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Oregon wineries celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

In 1988, the US enacted Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated between 15 September – 15 October each year to honour the contributions of Hispanics in America. db looks at some key industry programmes.

Earlier this year the drinks business reported that the brunt of US agricultural labour is provided by migrants. The Oregon Wine Board, for example, reports that about 90,000 migrant agricultural workers contribute to a wine industry that is responsible for more than US$7.21 billion annually.

In honour of this year’s US Hispanic Heritage Month, db examines a few notable Oregon Hispanic wine industry programmes.

CHR Group members

Celebrating Hispanic Roots

Celebrating Hispanic Roots (CHR), or Raices Unidas, comprises a group of Oregon winery and vineyard owners, winemakers, and business leaders with Latin “roots.”

“What makes it unique is that it’s a celebration of our heritage, and there really isn’t anything that spans the geographies we all come from – all the way from Argentina to Mexico,” says CHR founding member Ximena Orrego, winemaker and co-owner of Atticus Wine in Yamhill, Oregon.

”It is also a celebration of the unique journeys that brought us to this industry, our entrepreneurial spirit, our leadership, and our desire to give back to the Spanish-speaking community here in Oregon.”

Now in its fourth year, CHR has doubled from six to 12 members.

“From its inception in 2020, we have always supported a non-profit focused on the Spanish-speaking community here in Oregon, with efforts around education and entrepreneurship primarily, and this year focused on healthcare,” she adds.

To that end, participants offer special wine selections to consumers throughout Hispanic Heritage Month.

This year, wineries include Alumbra Cellars, Atticus Wine, Beacon Hill Winery, Cramoisi Vineyard, Parra Wine Co., Nueva Aventura Wines, Gonzales Wine Company, Mijita Wine Company, Iterum Wines, Coria Estates, Valcan Cellars, and Subterra Kitchen and Cellar.

10% of  bottle sales, as well as proceeds from a food and wine pairing dinner at Latin-owned Subterra Kitchen and Cellar with Chef Javier Santos, go towards funding the ¡Salud! auction.

Free healthcare for vineyard workers

Twenty years ago, Oregon pioneers established the mobile, no-fee, ’no-questions-asked’ migrant healthcare programme to treat health, vision, dental, and mental health issues for vineyard workers and their families.

Ximena Orrego of Atticus Wine also applauds the Oregon Wine Industry for its unwavering support of Celebrating Hispanic Roots, particularly the Oregon Wine Board, and Willamette Valley Wineries Association, one of their 2023 sponsors.

“I cannot speak for other wine regions, but I feel there is a very visible desire to include the Latin wine industry members here in Oregon,” she admits. “Now, more than ever, this community is being invited to have their voices at the table to help drive positive change in our industry, and to keep getting better.”

The AHIVOY board

Educational development

Non-profit AHIVOY (Asociación Hispana de la Industria del Vino en Oregon y Comunidad) offers educational and professional development to Oregon’s Latinx and Hispanic vineyard workers. (AHIVOY means “There I go” in Spanish.)

Partnering with Chemeketa Community College and Linfield College, the organisation oversees bilingual immersion programmes designed to teach technical vine and wine skills, while promulgating potential industry leadership, career, and entrepreneurial opportunities.

“We are making a difference to the Oregon wine industry vineyard stewards by providing an education programme for them to gain more knowledge, plus be more passionate about the wine industry as a whole – not just  the viticulture side,” says board co-chair and owner/winemaker Sam Parra of PARRA Wine Co.

More importantly, AHIVOY offers not just technical training and career advancement – it offers a sense of self-respect.

“Vineyard stewards know how big the wine industry is, and the big factor they contribute, which is “you cannot make good wine without great cultivators,” says Parra. “By providing education to the backbone of our wine industry, vineyard stewards feel respected, empowered, acknowledged, heard.”

Currently, AHIVOY relies directly upon donors, such as Erath Family Foundation, Willamette Workforce, Business Oregon Economic Investment Program, Foley Family, Winderlea, Soter, and Oregon Wine Brotherhood.

Founded by the late, beloved Hispanic winemaker Jesús Guillén prior to his death in 2018, other co-founders include his wife Yuliana Cisneros-Guillén, Sofía Torres-McKay, co-owner of Cramoisi Vineyard and Winery, and Miguel A. Lopez of Red Dirt Vineyard Management & Winemaking.

Ultimately, Parra underscores the existential importance of AHIVOY within the context of Hispanic Heritage Month.

“I cannot make good wine without good grapes,” he says. “A very high percentage of vineyard stewards are Latino. Hispanic Heritage Month is the same timing as harvest, when my grapes come in. I know the long days our vineyard stewards have put in year-round to provide us winemakers with a ‘job.’ How can one be a winemaker, without any grapes being cultivated by a highly skilled labour force?” 

Malbec in the City

Malbec in the City (MBIC) represents America’s first Malbec-centric consumer education event of its kind, featuring Oregon Malbec producers.

“The event gives Malbec producers (big and small) the spotlight in front of wine lovers, creating awareness, and giving them the chance to meet,” says J.P. Valot, owner/winemaker of Valcan Cellars and Malbec in the City founder.

“The education is a tool for consumers to understand the variety, flavours, and aromas in the different AVAs.”

To Valot, who hails from Mendoza, Argentina, Malbec in the City represents something personal.

“For me, it is a dream come true,” he says.  “I grew up in Mendoza, and when I decided to moved to Oregon to work with Pinot Noir, I thought that I will never have the possibility to make Malbec anymore. I was wrong.”

While Pinot Noir remains Oregon’s flagship variety, Valot believes Malbec has the potential to rank as the state’s “number two” red variety.

“When I got the chance to work with Malbec from the Rogue Valley, I fell in love with it, and I started to promote it within my peers,” he recalls. “If any grower was asking me for advice about what to plant outside the Willamette Valley, I was telling them that Malbec has the most potential, after Pinot Noir. Malbec is very natural to our climate here in Oregon.”

Given Malbec’s lack of competition outside of Argentina, Valot hopes to achieve one simple, audacious goal via Malbec in the City: “My goal is for Oregon to become the Malbec capital for the US.”

The second annual Malbec in the City event occurs on Saturday 20 April 2024 at Castaway Portland, to benefit Our Legacy Harvested, a non-profit empowering the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) community in the wine industry.



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