Friday, September 23, 2011

Interview with Dalia Cejas

I'm SO excited about my guest this week! I first learned of Ceja Vineyards last May when I saw the business profiled on Hispanic Lifestyle. I knew immediately that I wanted to interview Dalia Ceja and ask her my own questions. If feel very lucky that she has taken time out of her busy schedule to spend some time with me and my readers.

I hope you enjoy the interview!

Julia: Dalia, interviewing you is such a treat for me! I spent hours reading about production and wine tasting and trying to learn all I could about the business in order to write Say You'll Be Mine. But what I did not do is talk to actual owners of wineries. That was partially on purpose, because I wanted my characters to be complete fictional creations. I didn’t want to inadvertently pick up facts about actual people. But now that the book is finished and due to be released next month, I’m very much interested in learning about the real people who have chosen to make wine-making and the running of a winery their life. Thank you for agreeing to this interview! First of all, can you introduce me to the Ceja’s family and what they do for the business?

Dalia: There are three generations of Ceja’s that are involved in the business. The partners and founders of Ceja Vineyards are Amelia, Pedro, Armando & Martha Ceja. My mom, Amelia Ceja is the first Latina woman to be President and Owner of a winery in Napa. My uncle, Armando, is our winemaker and my father Pedro, is behind all of the architectural creativity of the operation. I joined my family’s team in 2009 as Director of Sales and Marketing and my grandmother, Mama Juana, also helps us cook for many wine club events and special dinners.

Julia How did your family get involved in the wine-making business? Would you share a bit of history?

Dalia:My grandparent’s came from Mexico to the U.S. in the 60’s as migrant farm workers through the Bracero program. In the mid 60’s they settled in St. Helena working in the fields picking the fruit during harvest. In 1968, both sets of grandparents brought their families from Mexico in search of better life opportunities. The kids worked in the fields and continued going to school. We went from vineyard workers to vineyard owners in a very short period of time. My uncle, Armando went to UC and got a degree in Viticulture & Enology. In 1999 my parents founded Ceja Vineyards and launched their own brand. Currently we make a total of 10,000 cases annually and make beautiful handcrafted wines.

Julia: What a great success story! When I first learned about Ceja Vineyards, my interest was immediately piqued. Here was a Latina family who owned a winery. How do you bring your Latino roots into your business? Maybe in the food you serve? Or does your background figure in your business at all?

Dalia: For us, our roots go very deep into our Mexican heritage and Mexican culture, and we show that with everything that we do. Cooking plays an integral part of our culture and we pair authentic Mexican cuisine with all of our wines. We’re also in the process of constructing our Mission style winery, which plays homage to the Missions of CA.

Julia: Yes, I've watched a few of your YouTube cooking videos, and loved them! Yum. And I appreciate learning how to pair wines to different foods. The next point of interest for me, since the protagonist of my novel comes from Mendoza Argentina and her family brought their knowledge of wine-making from South America, is that you spent a number of weeks traveling around South America, including Mendoza. Can you share what you learned from your travels and what you enjoyed about this trip?

Dalia: I spent six glorious months backpacking throughout South America. It was probably one of the greatest and most life changing experiences yet. In a nutshell: I traveled with my best friend exploring five countries, over 500 hours of bus rides, crashing in hostels, visiting Machu Picchu, trekking up an active volcano, falling in love {with Chile}, swimming in the gorgeous white beaches of Brazil, eating amazing asado {Argentian BBQ} and most importantly, discovering who I really am… For me, my experiences can be described in three words {that are tattooed on my forearm} – live your passions. This became the anchor for a blog that I would later launch in 2011.

Julia: How do you compare the process/production/taste of California and in particular Ceja Wines to those you saw in South America?

Dalia: One thing a visitor will notice about Argentine wine producers is their sense of enthusiasm. The revolution in technology and information that has flooded the industry has left winemakers as excited as kids on Christmas morning playing with all of their new toys.

It was evident that a significant portion of the Argentine and Chilean wine industry has been revolutionized. Where they once produced simple, inexpensive wines primarily designated as red, white and rosé, now in 2011, Argentina is focused on fine varietal-designated wines, especially their Malbec (which I love!).

Their mission is to deliver, high quality wines of good value. Much of the technological advancement, along with the development of the new international style of winemaking in Argentina and Chile, is directly related to consultants from California, France, Chile and Italy sharing information with Argentine winemakers.

Julia: Very cool, I love Malbecs too. Which are your favorite Ceja Wines and how can readers buy your wines if they can’t travel to Napa Valley?

Dalia: I love all of our wines for different reasons. It depends on the dish I’m pairing it with, the time of year and the mood I’m in. Right now, I seem to gravitate toward our crisp and refreshing “Bella Flor” Rose, which is the perfect wine to pair with spicy food. You can buy our wines on our website at, at our tasting room in downtown Napa on 1248 First street, or over the phone at (707) 255-3954.

Julia: Wine tasting is such an art. Even after spending half a year doing “research” and going to wine tastings, I still have a difficult time really understanding how to choose a good wine. What should the average person look for when choosing a wine after a wine tasting event?

Dalia: In my opinion wine is subjective and to many people, a very personal experience. The best way to choose a wine is to enjoy the varietals you love, that you might have had a fabulous experience drinking in the past, or enjoyed drinking in a memorable setting with family and friends. Since I’m a foodie, I usually choose a wine that with compliment the dish I’m about to cook and devour. Also, have fun with your decisions, pick a wine that you wouldn’t normally try and I promise you it might surprise you and your taste buds.

Julia: That's great advice, especially about a wine you've enjoyed with friends and family. Wine always seems to taste better when sharing it. Moving away from the product to the business aspect of owning a vineyard and winery - what does it take to be successful in the wine-making business? I notice that you have a big presence online. I love yours and Amelia’s recipes! And you both seem to be naturals behind the camera. In today’s world, do you feel that this type of connection with your customers is necessary?

Dalia: Be passionate. Love what you do and it will never feel like work. There is a saying in my family, “we don’t have blood in our veins, we have wine.” This is a mere reflection of the passion and enthusiasm I have always felt toward this industry. We have utilized social media {Facebook, Twitter &YouTube} as a means to create a community around our brand. It has been a very powerful tool for our business and to create an online persona. My mom and I have over 120 videos on YouTube that focus on short food and wine pairings. We love to cook and this has been another creative outlet to brand our business and sell wine!

Julia: Dalia, would you like to share a bit more about yourself? Tell us about your blog, your interests and passions in life. Pictures? Video clips?

Dalia: I have been surrounded by wine, food and travel my entire life. I may have grown up in the wine industry but I come from very humble beginnings. In 2008 I graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Marketing & Communications. After graduating from college I departed on a six month “Study Abroad” backpacking journey through South America, learning, exploring and enriching my career with real life experiences. This became the anchor for a blog that I would later launch in 2011.
In 2011 I was named “Woman of the Year” through the Napa Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for my entrepreneurial leadership and charitable contributions. In May of 2011 I launched my own blog and website titled The Ole! Report. I highlight my own passions to creatively focus on wine, fashion, food, travel and fiestas! Please visit
I also plan to further my education and attend Sonoma State University to receive my M.B.A. in Wine Marketing. With a personal flare and passion for fashion, wine, cooking and travel, I’m set to leave a mark! Ole!

Julia: How can readers find Ceja Vineyards on the Internet? Blogs? Facebook?

Dalia: You can find Ceja Vineyards at, Also on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube! Become a fan and become a part of our extended familia!

Julia: Thank you so much for letting me ask so many questions! Best of luck to you and your family! You are true inspirations to many hard working Latino families.

To my wonderful readers, please leave your comments or questions for Dalia below. I will draw one random name next Friday 9/30 and the winner will have the opportunity to own a fabulous wine kit to uncork and re-cork your wine - $30 value! Great to take on romantic picnics!

Friday, September 16, 2011

State Street Winery

Recently, in my local newspaper I ran across an article about a new winery opening up close to home, and it piqued my interest immediately. I love when new, cool businesses start, especially family owned businesses. With Say You'll Be Mine being set in a winery, I knew I wanted to meet the owners and interview them. Happily, one of the owners, Janet Harter agreed to an interview.

I hope you enjoy the interview and if you live close to Redlands, California, stop by and sample their great wines.

Julia: Janet, it’s so exciting to have a winery in Redlands! How did you and Robin come to the decision of opening a winery?

Janet: Robin and I wanted to have our own winery for about 5 years and then the last year we decided to open our winery.

Julia: Why did you choose Redlands as the perfect location to open your business?

Janet: We have lived in Redlands for 30 years and just thought down town would be the perfect location for our winery.

Julia: I agree! I think it's going to make downtown even more charming and enticing than it already is. I really love that this is a family business for you all. In fact, when I was doing research for Say You'll Be Mine, I realized that it is a business that tends to be family run. Who are the family members and how do you help each other run the winery.

Janet: Yes we are a family business. Robin –Husband wine maker, owner, Victor son-in-law wine maker, stocker, Desiree- daughter, helps bottle, label, work tasting room, Kelly-Daughter helps bottle, label, work tasting room, Elizabeth- daughter, helps bottle, label, work tasting room. My family does whatever it has taken to help run the winery and get it started they also have other jobs as well. I also have friends that all help bottle and label. They work for wine.

Julia: LOL - that would work for me too! What varieties of wines do you offer?

Janet: Whites, Reds, Fruit

Julia: You offer patrons the opportunity to create custom labels and to have their own vintage. Can you tell me a bit about how that works?

Janet: Guest can email me a picture for a bottle of wine or just put words on a label.
Guest would pick out a wine they like and we would start the wine for them
And the 5 to 7 weeks later they would come back and bottle it themselves.

Julia: How fun! In fact, that idea is so appealing to me, that I'm going to be doing it!! I can't wait to see the bottles of wine with the Say You'll Be Mine label. Well, thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Where can readers go on the web to find out more about your winery?

Janet: They can go to

Julia: Great! Thank you so much. State Street Winery als has a wine club where members receive one bottle of wine a month and they get 10% off everything in the winery!

I'm also excited to announce that anyone who comes to the launch book signing of Say You'll Be Mine on October 29th, at Barnes & Noble (3485 Tyler Street, Riverside, Ca. 92503) and purchases a book, will be invited for a free wine tasting at the State Stree Winery!! Thank you, Harter family!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Loving Writing

As writers, I think, we have the illusion that everyone enjoys writing. I'm not sure where it comes from. People actually do confess to authors often that they would like to write a book or that they have an idea for a book and one day they will find the time to actually "write that book."

So, realizing that some people struggle with writing or really don't like it is short of a shockers. It's like when I meet the odd-ball person who says, "I don't like chocolate." Really?? How is that possible?

Well, later this month I'm going to being working in a writing center at my university. I'm excited about it, because I love to teach writing! I love to help people produce papers that help them express exactly what they want to say, or stories they can be proud of. And I enjoy reading other people's writing. Everyone views the world differently, so no two people will write quite the same thing even about the same subject.

But I was warned, that some students who visit the writing center will be there because the instructor forced the to go, not because they want to be there. Really? How is that possible?

Doesn't everyone want to improve their writing? I've tutored children before, and I was an elementary school teacher, so I'm not that naive, but seriously, I wonder why anyone would dread writing and being able to express their thoughts on paper. It's such a gift that we are given as people and citizens of this country. Is it because someone has told them at some point that they are not a good writer? If so, don't let that stop you people. Every writer has been told that by someone. EVERY WRITER. Is it because they don't have confidence in their skills? That's what writing centers and tutors are for - to help people improve their skills.

I think I'm going to approach this writing center job with the attitude that everyone wants to be there and that they may not yet know it. I'm hoping that my love of writing will be infectious and will translate into getting others to love it too, or at least like it. I'm excited!