Mi Sueño Winery (means “my dream” in Spanish) was founded and is owned by long time Napa winemaker Rolando Herrera and his wife Lorena. As Rolando told us when we first met him many years ago, “it took me 20 years to realize this dream but just 20 seconds to come up with the name”. The story that leads to the founding of this winery is quite remarkable. Rolando’s father immigrated to the U.S. from his hometown of El Llano in Michoacán and moved to St. Helena in 1968. His first job was working at a chicken farm on Zinfandel Lane followed by work at Valley Nursery on Whitehall Lane (owned by Jack Chandler). His father moved his young children including Rolando to be with him in Napa Valley in 1975. Rolanda’s early career in Napa Valley was as a dishwasher at Auberge du Soleil, then as line cook at Mustard’s Grill. Rolando had often wondered what it would be like to work at a winery as he drove by wineries every day on his way to work. When a friend told him about a possible position at the iconic Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Rolando quickly took advantage of the opportunity.
During his first day of work he headed straight for the cellar but quickly found out this “winery job” had absolutely nothing to with wine; rather it was constructing a stone wall around Warren Winiarski’s home. However, Winiarski soon noticed Rolando was interested in wine and offered him a job working that year’s harvest. Over the years he worked additional harvests and gained invaluable experience in the cellar; at the young age of 21 he became cellar master for Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Other winemaking positions included working for Chateau Potelle, Vine Cliff and with winemaker Paul Hobbs. With a resume like Rolando’s, it was only a matter of time before he decided to begin his own winery.
Two of Rolando’s brothers work for the company including Antonio and also Ricardo. Ricardo began work at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars a year after Rolando. Since then, he has been involved in numerous aspects of the wine business including working in the cellar at some of the planet’s most iconic wineries including Dominus (assistant winemaker), Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux (he recalls many nights sleeping in the cellar at Petrus) and also at Screaming Eagle. Today he exclusively works with Mi Sueño. His ‘signature’ as he told us are his hands, representing decades of experience and related perspective from working at wineries – and with his brother, an image of their handprints are both imprinted into concrete at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars along with numerous others who worked for Warren Winarski at that iconic winery.
Mi Sueño Winery sources all their grapes from select vineyards both in Napa Valley and neighboring Sonoma County including a 45 acre parcel off of Adobe Road near Petaluma which is planted primarily to Pinot Noir but also other varieties including Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. What is unique about this winery is that despite sourcing all fruit for their wine (they own no vineyards), in actuality they essentially “own” the vineyards, just not the land – through long term leases or lease to own options. This is because all vineyards they source from are locked up in very long-term contracts allowing them to build consistency into their wines as well as have total control of farming all the vines including vineyard development.
Their team micromanages these vineyards and in some cases actually planted the vines. If they take over the management of a vineyard and it does not meet their exacting specifications at the time (pruning, quality of fruit etc.), they will retrain the vines to their specifications before they even use the grapes in their own wines. This very unique level of involvement which is not often associated with a winery that “sources” fruit and does not actually own the land. Ease of work and shortcuts are always a temptation in any industry; Mi Sueño does not take these shortcuts as quality is one of their primary goals.
And their control in the vineyard is also applied in their winery. They own their own equipment including a bottling line which allows them to bottle when they want rather than needing to schedule a mobile bottling truck.
Select Mi Sueño Wines
The first vintage of Mi Sueño was in 1997, merely several hundred cases of Chardonnay. Today they produce two separate wine labels; wines bottled under Mi Sueño and wines bottled under Herrera. Their total annual production has been as high as 15,000 cases but as of our last visit is usually between 10,000 and 12,000 cases per year.
The 2019 Mi Sueño Los Carneros Chardonnay (from the Sonoma side of this sub appellation) is medium gold in color; the nose offers light aromas of popcorn butter, citrus blossom and honeysuckle. This wine glides across the palate with a supple and rounded texture. It offers flavors of citrus, papaya, red apple and stone fruits including peach and apricot (especially on the finish). This wine is clearly grown in California, but it doesn’t show characteristics often associated with a California style of this variety, i.e., riper, oaky and buttery.
The 2013 Mi Sueño Los Carneros Pinot Noir shows aromas of soil, mushrooms and white pepper complemented by plenty of fruit including blackberry, red cherry and as the wine breathes the primary characteristics fall more into the background revealing a noticeable ripeness and sweetness of fruit. This continues onto the palate with flavors of raspberry and strawberry. A darker spice component lingers on the finish with notes of pepper and cedar box.
The 2019 Mi Sueño Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon. Perhaps those working in the Napa Valley wine industry in the 1960s and 1970s would not believe Coombsville could ever make such a rich and ripe, but balanced expression of this variety (a part of Napa Valley initially considered too cold to grow Cabernet Sauvignon). This wine proves otherwise. It is deep ruby in color and almost opaque in the glass; the bouquet offers sweetly fruited aromatics including of dark figs, a blackberry preserves, ripe mulberry and dark cherry. The palate is juicy and mouthwatering, revealing flavors of cherry, licorice and dark plum. The tannins are well-integrated, dusty, earthy and show a short-lasting textural grip. This wine lingers with notes of tobacco spice.
The 2018 Mi Sueño Syrah is deep ruby and opaque in the glass; its dark color immediately stands out. The bouquet offers aromas of violets, ripe plum, a little meatiness and some other dark spices including pepper. Let this wine breathe; it will reveal additional fruit aromas. This light savory character continues onto the palate which offers plenty of depth and complexities and a generous amount of flavor including of ripe blackberry, strawberry, a woodsy spice, especially on the finish and persistent and slightly drying tannins. This wine was aged for 23 months in 60% new French oak. We thought of pairing this with a medium rare steak directly from the BBQ paired with a spicy Thai nam jim jaew dipping sauce.
The 2014 Mi Sueño Syrah is dark crimson in the glass with a ripe dark cherry nuance throughout the bouquet along with ripe blackberry. This wine is more savory on the palate than on the bouquet. An inkiness or density shows on the palate; this is a wine rich in flavor and depth. Juicy and mouthwatering, the palate offers a long finish filled with flavor, dark chocolate, vanilla, dark cherry and a dusty nuance.
The 2005 Mi Sueño Los Carneros Chardonnay is straw-like in color; the wine is medium gold in the glass with robust aromas of toasted almond and crème Brule. This wine undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation and like many of Rolando’s wines, the fermentation is conducted with non-inoculated yeasts. A lot of depth is represented in this wine which is felt in the creamy and layered palate. The mouth feel is soft and silky with pleasing citrus driven fruit notes as well as hints of honey and subtle oak towards the finish. An older vintage of this wine was also served at a White House State dinner for the President of Mexico at the time, Vicente Fox.
The 2006 Mi Sueño Russian River Pinot Noir from the Ulises Valdez (UV) Vineyard in neighboring Sonoma County is not a lightweight Pinot Noir. This is pretty obvious starting with the deep ruby color and a bouquet filled with flower characteristics including rose petals and lavender along with an undertone of darker spices. This is a full-bodied Pinot Noir with a layered palate that packs a rich array of lively fruit including pomegranate and raspberry. The mouth feel is round and very well balanced. This was served at a Cinco de Mayo White House dinner in 2008.
The Mi Sueño El Llano Red Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah) is their most produced wine – the “workhorse” wine if you will. It is very versatile and in high demand among their customers. Invariably your first impression of this wine will be its dramatic dark color. Like Rolando’s other wines it has an excellent mouth feel which is plush, velvety and smooth. Darker fruit flavors are present including blackberry and black cherry along with almost a briary characteristic. Darker spices and an earthy nuance round out the finish.
Select Herrera Wines
The Herrera label features wines which are available in only very limited quantities; typically fewer than 100 cases per bottling. These are only released when particular barrel of wine stands out; it must contain wine of exceptional quality or is from a standout vineyard block. As a result of their limited production and demand, these wines are sometimes sold out. Each Herrera wine produced in honor of one of the Herrera family members, their six children and both Rolando and Lorena. And furthermore, each of these wines is crafted to somewhat match the personality of that person.
The 2019 Herrera Selección Perla Chardonnay was entirely barrel fermented in new French oak and then was aged for 36 months in 80% new French oak and 20% stainless steel. This is a long time to be in oak, but the resulting wine is not ‘oaky’, but it definitely has a ‘more’ component to its character compared to lighter style wines of this variety. This wine is medium golden in color; it immediately shows itself with intense and rich aromatics including of pear, apple, vanilla, honeycomb and a very subtle citrus nuance. The suppleness of its texture on the palate is complemented very nicely with its lively and refreshing acidity. Like the bouquet, the palate is also rich, offering flavors of butterscotch, mango, papaya, light caramel and citrus. The finish is long lasting. While tasting this wine at Mi Sueño, we were posed the following question by guests tasting this same wine next to us: is this a fireplace or a food wine? We immediately responded, “it’s a fireplace wine” due to its richness and character, making it an ideal stand-alone wine. We thought of pairing this with a cabin at Lake Tahoe during a winter snowstorm, a hot fire, a cozy couch and an intimate lover.
The 2019 Herrera Selección Esmeralda Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) is medium ruby in color; the bouquet is bright, offering scents of raspberry, cherry cola strawberry and rose petals, but also with some darker baking spices and notes of white pepper. The brightness and freshness on the bouquet also shows on the palate with plenty of flavors including blueberry, raspberry and hints of licorice. Its texture is fine-grained, showing polished tannins and lingers slightly savory with bright fruit and some baking spices including vanilla.
The 2018 Herrera Selección Don Rolando Cabernet Sauvignon (from Mt. Veeder) is deep ruby in color; the bouquet is generous offering plenty of ripe fruit including blackberry and boysenberry accompanied by notes of chocolate. If we were to choose a single word to describe the palate it would be dense, both in flavor and structure. The tannins are tightly packed together and gravelly in their textural feel but are rounded so they don’t distract from the overall character of this bottling. This wine lingers with a wood spice and darker fruit flavors. It is a big but balanced bottling. And the label proudly lists itself as 100% chingón made, a term in Mexico referring to someone who excels in a certain field of study.
The winery hosts visitors in its industrial park location, by appointment only located about a 10-minute drive south of downtown Napa. The winery houses primarily the Mi Sueño and Herrera wines but also a couple of other producers that Rolando makes wine for.
Guests will walk through their sports ‘walk of fame’ past walls lined with signed jerseys from prominent sports players and also past a few framed White House menus from dinners in which a Mi Sueño wine was served. Their first sale to a retail outlet was to Joseph George Wines, a wine shop in San Jose who also produces wines from their vineyard in Yountville; a dollar from this first wine sale and receipt is also framed. Guests will be accompanied to the barrel and tank rooms prior to a seated tasting in a section of the winery surrounded by barrels. Several different tasting flights are offered including one dedicated entirely to the Herrera wines.
For some years, their wines were also poured at Vintner’s Collective in downtown Napa, a multi-winery tasting room open to the public by walk-in. A limited number of select older vintages and large format bottles are available for purchase during visits to the winery. For more information, to schedule a visit or to join one of their wine clubs (Mi Sueño or Hererra) with 4 shipments annually of 4, 6 or 12 bottles each shipment, visit: www.misuenowinery.com
Mi Sueño at The Grand Reserve
NOTE: This tasting space is permanently closed; we keep our notes and photographs here for historical reference. In summer of 2018 a large parcel of land directly to the south and across the street from the Meritage Resort (southern Napa city limits) opened as Vista Collina Resort and the next door The Village at Vista Collina – featuring a large green space (with environmentally friendly turf) surrounded by four stories containing 145 Tuscan-styled guest rooms, 9 standalone tasting rooms on the ground floor, a luxurious Vintner’s Room (for special vintner member and other community and private events) and the Village Food & Wine Center where chefs teach a variety of culinary seminars and host other culinary related events. The Village at Vista Collina held its grand opening on August 4, 2018.
And the Fivetown Gourmet Grocery and Deli is an integral part of the The Village experience. Named after the five towns within Napa Valley including Yountville, Rutherford, Oakville, St. Helena and Calistoga – this upscale market features a variety of farm-fresh local ingredients and homemade products. Plenty of seating outside the grocery – one can also picnic on the lawn area.
The ‘lawn’ area is also ideal for hosting a variety of events including concerts. Umbrellas inserted into the ground can easily be moved and seating arrangements are highly flexible.
Mi Sueno was one of the 9 stand-alone tasting rooms; like the others, their space was intimate, focusing on the wines and the personalized hospitality.