Rocco Ceselin

The Taste of Success

Starting your own wine label in Napa is no easy feat. "It's like being in the Indianapolis 500," says Rolando Herrera, the owner of Mi Sueño, an intimate winery near downtown Napa that produces more than 8,000 cases a year of acclaimed Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. "There's a lot of talent, a lot of competition."

It's even harder to get ahead when you move to America's most famous wine region from Mexico, at 15, as Herrera did back in 1982. Every day, he'd rise at 6:30 a.m., attend a full day of school, then head to the famed Auberge du Soleil after classes to wash dishes from 3 p.m. to midnight. Eventually, he shifted to vineyard work at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, then got his big break when legendary winemaker Warren Winiarski took note of his enthusiasm and offered him a job in the cellar. Three years in, he was promoted to cellar master. "Warren's a perfectionist, and I think he saw that in me, too," Herrera explains.

Today, Herrera is 50 and a father of six. He still pulls long hours, but he works for himself. A typical day is a blur of activity, starting early and ending late. A discussion with his general manager about vineyard contracts might lead into a quick rundown with his assistant winemaker about a bottling for the next day. Then it's into his truck, perhaps for a jaunt to Coombsville to check on some Cabernet Sauvignon vines or up to the top of Mount Veeder, where he manages more Cabernet plantings. "I grew up in El Llano, Mexico," he says. "It's about a thousand people, maybe. A little different from here."

In his bottlings, Herrera has a knack for balancing intensity with subtlety. His flagship Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon plays ripe blackberry against supple tannins and spice notes; his Los Carneros Chardonnay has the characteristic rich, lemon-cream tones of that area, but a spine of bright acidity keeps it lively and refreshing. At the winery, private tastings take place not along a fancy marble-topped bar but in the barrel room itself—a relaxed atmosphere that perfectly reflects the owner's warm, welcoming spirit. Reserve a visit in advance at; tastings $20 per person.

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