Nowhere is the American dream more alive than in the hearts of immigrants, who overcome countless obstacles to strive for better lives in this country. In California vineyards, many men and women of Mexican heritage toil their entire work lives in the fields so that their children can achieve their dreams.\r\n\r\nIn the North Coast, there are enough winemakers to power the Mexican-American Vintners Association. And the Central Coast is home to a growing number of immigrants and descendants who\u2019ve moved from the vineyards into the cellars to make wine.\r\n\r\nTheir stories are poignant reminders of how bravery, hard work and talent are still the primary keys to achieve success.\r\n\r\n\r\nFelipe Hernandez\r\nThe Trailblazer\r\n\u201cI started in the field, and I\u2019m still in the field,\u201d says Felipe Hernandez, who, in 1971 as a 15-year-old, left Ayutla, a town in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Shortly after crossing the U.S. border, he helped plant some of the first vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley. Those sites include Savannah Oak, where he\u2019s lived and worked for more than 45 years, and Koehler, where he\u2019s been vineyard manager since 1997, around the time he became a legal citizen.\r\n\r\nIn 2001, Hernandez became the region\u2019s first Mexican immigrant to start his own brand, Feliz Noche. It produces about 700 cases per year from a wide array of grapes, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Tempranillo.\r\n\r\n\u201cI figured there were a lot of people making good wine out of the stuff I was growing,\u201d says Hernandez, whose five children include a nurse, cop and engineer. \u201cAnd if anyone ever says your fruit is no good, you can prove them wrong.\u201d\r\n\r\nHernandez remembers long talks during the 1970s with a visiting vintner from France who died suddenly the following year. \u201cI learned whatever I know from him,\u201d he says. He doesn\u2019t recall his mentor\u2019s name, because Hernandez was a self-described \u201cyoung punk\u201d at the time. \u201cHe taught me to be patient and to use less sulfites and age the wine longer than what other people do.\u201d\r\n\r\nLike many vintners, he\u2019s worried about the tightening labor market due to strict immigration policies, but he says he\u2019s hoping machinery will ease the workload.\r\n\r\n\r\nMarlen Porter\r\nHometown Hero\r\nMarlen Porter jumped into the wine world at 21, when she worked at a bistro in Santa Maria where winemakers like Lane Tanner and Tobin James held court.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt reminded me of my family, hanging around, having drinks, eating food,\u201d says Porter, whose grandfather came from Oaxaca and settled in Oxnard as part of the midcentury Bracero Program, which allowed millions of Mexican men to legally take temporary agricultural work in the U.S. Her mom came at age six with the help of a professional smuggler, known as a coyote. Her dad came later and became a successful touring musician. The family moved to Nipomo, north of Santa Maria, when Porter was four.\r\n\r\nPorter worked for Addamo Vineyard and then Rideau, where she ascended to general manager. Porter then became operations manager for Andrew Murray. In 2010, she married musician-turned-cellar-rat Cameron Porter, a Santa Maria native, and helped him work toward his advanced sommelier certification.\r\n\r\n\u201cThat was a huge experience for both of us,\u201d she says. \u201cWe were newly married, and my job was to make dinner and go out and find wines to stump him on.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn 2013, they began to make Carignan from the Camp 4 Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe always wondered, \u2018Why aren\u2019t there a lot of wines that pair with Mexican food?\u2019 \u201d she says. \u201cThe spiciness can overtake those big reds. So, part of the inspiration for making our Carignan was to have it with Mexican food.\u201d\r\n\r\nThey also make Viognier from Zaca Mesa Vineyard, and total production has increased to about 800 cases, including Merlot, a Counoise ros\u00e9, a white blend and Cabernet Sauvignon under a planned second label.\r\n\r\nThe project has also begun to change her family\u2019s allegiance to margaritas.\r\n\r\n\u201cMy grandfather never really drank wine before we started making it, and now he drinks it all the time,\u201d says Marlen. Her grandfather recently brought a bottle back to Oaxaca to share with his brother. \u201cThat was pretty cool.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nMiguel Lepe\r\nMonterey Prodigy\r\nMiguel Lepe was one class shy of a degree in business administration from Hartnell College in his hometown of Salinas when he was pondering which elective he should take to finish. He liked gardening, and the vineyard/wine production class seemed interesting.\r\n\r\n\u201cI had never even tasted wine before,\u201d says Lepe. His mom and dad, who entered the U.S. legally from Mexicali and Jalisco, respectively, in 1972, didn\u2019t really drink alcohol. \u201cBut I just really loved that I could smell the wine fermenting.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhile his siblings pursued white-collar jobs, Lepe began to study wine at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2009, and he served internships at Claiborne & Churchill, La Vigne and Justin.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nAfter college, he worked at a winery north of Temecula for a year, then made his way back to Monterey County. He interviewed with vintner Peter Figge, who toured vineyards with Lepe and even took him out to lunch.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019d never had anyone do that for me during an interview,\u201d says Lepe of Figge, who died suddenly in June at age 47. \u201cBy the end of it, he offered me a full-time position, even though I was just applying for the intern job. I don\u2019t know if I would have found that anywhere else, and I wouldn\u2019t have started my brand if it weren\u2019t for him.\u201d\r\n\r\nWith a focus on Monterey County, Lepe Cellars produces about 250 cases a year of Riesling, Chardonnay, Syrah ros\u00e9, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot, the latter of which will go into a new brand called Salinas Valley Vintners.\r\n\r\nWhile his parents weren\u2019t so sure about his career choice, they seem satisfied now. \u201cThey like that I started a brand and am working toward something that I can call my own,\u201d he says. \u201cThey love that the family name is on the label. They\u2019re very proud of that.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nRuben Solorzano\r\nThe Grape Whisperer\r\nIn 1989, as a 19-year-old, Ruben Solorzano left the tiny village of Ranchito in Jalisco, where his family farmed corn, peppers and tomatoes. He trekked to America to join his older brothers in the vineyards of the Santa Ynez Valley.\r\n\r\n\u201cAs soon as I crossed the border and started pruning grapes, I said, \u2018Wow, this is me. This is what I love,\u2019 \u201d says Solorzano.\r\n\r\nIn 1994, Stolpman Vineyard hired Solorzano. Its founding partner, Tom Stolpman, helped him become a citizen.\r\n\r\nToday, Solorzano, who\u2019s known as \u201cThe Grape Whisperer,\u201d is a partner in Coastal Vineyard Care Associates. He farms Stolpman, Jonata, most of the ranches in Ballard Canyon, and the John Sebastiano and Salsipuedes vineyards, which bookend the Sta. Rita Hills.\r\n\r\nIn 2008, he began to make his own wine, which he says was cheaper than buying it. Solorzano launched Hecho Por Ruben in 2012.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt helps me be a better farmer, and that\u2019s my goal, to be the best farmer,\u201d says Solorzano. \u201cWhen I taste the wine, I can see the difference from the work that we\u2019re doing in the vineyard. It\u2019s really changed my thinking about grapes.\u201d The future of his brand is a high-density, four-acre block of Syrah, Grenache and Mourv\u00e8dre that he planted at Stolpman last year.\r\n\r\nHe\u2019s been pleased to see cultures converge during his time here.\r\n\r\n\u201cTen years ago, I never saw a party with Mexicans and Americans all together,\u201d he says. \u201cNow, you see that very often. Wine helps everybody be together, and now we don\u2019t see much difference.\r\n\r\n\r\nCaren Rideau & Andres Ibarra \r\nThe Power Couple\r\nOriginally from Valle de Guadalupe in Jalisco, Andres Ibarra left Mexico with his mom and siblings in 1976.\r\n\r\n\u201cMy mom applied for a [visa] to take us all to Disneyland, and we never went back,\u201d says Ibarra.\r\n\r\nThey joined his dad in the Santa Ynez Valley, where he worked as a mule trainer. The family eventually gained citizenship, which was easier then. \u201cIt\u2019s completely different now,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nIn 1980, Ibarra started working at Brander Vineyard. One day, while he daydreamed in the cellar, he spilled Chardonnay everywhere.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019d never had any wine at all,\u201d says Ibarra, then 17 years old. \u201cI put my finger in it and tasted the wine and said, \u2018Wow. I just picked these grapes two weeks ago, and look what it is now.\u2019\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s like this light came on inside of me, and from then on, my interest was to learn how to make wine.\u201d\r\n\r\nJobs at La Presa Vineyard (which he still manages), Santa Ynez Winery, Fess Parker and Rideau followed. It was at the last stop that he met his partner, Caren Rideau, the cousin-in-law of founder Iris Rideau. In 2012, the couple started Tierra y Vino, which produces a few hundred cases annually.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s been really great for us to show that Latinos are in this business,\u201d says Rideau, whose mother was from Sonora, Mexico. \u201cThere\u2019s a huge Latino population that does drink wine.\u201d\r\n\r\nIbarra consults for a new Latino-owned brand, Tres Amigos, which is based in Los Angeles, where Rideau\u2019s architecture and interior design firm is located. Her goal is for more people to taste his wine.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019m more the go-getter,\u201d she says. \u201cHe\u2019s the one that will stand back, but I feel that he needs to be heard, and his wines need to be tasted.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nEdgar Torres\r\nWaiter to Winemaker \r\n\u201cIt\u2019s the epitome of the American dream: coming here with nothing and building something,\u201d says Edgar Torres of the journey of his parents, who left the village of Buenavista near Morelia in Michoac\u00e1n and settled in Cambria, on the San Luis Obispo County coast.\r\n\r\nOn New Year\u2019s Day in 1990, an eight-year-old Edgar and one of his sisters climbed into a VW bus\u2014\u201cwe call it our Little Miss Sunshine moment\u201d\u2014and drove through a hole in the border fence near Tijuana.\r\n\r\nThey lived with two other families in a small home. With his parents constantly at work, Torres became a father figure to his siblings (his older sister came a year after he did, and his other three siblings were born in Cambria).\r\n\r\nAt 14, Torres was working catering gigs while attending high school. He wound up at Villa Creek Restaurant in Paso Robles, where owner Cris Cherry involved staff in his early winemaking adventures. That experience and the connections made led to jobs at Garretson Wine Company, Hug Cellars, Barrel 27 and McPrice Meyers.\r\n\r\nIn 2005, rather than finish college, Torres put his savings into four barrels of wine. Two years later, he started Bodega de Edgar as a Spanish variety-focused brand, which released its first commercial wines in 2009.\r\n\r\nToday, Torres makes about 4,500 cases for Bodega de Edgar as well as about 800 cases for Hug Cellars, which he took over two years ago. He also plans to launch a twist-top, entry-level brand called Work & Play, which will also include canned wines and cider.\r\n\r\n\u201cI want to make more wine for the next generation,\u201d says Torres.\r\n\r\nThough married to an American for 11 years, Torres became a citizen just three years ago. He\u2019s hopeful more Mexicans can follow in his footsteps.\r\n\r\n\u201cMy people are the most loyal, hard-working, sweet people ever,\u201d says Torres. \u201cTheir goals are to come here and have more financial stability. A lot are just happy doing that.\u201d But he still encourages them to go further.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019m pushing everybody, Mexican or not,\u201d says Torres.\r\n\r\n\r\nErika Maldonado\r\nDaughter with Direction\r\nWhile she was in high school, Erika Maldonado lobbied her father, Abel, a Santa Maria Valley farmer and politician, to plant wine grapes.\r\n\r\n\u201cI said, \u2018Dad, I\u2019m enamored by the vines, and there\u2019s all these amazing events,\u2019 \u201d she says. \u201cI\u2019ve never been to a nice dinner because of the produce business!\u201d\r\n\r\nAbel, whose father emigrated as a Bracero from Jalisco in 1964, asked Erika to create a business plan. So, she crafted a PowerPoint presentation, which helped get her dad onboard.\r\n\r\n\u201cLet\u2019s do it,\u201d said Abel.\r\n\r\nIn 2008, they planted 16 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris adjacent to Bien Nacido, and called the plot Runway Vineyard. The first vintage was 2011, which was Erika\u2019s last year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She now produces about 1,000 cases annually, while Abel and her 21-year-old brother, Nick, work the vines. About half its grapes are sold to brands like Au Bon Climat, Scar of the Sea and Liquid Farm.\r\n\r\nErika strives to combine her heritage with wine culture. She has mariachi bands perform at their parties, and she\u2019ll pair dishes like ceviche on jicama slices with Pinot Gris, and duck confit tamales with Pinot Noir.\r\n\r\n\u201cI make it a point to always embrace and express our Mexican culture,\u201d says Erika, whose assistant winemaker, Frank Arredondo, is also of Mexican heritage.\r\n\r\nIn 2014, she produced a wine called Sixty Four to honor her grandfather, who laid the groundwork for the family\u2019s empire, which now encompasses 6,000 acres. It also symbolized the beginning of her family\u2019s journey to realize the American dream. The wine will be released this fall.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhen I presented that bottle of Sixty Four to him over last year\u2019s Thanksgiving dinner, he just started crying,\u201d she says. \u201cHe said, \u2018I never thought in a million years that this would be my life, living in America with my grandchild making wine and naming it after me.\u2019\u2009\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nFabian Bravo\r\nSauvignon Blanc Superstar\r\n\u201cI grew up on Chardonnay Drive, but I didn\u2019t know what that meant,\u201d says Fabian Bravo, whose parents left Ameca, about 45 minutes west of Guadalajara, in the early 1970s. The family entered the United States through his grandfather\u2019s participation in the Bracero Program.\r\n\r\nThey eventually settled in the California town of Gonzales, part of the Salinas Valley. There, his mom picked Brussels sprouts, and his father loaded 40-pound boxes of celery and other cold-weather crops for 25 years.\r\n\r\n\u201cHis arms are as big as my legs,\u201d says Bravo of his dad, who became a supervisor for a well installation business. \u201cHe can certainly still kick my ass.\u201d\r\n\r\nLike many of his generation, Bravo\u2019s dreams extended beyond the fields. He studied electrical engineering with visions of Silicon Valley success. Bravo got a taste of wine during his work for Raytheon in Santa Barbara, and he even made a homemade batch of \u201chorrible\u201d wine in 2005.\r\n\r\nAfter that experience, he continued to search for his true passion. Bravo nearly started a bakery with his mom, briefly went back to the tech sector, taught high school geometry for a year and, finally, almost became a highway patrolman.\r\n\r\nInstead, he took up an offer from family friend Gary Franscioni to work a harvest, and wound up with an internship at Santa Rosa\u2019s Siduri Winery in 2007.\r\n\r\nThat November, during a visit to Santa Barbara, he wound up at Brander Vineyard and met Fred Brander.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe visited Brander on that Thursday, not knowing that I would be working there the following Monday,\u201d said Bravo. He\u2019s been there ever since, and he makes about 16,000 cases of Bordeaux varieties annually, 80 percent of which is Sauvignon Blanc. Last year, he launched his own brand, Bravo Wine Company, which focuses on Italian varieties.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019m hoping that in a few years, as one generation of winemakers retire, the next one comes up, and you\u2019ll see more and more Latinos,\u201d says Bravo.