Four more would be born later.)
By the 1980s, the second generation had saved enough to buy a few acres in the then lesser-known Carneros region at the south end of the valley. In 1999 they opened their own winery.
Fast-forward to today, and Ceja grandchildren seem to be everywhere. They run a restaurant and downtown tasting room in addition to the family winery, and cater many of the area’s most popular events. Visit downtown Napa, currently undergoing something of a resurrection, and you’ll find Cejas deeply involved in the riverfront town’s renaissance. Some Ceja highlights:
This chic little tasting room and art gallery showcases a different local artist on its brightly painted walls every couple of months. (One wall is itself artwork, featuring a colorful mural by Maceo Montoya.) Tastings, $10 each, are accompanied by local cheese and bread in a highly informal atmosphere that does away with wine-snob pretension. On my last visit, we sank into the cushy leather sofas and sang along with reggae on the sound system while sampling pinot, merlot and rosé.
The hip, lighthearted atmosphere at Bistro Sabor is a perfect expression of the high spirits that the younger generation of Cejas brings to Napa. Grandson Ariel Ceja started the restaurant without the usual chef’s resumé of having cooked in a bunch of big-name places; instead he serves dishes perfected by a long family love affair with food. Bistro Sabor’s specialties, like the fresh ceviches, have Latin American roots but exploit the region’s bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
I’m no longer capable of passing Napa without stopping for a salmon ceviche tostada. Salsa Saturdays, which started at the wine salon a block away, now pull in a lively crowd to dance the night away to cumbia, merengue, and other Latin beats.
Still family owned and operated, Ceja has long been one of Napa’s friendliest, most accessible boutique wineries. Their Vino de Casa red blends are a great place for beginners to begin exploring the region’s reds.
The family winery, popular for its gorgeous grounds and bocce ball courts (as well as its wines), closed for renovations in summer 2010; a new winery is under construction nearby, to open in late 2011 or early 2012 with a much bigger tasting room and a commercial catering kitchen to house the Ceja family’s production company, which creates Amelia Ceja’s popular cooking videos. Plans for an online bicultural cooking channel, Salud Napa Valley—an extension of the family's current Internet programming—are in the works.
Until the new space opens, Ceja wines are can be sampled in the company’s downtown Napa tasting room. Don’t miss the Dulce Beso, a late harvest white wine high in sugar, which translates “sweet kiss.”
For more on the Napa Valley, see VIAmagazine.com's package on the area.
This blog post was first published in March 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.