Food & Drink

The Summit Wine and Food Festival Presents “California’s Undiscovered Cult Wines”

Credits: Jason Cohen
Credits: Jason Cohen

SUMMIT, NJ - On Saturday morning at the Summit Wine and Food Festival two winemakers from Napa Valley, California presented “California’s Undiscovered Cult Wines." Alex Sotelo of Sotelo Cellars and Luis Robeldo of Robeldo Family Vineyards showed the challenges and rewards of producing wines of a high caliber.

Some of California’s best wines are actually produced by smaller, lesser known wineries that put quality above marketing. During their presentation, each guest was invited to sample four different vintages of red wine.

Robeldo told the audience that several years ago, his grandfather migrated from Mexico to work on the vineyards in the United States and Robeldo’s father followed in his footsteps. In 1968, Robeldo's father got a job in Napa Valley making only $1.15 an hour and in his second year there he became manager.  He then returned to Mexico, married his wife, migrated to California and the Robeldos had nine children, seven boys and two girls.

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In 1984, Robeldo's family bought their first property, 13 acres of land.

“After school, weekends and vacation from school we knew what we were going to do so we didn’t make any plans,” Robeldo said. “Growing grapes was our sport.”

They started the vineyard in 1992 and today, his parents own 400 acres in Napa and Sonoma.  All of the children work or assist with the vineyards.

“I love my job,” he said. Robeldo primarily sells wine and represents his family's business.

Sotelo, who has been in the wine business for 20 years, came to America in 1991. He has had his company for a decade and is quite pleased with where it is today. He and the Robeldos both produce a high quality wine and only aim to give the public the best product, he said. Sotelo said he and his staff manage the properties where they havest the fruit.

“The focus of what we do is we come develop it and we hope that Mother Nature will do the job,” Sotelo said.

Sotelo told the audience there are three key things when growing grapes on a vineyard: dirt, weather and cultural practices. He said dirt, the composition of the soil, sun exposure and weather are all vital in creating a proficient vineyard. Cultural practices are what people do related to the weather and the dirt, he said.   

“If you think about it, [winemaking] is very complex,” Sotelo said.

To succeed in the business, people must possess an extensive knowledge about vineyards and wine, he said. Furthermore, if an individual were to develop a new vineyard, the first thing they need to know is what kind of wine they are going to make, he added.  

The audience was also shown a map of Napa Valley, which surprised many people because of how small Napa actually is. While many presume it to be several hundred miles of vineyards, it is only a quaint 27 miles. Many people were shocked to learn this, but were impressed with the history of both men’s businesses.

“It was good to kind of learn about what’s going on in Napa Valley,” said Ashley Jackson of East Orange.

Jackson, who is just starting to get into wine, said she really enjoyed the presentation. Robeldo’s backstory was fascinating, she said.

Summit resident Maria Zazzera echoed Jackson’s sentiment about Robeldo. "It’s really a true American success story," she said. She enjoyed tasting the wine and had a great time learning about it as well, Zazzera told  

“I liked his story. I thought it was great,” she said.

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