Meet the Winemaker – Rafael Rios

Rafael Rios: From vineyards to law school—and back again

A man outstanding in his tasting room. Rafael Rios in the Rios Wine Company tasting room in Calistoga, Calif. (photo courtesy of Rafael Rios)

What wine lover hasn’t fantasized about having their own label? Rafael Rios did, after several years as an attorney advising wine industry clients, and after having worked in the vineyards of Napa Valley alongside his younger brothers and parents when he was a teen. The vineyard work was not by choice. However the adult Rios experimented with winemaking in his garage, and discovered he had a knack for it.

A true familia affair, Rios, his brothers and a cousin launched Rios Wine Company, LLC in 2005. Rios recently chatted with Señorita Vino about the joys of wine and the value of self-confidence.

Señorita Vino: As far as wine consumption, how does the Latina demographic compare to the rest of your customer base?

Rafael Rios: I think they are slowly coming into wine, based on my experience in the tasting room and observing the people who come in. Latinas are probably the minority as far as numbers. Latinos in general are a small percentage.

SV: Why do you think that is?

RR: I think it’s a lack of familiarity. Even as I was growing up working in the vineyards with my parents, I didn’t see a lot of wine. My father would get wine from some of the people he was working for, but the demographic that most of us came from – field workers, construction – it’s not very common. We didn’t really grow up with it.  And it can be intimidating for some people.

SV: What advice would you give Latinas or anyone else who is interested in wine but may feel a level of intimidation?

RR: I think the first thing I’d say is that Latinos and Latinas tend to be pretty confident in themselves. Remember you have that confidence. Use it! Don’t be intimidated. Often in the tasting room the very first thing people say to me after ‘Hello’ is ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about wine.’ There’s noting to be sorry about. I tell them to be confident in their own tastes. They’ll ask, ‘What am I supposed to be tasting?’ And I’ll say I’m not telling you. You taste it and I’ll taste it, and we’ll compare notes. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t like it. Everybody’s palate is different.

SV: What do you like most about being a winemaker?

RR: It’s totally different from everything else I’ve done. I still practice law and I help people with setting up their own labels, licensing and permitting. The thing about wine is that you’re out there during the crush, you’re going over to the caves and tasting the wine and showing it to people. When you meet people over wine, you’re always having a great time. Yes, it’s work, and it has some stresses, but those stresses seem to be outweighed by everything else. With winemaking, people are happy to see you. With law and litigation, no one was happy to see you!

2 thoughts on “Meet the Winemaker – Rafael Rios

  1. I did a promotion in conjunction with the New York Wine Festival on my blog, and I did see exactly what was mentioned in this article, Latinos were a smaller demographic of the attendees and the venue was a very large venue in NYC. But just as mentioned above, I never mentioned being a novice, when it comes to any tasting be it food or wine, your palate will tell you which ones you like and don’t like. I for one, prefer champagne & cavas (very particular ones, not just all or any of them) extra dry, second would be whites (sauvignon’s first then chardonnay) again, dry or extra dry, with reds coming in last for me. Thanks for including this profile, I love to see Latinos developing their own labels, and would love to see any Latina owned wineries featured as well. Vaya y si estas comiendo tambien, buen provecho!

    1. Hola Tracy! Thanks for reading, and we’ll definitely be featuring profiles of Latina winemakers in the near future. Stay tuned! And cheers (¡y provecho!) a tí, también.

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