Often Overlooked, Oregon’s Latinx Wine Community Thrives

Miguel Marquez
Sommelier Miguel Marquez tastes at Winderlea Vineyards. Photo by Kate Woodman

Like the wine itself, it all started with a seed. Ximena Orrego had an idea.

“This year, we have been sent so many challenges,” says Orrego, co-owner/winemaker of Atticus Wine. “I wanted to do something really positive and happy, that could lift each other up. This has been something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, bringing together my peers, sharing our stories and inspirations, and celebrating our heritage.”

And so, Celebrating Hispanic Roots was born. To launch the virtual festival, Orrego recruited six people who hailed from across Latin America—Argentina, Peru, Venezuela and Mexico—all of whom landed in Oregon’s lush Willamette Valley to produce and sell wine.

The goal? To celebrate their cultural heritage, vineyards, wines and shared objective to give back to Oregon’s Spanish-speaking community.

“Building awareness about our own diversity within the community is also important,” says Orrego. “We all share the language and culture, the dream for growing grapes and making wine, and the desire to care for and lift our communities. But we come from different parts of Latin America, and our paths to getting here were very different.”

Ximena Orrego
Ximena Orrego, co-owner/winemaker, Atticus Wine. Photo by Carolyn Wells-Kramer

The festival centered on two panels conducted in both English and Spanish. Each of the six participating wineries created special wine packages for the event, with 10% of sales going toward the Latino Partnership Program of the Oregon Community Foundation, which provides education and funding resources. Through the partnership, the wineries can directly affect their local communities, which are becoming increasingly diverse.

Although Oregon is more than 2,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, its Latinx population is booming. According to a 2016 OCF report, between 2000–16, the Latinx population in Oregon increased 72%. Comparatively, the Latinx population in the U.S. grew by 50% over the same period.

Orrego sees the festival as an opportunity to increase Latinx representation across all parts of the winemaking process, from working in the fields or cellar to the front of house.

“We can support education and leadership development efforts amongst the Spanish-speaking community,” says Orrego. “But first, we need to share with them that being part of this industry is a real option, that they can go to university to study viticulture, enology or the business side. They can be wine writers or sommeliers. However, as in everything, it’s important to have access to education and the necessary support to achieve those goals.”

Miguel Marquez, sommelier at Vino Veritas Wine Bar and Bottle Shop in Portland, Oregon, is a prime example. His family opened Mi Cachito, a traditional Mexican restaurant, in Mexico City in 1961. The restaurant is still going strong, and he carries its tradition into his current line of work.

“You can say hospitality is in my blood,” says Marquez. “As a Mexican, I come from a society full of culture and traditions, all passed down through storytelling. This storytelling takes the shape of legends, dances, music, dishes. Ultimately, my favorite thing about my job is taking care of people, but with the added pleasure of storytelling and culture, being able to find the point of interconnection between these three aspects gives me so much joy.”

“Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the United States. As an industry, we need to acknowledge that outside of the vineyard and do better. The BIPOC population is an untapped market that the wine industry has completely overlooked.” —Cristina Gonzales, owner/winemaker, Gonzales Wine Company

Elena Rodriguez, president/winemaker at Alumbra Cellars, has a similar approach.

“Wine is a story, and it begins with the work being done out in the vineyard,” says Rodriguez. “When I talk about my winemaking, I start by sharing the story of my vineyard workers, of their dedication and hard work to help me bring in beautiful fruit. Their work is so often overlooked and undervalued. I want to make it known that without them, the wine industry wouldn’t exist.”

Marquez wants more coverage of the community beyond what’s typically reserved for one month a year.

“If you are forgetting or have to honor something at certain times, maybe it means it’s not in the picture as a whole,” he says. “That also goes for how communication channels portray Latinx during September. We still work 12 out of 12 months, you know? And to be honest, I barely see any information in the media about Latinx wine projects or Latinx sommeliers.”

Cristina Gonzales, owner/winemaker of Gonzales Wine Company, says that’s why she signed on as a co-founder for Celebrating Hispanic Roots. Not only was she sold on Orrego’s idea, she was encouraged by the possibility of amplifying traditionally marginalized voices in the wine world.

“I have been doing this for 10 years now on my own,” says Gonzales. “It’s only been in the last two years that people have started to recognize my brand and to acknowledge me as a legitimate winemaker and wine professional. We have the Black Lives Matter movement to thank for shining light on the BIPOC community in the wine industry and in the wine media, most recently.”

Celebrating Hispanic Roots Festival
Carla Rodriguez of Beacon Hill Winery, Sam Parra of Parra Wine Company, Cristina Gonzales of Gonzales Wine Company, Ximena Orrego of Atticus Wine, J.P. Valot of Valcan Cellars, and Sofia Torres of Cramoisi Vineyard. Photo by Michael Cary Photography.

She’d like to see more wineries work to attract culturally diverse groups, with one facet standing out in particular.

“Latinxs, just like everyone else, drink wine, but one of the barriers is language and lack of representation in the front of the house,” says Gonzales. “Very few tasting rooms offer bilingual tastings, or an employee in the tasting room that speaks Spanish.

“Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the United States. As an industry, we need to acknowledge that outside of the vineyard and do better. The BIPOC population is an untapped market that the wine industry has completely overlooked.”

“Overlooked” is somewhat of an ongoing theme in describing the state of Latinx representation in wine, even in Oregon, where the community is robust and growing.

“I would like to see pipelines developed to increase Latinos in the industry through technical and college training,” says Juan Pablo Valot, owner/vineyard manager of Valcan Cellars and another co-founder of Celebrating Hispanic Roots. “These efforts will require ongoing outreach and training and opportunities for internships and apprenticeships. This would also require looking at talents that can be hidden in the vineyards, but are often overlooked when opportunities open in the wine producing side.”

The English and Spanish versions of both virtual panels from Celebrating Hispanic Roots are available online. The three other event co-founders are Carla Rodríguez of Beacon Hill, Sofia Torres of Cramoisi Vineyard and Sam Parra of Parra Wine Company.

Orrego says the event is just the beginning of a long and hopefully fruitful journey.

“The response to our celebration and interest in our stories has been remarkable,” she says. “The support we have experienced from within and outside the wine industry has exceeded my expectations. Things have improved, but we can do better overall. From vineyard workers to winemakers to winery owners, we need to highlight their stories, their wines and their inspirations.”

Published on October 20, 2020
Topics: Wine and Ratings