Ceja Vineyards is one of a number of Latino family-owned wineries in the Napa Valley. Ceja Vineyards was founded by 1st generation Mexican American immigrants 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 the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Amelia was born in Las Flores and lived on a farm. She came to the USA when she was 12 with her family to California where they worked in the southern part of the state picking primarily lettuce and melons. And worked their way north through the central valley picking stone fruit into summer, eventually reaching the northern part of the state to work vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties and settling in Napa Valley. Amelia met her future husband Pedro in 1967 when both children were age 12 – helping their family harvest grapes in what is now arguably Napa Valley’s most famous vineyard, To Kalon (the majority of which is owned by Robert Mondavi Winery/Constellation). At the time neither of them spoke English. And Robert Mondavi Winery had only been open one year.
The family pooled resources in the early 1980s to initially buy 15 acres of land in the Carneros region; at the time of their purchase, Carneros was planted to far fewer vineyards than today. Their property used to grow plums and pears and later was used for pastureland for cows. In 1985 struggling to make payments based on extremely high interest rates, they were forced to try and sell the property. Ultimately, they were not able to find a buyer.
Their first vines were planted in 1986 with the intent to sell fruit to Domain Chandon for their sparkling wine. Their first harvest was in 1988. Today the Cejas own over 110 acres of vineyards focusing their efforts on vineyards located both on the Napa and Sonoma sides of Carneros. Over the subsequent years, the family continued to sell grapes to other wineries, however this changed in 2001 when they produced their first commercial vintage bottled under Ceja Vineyards. Today they still sell the majority 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 the 3rd generation involved. Currently, they make over 4,000 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 varietals (all 100% varietal other than the Vino de Casa, a very unique almost a 50% blend of both Pinot Noir and Syrah).
Amelia Ceja is the ‘face’ of the winery – diminutive in stature, her accomplishments are anything but small. She was recognized by the California legislature as “Woman of the Year” in 2005 and was the first Mexican American woman to be president of a winery. She also loves the culinary world and has contributed numerous online culinary related videos through the Ceja Vineyards Youtube channel.
Plans have been in the works for many years to build and open their own winery. As of 2022 the winery is already designed, and plans are underway to break ground at some point – building a small winery and tasting room on their existing Napa Valley Carneros estate. Once the winery is completed, visits will be exclusively by appointment.
The Napa Carneros estate is surrounded by vineyards; a number of Chardonnay vines were removed to install bocce ball courts (two of them). 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 on site was going to be installed in Mission San Luis Obispo but ended up being given to Ceja. They installed this bell on a small Spanish style ‘chapel’ on site (complete with its own pet cemetery).
Visitors to their Carneros estate often smell the inviting aromas of various culinary creations wafting through Casa Ceja as the family certainly loves to cook. Speaking of food, their wine pairs well with a variety of dishes, 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! One 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”!
One can’t help but be caught up in the enthusiasm and passion that the Ceja family has for wine, vineyards, cooking, dancing, community involvement and an all-around contagious zest for life.
All their wines are very reasonably priced by Napa Valley standards. Additionally, Ceja keeps their wines lower in alcohol than many wineries; typically, under 14% with many in the 13 percent range. Also noteworthy, the current releases of their red wines tend to be 2 to 3 years behind the current releases of most area wineries spending additional time in bottle before being released. They make a wide variety of wines; usually four to five wines are poured at their tasting room. Unless otherwise noted, their wines are 100% varietal.
The 2018 Ceja Vineyards Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay Reserva is deep golden color in the glass; offers a diversity of ripe fruit driven aromatics including of pineapple, cantaloupe, apricot, honeysuckle, orange marmalade, and a variety of dessert notes including vanilla, hints of caramel and hazelnut. A noticeable intensity of flavor runs the entire breadth of the palate and persists for some time on the rich and satisfying finish. Shows flavors of tangerine, mango, crème brûlée and ripe yellow peaches. The texture is creamy and supple, certainly a result from weekly lees stirring during its aging in barrel. An uplifting brightness of acidity counterbalances the texture, especially on the finish. This is a complex and layered Chardonnay well worth seeking out.
The Vino de Casa is a real nice find. It is a an extremely unusual blend, dominated by Pinot Noir and Syrah with sometimes an addition of Merlot. When winemaker Armando Ceja was in college one of his professors told him that it was impossible to blend these two varietals. Never say impossible. This wine is a testament that these two varietals can complement each other quite well. The softness of the Pinot Noir is felt on the front of the palate and the Syrah brings a slight pepper flavor to the mid palate and certainly rounds out a long finish. Out of 1,100+ Napa wineries and producers visited with to date, this is the only winery we know of blending these two varietals together. And it has become their most produced wine.
The 2018 Ceja Vineyards Vino de Casa Red Blend, Petaluma Gap is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Syrah & 10% Merlot. The bouquet offers aromas of red licorice and some floral notes. Two words describe this wine on the palate: supple and balanced. It offers flavors of cherry and some light savory notes on the finish including hints of white pepper. This is an easy drinking pleasurable wine ideal for pairing with a variety of summertime BBQ meats. This is one of the only non-Napa Valley wines that they produce. It was aged for 18 months in American oak barrels.
The 2006 Ceja Vineyards Sonoma Coast Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp wine with pretty tropical pineapple-guava aromas on the nose and similar flavors on the front of the palate with a slight mineral nuance on the finish.
The 2018 Ceja Vineyards Oxomo Red Wine is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot. This wine is medium ruby color in the glass; the bouquet offers aromas of cherry cola, raspberry and some underlying spices including clove, cardamom and Graham cracker. Medium bodied, this wine offers darker fruit and spice flavors including cherry, blackberry and other berry fruits. Features a juicy mouthwatering and savory finish filled with darker spices including peppercorn. The well-integrated tannins are earthy and slightly gravelly. This wine drinks very well in its youth.
And a couple of short wine notes from an early visit with the Cejas: the 2004 Ceja Vineyards Merlot is an intriguing wine. Pleasing raspberry aromas show on the nose with a union of both fruit, oak spice and integrated tannins. The 2004 Ceja Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon is a juicy wine that will pair very favorably with a medium rare steak, perhaps from Argentina. The 2004 Ceja Vineyards Sonoma Coast Syrah (a cool weather grown Syrah) exhibits aromas of white pepper, plenty of fruit and leather on the palate.
Ceja Family Vineyards has already accumulated numerous accolades including being voted “Best New Winery” by ninety of the world’s top wine writers, a front-page mention in 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 have a reputation locally as being extremely fun events.
Their long time downtown Napa tasting room (1st Street) closed in late September 2014, however the Ceja family operates a tasting room in neighboring Sonoma County (within walking distance of the ever popular Lou’s Luncheonette roadside restaurant) along the other side of the heavily trafficked Highway 12.
Pull in at 22989 Burndale Road. This is a collective of sorts; at last count 6 producers occupy this complex all in separate spaces within the main building (which also contains a working winery). Ceja however, is located inside of a standalone ‘house’ which 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. And there are several outdoor garden type areas for guests to enjoy and relax in. Reservations are requested but walk-ins are accommodated if seating is available.
Tasting Room, Sonoma
While no longer producing episodes, the Ceja’s bi-cultural online cooking show, Salud Napa Valley is a rich culinary resource. And for several years the Ceja’s have offered various wine themed cruises at select times of the year ranging from the Caribbean to Alaska to Europe. For more information and or to join their Casa Ceja wine club, visit: www.saludnapa.com and for more information about their wines and or to purchase wine, visit: www.cejavineyards.com