The Grapemakers: People Behind Napa Valley Harvest

During a recent trip to Napa, I heard this phrase frequently: in the industry – Some of us in the industry get together for a tasting. We offer a special price for others in the industry. My husband are I are both in the industry.

People in Napa Valley wine country associate with one another on these terms, sharing experiences and sips with others that earn a living in the wine world. The overall payroll is no small number; approximately 46,000 Napa County residents* are employed with the local wine industry. The economic impact of these jobs is significant: more than $13 billion locally and more than $50 billion in the U.S*.

September is California Wine Month – a busy month with harvest and crush and lots of capable hands at work. While the Napa-effect of perfection in hospitality, style and world-class wine may appear at times effortless, it is the creative and physical energy of many minds and hands – in the vines, in the cellar, in the office, in the kitchen and in the trucks. Here we meet a few of the professionals that bring Napa wine to life:

Gabriela Solano Castillo > Vineyard Worker at Rudd Oakville Estate
Napa Valley Harvest, Rudd Oakville, Napa Valley Wine
Gabriela Solano Castillo is a Vineyard Worker at Rudd Oakville Estate, Courtesy: Napa Valley Vintners

Gabriela Solano Castillo is the first place winner of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers’ (NVG) and Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation’s 16th Annual Napa County Pruning Contest held earlier this year at Beringer’s Gamble Ranch. 2017 marks her 12th harvest; she’s been in Napa for about 11 years, previously she resided in Lodi. Rudd Oakville Estates says of their people, “We celebrate value creation, innovation, continuous improvement, hard work, integrity and results.” Of her work, Solano Castillo shares, “Working in the vineyard can be challenging and tiring, but overall it’s a wonderful experience. All that hard work shows in the bottle of wine. It makes us feel very proud when we see the final result of quality not quantity.”

Joel Antonio > Viticulturist at Alpha Omega
Winegrapes, Vineyard, Napa Valley Wine
Joel Antonio is a Viticulturist at Alpha Omega, Courtesy: Napa Valley Vintners

Joel Antonio was brought to California by his brother at the age of 17. He’d grown up in a small village in Oaxaca, Mexico, but earned an American education – on which he continues to focus – after arriving in California. Antonio has been with Alpha Omega since 2014, an estate with a focus on philanthropy, including support for Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch,  Rutherford Dust Society, Auction Napa Valley and many more. Of his work, Antonio shares, “How the vines are managed affects how
hard the winemakers will work later. They say wine is made on the vine, and I work hard to bring forth the best fruit possible. My team and I call ourselves ‘the grapemakers,’ and we truly try to live up to that.”

James Revie > Assistant Winemaker at Spottswoode Estate
Napa Valley Winemaker, California Winemaker,
James Revie is Assistant Winemaker at Spottswoode Estate, Courtesy: Napa Valley Vintners

James Revie hails from Australia, where he first fell in love with winemaking after working a harvest. He couldn’t get enough of Spottswoode‘s Cabernet Sauvignons and made it his goal to learn how they did it. Now he knows for sure – in the position of assistant winemaker. “Spottswoode Estate’s success is due in large part to a dedicated group of individuals who share a passion for producing exceptional wine,” say the leaders at the winery. Of the harvest, Revie shares, “Every harvest thrills me. If a winemaker didn’t love harvest, they would be in the wrong business. Each year you work from a blank slate with a fun, fresh set of challenges to solve. We work hard to realize what Mother Nature has given us, and figure out the best way to optimize it to create something beautiful.”

José Rodríguez > Vineyard and Production at Stony Hill Vineyard
Napa Valley Vineyards, Napa Valley Wine, California Wine
José Rodríguez works in Vineyard and Production at Stony Hill Vineyard, Courtesy: Napa Valley Vintners

The website for Stony Hill Vineyards has a section titled “Team”. Found there is a picture of the leadership group at the winery. It’s a telling shot of everyone that works there – some are seated on a piece of equipment. Other stand nearby under the shade old tree. The group looks natural, as if each person has their own story to tell in the production of Stony Hill Vineyards’ wine. José Rodríguez works in Vineyard and Production and has been a resident of St. Helena since 1983; his family joined him 10 years later from their hometown of Michoacán, México. “I enjoy everything about working with vines but my favorite time of the year is harvest because we work in groups and I enjoy seeing the fruit get picked. While I don’t work in the winery, whenever I see a bottle of our wine, I feel proud to have been a part of that process. I cared for those grapes,” says José,

While 46,000 people at work leave the impression of a movement, of something big pulsating behind the scenes – it is these individual stories that bring true flavor to Napa Valley wines.



*Napa Valley Vinters provided the photography and data as well as connected me with these stories.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. A nice glimpse of the folks behind the scenes. So many stories in each glass of wine!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I realized I’ve focused quite a bit on winemakers themselves and these layers of experience and know-how are essential stories for a real understanding. Thanks a million for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful. I love that you shined a lot on those hardworking people who are out of the limelight.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I agree – the work is a flow chart of experience & expertise. I love learning about the process at all stages.


  3. Veggies and Vino says:

    Great post Jill! Wonderful to see all of these talented and hard working people highlighted. It’s special.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      So many hands “touch” our wine before we taste it. Fun story to write!

      Thanks for reading and commenting.


  4. A great read as always Jill. Thanks for sharing these hard-working folks stories!


  5. Elizabeth says:

    Knowing the background stories about those who make great wine enhances the whole drinking experience. A great post.


    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thanks Elizabeth – I loved getting to know the background of why these talented folks came to practice their craft in Napa. Thanks for your comment!


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