Q & A With Winemaker Rolando Herrera Of Mi Sueño: Vineyards, Baseball + The Teenage Career Plan
Five minutes into a conversation with Rolando Herrera, the owner-winemaker at Mi Sueño in Napa, it's clear that what first comes across as shyness is really more of a quiet conviction for winemaking. He didn't come from a longstanding winemaking pedigree. He didn't wake up with a gut feeling that he should become a winemaker. He doesn't have a gold-framed degree in oenology on his office wall. Herrera was just a high school kid who, damn it, needed an after-school job.
Mi Sueño Winery Rolando Herrera
His father immigrated to St. Helena in the 1970s from El Llano, a small town in Michoacán, Mexico, to work at a chicken farm (in the days before pricey vineyard plots wiped out other forms of farming in the area). When worked dried up, the family returned to Mexico. Rolando, then 15, wanted to come back. And so he did.
To pay his rent, he worked as a dishwasher at Auberge du Soleil (in the restaurant's pre-hotel days when it was known foremost for cutting-edge cuisine) and later became a line cook at Mustards Grill. All while he was still in high school. That focused work ethic would eventually land Herrera a cellar job at Stags Leap Wine Cellars, an Assistant Winemaker position at Chateau Potelle, and later a position as Director of Winemaking at Paul Hobbs' consulting arm. In addition to Mi Sueño, which he launched in 1997, Herrera also makes wine under a separate label for the Giants' Dave Roberts and Rich Aurilia. And yet the man is still a Dodgers fan. Turn the page for more on Herrera's unconditional love for wine and baseball.
Squid Ink: So you are a baseball fan?
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Rolando Herrera: Yes. A big baseball fan, actually.
SI: Giants, presumably, as you are now making a Cabernet-Merlot blend for Dave Roberts and Rich Aurilia under their Red Stitch label. We'll try to forgive you.
RH: Yes, a Giants fan. I've always liked sports since I was a little kid, and I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of the ball players. It leaves me speechless [meeting them]. [Roberts and Aurilia] are great people, great individuals, great family people, and they do really love wine. For me, I love people in general, so I would find it really difficult not to like any athlete.
SI: Really? Even the Dodgers?
RH: Actually, yes. The Dodgers have one of my favorite people, Mark Sweeney. What a nice man. I love the game of baseball so much that I'm more than a fan of just one team. If you really like sports, it's hard not to like it all. It's funny because even though I am a die-hard Giants fan, as I meet [more players], I realize how much we all share in common. They have a passion for what they do, and I have a passion for what I do.
SI: Your winemaking style follows that fan-of-many logic, too. You don't focus on one or two grapes, say Cabernet, but make a wide range of wines, and you just released your first rosé.
RH: Yes, because I truly love making all wine. It doesn't have to be Cabernet grapes from Napa. I just love being a farmer. But I also love being a cellar rat, an accountant, a vice president, a janitor, all of the above on different days, different time of the year. I've been fortunate to have the opportunity, or actually sometimes the necessity, to learn from the bottom. I've never had the resources to hire everyone else to do things for me.
SI: Tell us about how you started.
RH: My first job when I was 15 years old, coming from Mexico, was at Auberge du Soleil washing dishes. But it wasn't just as a dishwasher. I was the dishwasher for one of the best chefs in the world, Claude Rouas. It was a great opportunity learned from that man.
SI: Pretty remarkable opportunity. After that, becoming a chef wasn't tempting?