Ceja Vineyards is one of the few (but quickly growing) Latino Family-owned wineries in the Napa Valley. The family has an inspirational story. Ceja Vineyards was founded by 1st generation Mexican-Americans Pedro and Amelia Ceja and Pedro’s brother Armando and his wife Martha. Armando is their primary winemaker. The Ceja’s originally lived in small villages in Mexico – Amelia came to the USA when she was 12 with her family who came to California to work the vineyards in the local wine country.
The family pooled resources to initially purchase 15 acres of land in the Carneros region; today they own nearly 115 acres of vineyards in both Napa and Sonoma Counties. Originally they only sold fruit to other wineries but this changed in 2001 when they released their first commercial vintage. Today they sell about 85% of their grapes to other wineries and hold the remainder back to make their own wines.
This winery is truly a family affair as they all work in some aspect in the winery with even the 3rd generation now involved. Currently, they make over 10,000 cases of wine which they custom crush at another winery. Their focus is on premium Carneros based wines specifically Chardonnay and Pinot Noir however they produce a number of different wines from various varieties and blends. With this volume and the increased recognition of their label, they are now building their own winery facility starting in late 2014.
A visit to their estate is the quintessential Carneros experience. It is low key, relaxing and makes for an intimate tasting experience. As expected, vineyards surround the property. Be sure to walk the gorgeous grounds – they have a bocce ball court placed along one of the actual rows of grapes…bocce among the vineyards. The best way to play bocce at Ceja is with a glass of wine in one hand and a bocce ball in the other! A bronze bell is located in the back of the winery- this bell was going to be installed in Mission San Luis Obispo but ended up being given to Ceja. They make their own innovative tables out of concrete poured in old wine barrels. The wine tasting can be outdoors if the weather permits, or indoors at their spacious curved wooded wine tasting bar.
Being located in the Carneros they make several excellent Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay, however one wine you won’t find anywhere is their “Vino de Casa” which is almost a half blend of Pinot Noir and Syrah. Also try their Cabernet Sauvignon chocolate sauce; you won’t find this from many Napa wineries. The Ceja Family is extremely friendly and will tour you around the grounds if you ask. You may smell the inviting aromas of culinary creations wafting through the actual tasting room as one of the grandmothers loves to cook and one of the owners is a gourmet chef. Their wine pairs well with food especially spicy cuisine such as Mexican and Thai.
Words you may see on Ceja’s informational literature are “Vinum, cantus, amor – translation, Wine, Song and Love! You may also see their other motto, “Wine+Food+Family+Friends =Fiesta”! The Ceja’s will tell you that “wine is in our veins, not blood”!
You can’t help but be caught up in the enthusiasm and passion that this family has for their wine making. It is infectious.
All their wines are very reasonably priced by Napa standards. Additionally, Ceja keeps their wines lower in alcohol than many wineries; all the wines we tasted were under 14% with many in the high 12’s to low 13’s. They make a wide variety of wines; five wines are poured for their set tasting fee. Unless otherwise noted, their wines are 100% varietal.
The Sonoma Coast 2006 Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp wine with great tropical pineapple guava aromas in the nose and flavors on the front palate – with a slight mineral touch on the finish. Their Vino de Casa is a real find. It is a an extremely unusual blend of Pinot Noir and Syrah. When winemaker Armando Ceja was in college one of his professors told him that its impossible to blend these two varietals. Never say impossible. This wine is a testament that these two varietals actually can mesh quite well. The softness of the Pinot Noir is felt on the front palate and the Syrah brings a slight pepper flavor to the mid palate and certainly rounds out this wine with a long finish. Out of 650+ Napa wineries visited with to date, this is the only winery we know of blending these two varietals together.
Their 2004 Merlot is an interesting wine. Pleasing raspberry aromas show on the nose with a noticeable flavor of dried apricots on the palate. Their 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is a juicy wine that will pair very favorably with a medium rare steak. Think Argentinean grown and prepared steak and you have a match! The last wine we tried was their 2004 Sonoma Coast Syrah which is a cool weather grown Syrah that exhibits aromas of white pepper aromas fruit and leather on the palate.
With the winery having such a short history, they have already piled up the accolades including being voted “Best New Winery” by ninety of the world’s top wine writers, front page mention on the New York Times, a spotlight on CNN and appearances on several food related TV Shows. One of the perks of being a member in their wine club are invites to all their parties – which we’ve been told are quite the experience.
Their long time downtown Napa tasting room closed in late September 2014 – however they currently operate a tasting room in neighboring Sonoma County (not far from the ever popular Fremont Diner) along side the heavily trafficked Highway 12. Pull in at 22989 Burndale Road. A stand alone ‘house’ serves as the tasting room but they also offer plenty of outside seating. While located next to Highway 12, from Spring through the end of Summer there is plenty of vegetation to conceal the seating area from the busy roadway. Visit: www.cejavineyards.com
Also be sure to check out Ceja’s bi-cultural online cooking show, called Salud Napa Valley! Visit: www.saludnapa.com
Tasting Room Photos