To understand the complex relationship between poverty, immigration, entrepreneurship and the American dream, you could read a few hundred books. Or, for the short course, you could ask Reynaldo Robledo. "I didn't want my children to suffer as I did," says Robledo, 54, who came to Northern California from Mexico at 16 to pick grapes. "And I wanted them to have what I couldn't."
They do. After years of working 14-hour days, Robledo became the first Mexican migrant worker to own a winery. The Robledo Family Winery sprawls over 200 scenic acres in Napa and Sonoma counties and turns out 5,500 cases each year. Peter Marks, a wine curator in Napa, gives high marks to Robledo varietals, calling the Syrah "delicious."
Fine wine wasn't consumed in Atacheo, Mexico, where Robledo's most vivid childhood memory is of hunger pangs. After reaching California, he earned enough to eat, but at times made as little as $1.10 an hour. Promoted to vineyard manager, he got free housing but kept his family on a tight budget, forgoing vacations and dinners out. By 1984 he had saved enough to buy 13 acres of barren land in Napa Valley. While teaching himself to read English—using daughter Vanessa's second-grade books at night—Robledo tended his land after spending the day managing others' fields. His nine boys and girls worked alongside him, pruning vines and pulling shoots. "My father would say, 'Hard work will keep the family together,' " says Vanessa, 28, now the winery's president. In 1986 the family sold its first crop of Pinot Noir grapes.
Then on Oct. 23, 2003, Robledo opened the winery, surrounded by his wife, Maria, 52, and their children. Now the family is helping others, raising $50,000 last year for migrant healthcare, food and literacy programs. Says daughter Lorena, 33: "We want people to get inspired and pursue their dreams."
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