She’s smart, she’s passionate, and she’s the president of the first Mexican-owned vineyard in Paso Robles, California. Señorita Vino had the honor of meeting Dena Marquez, head of Nevarez Vineyard, at East L.A. Meets Napa, an annual fund raising event held at Los Angeles’ Union Station. Ms. Marquez took time to share her thoughts on the intersection of work, wine and how wine knowledge can be a career asset.
Señorita Vino: How did you get into the wine business?
Dena Marquez: I was in retail management for 13 years and I just got worn out. After some some soul-searching, I decided I’d quit and go to law school. I love helping people, and I was starting on this new path when I learned through my mom that Mr. Nevarez [the owner of Nevarez Vineyard] needed some help. She had been his bookkeeper for 16 years, so he knew me and it went from there. I was a beer kind of gal before, but now I’ve really gotten to love wine. It’s such a different experience from a casual beer–the romance attached to it, the stories you hear about the bottles.
SV: Tell me a bit about Juan Nevarez’s vision.
DM: He migrated to the U.S. from Mexico with barely a third-grade education, but he’s accomplished so much. He created the first Mexican-owned vineyard in the county, and he’s quite the entrepreneur. He was once an organizer for Cesar Chavez and today he has a labor contracting business in addition to selling his grapes to some of the local vineyards. He also does consulting work on vineyard management. He’s been in the business for over 30 years, and people are always asking him how he gets his vineyard to look so beautiful.
SV: Latinos have always played a role in California’s wine industry, and today, more and more Latinos are consuming wine. What are your observations?
DM: The thing I love about wine and Latinos is that we’re coming into our own and getting higher positions in the business world–lawyers, politicians, corporate leaders. You go to events and dinners and everyone is into wine; it’s important to know about it because you can join the conversation. If you’re invited to your boss’s house, wine makes a nice gift and you can talk about the history and the region. Wine enters so many people’s conversations, regardless of their position. Knowing about wine and being able to talk about it can help you professionally.
SV: How do you suggest Latinas, or anyone new to wine, begin to learn about it?
Start with the smaller wineries. Paso Robles is a great place to learn; we’re not as commercialized as Napa Valley. It can be intimidating to go to Napa and Sonoma and feel like you don’t know what people are talking about. Paso is more intimate, people are more willing to teach you about wine. Be open minded and experiment with your palate. Our wines are easy to drink and go great with food. I like that they’re not too complex, which is good if you’re not that familiar with wine.
SV: Do you have a favorite memory related to wine that you’d like to share?
DM: [Laughs] I have a lot! My favorite thing is going to charity events and seeing people drink our wines for the first time and love them. I still hold my breath every time they taste. I’ll watch their faces and I’ll be thinking, I hope they like it, I hope it’s good. If they do, I’m ecstatic! It’s been so many years but I still get that.