Another success story to add to the Napa Valley Region is the family-owned winery Corte Riva.
I was fortunate to be invited to the winemaker’s home in St. Helena, California. Dungeness crab were cracked and plated; caught that morning in the winemakers’ crab pots. Smoked tri-tip, a crumbled bleu cheese spinach salad and other delights sat at tables as we watched the sun die down and listened to wine splashing into glasses as the owners introduced each pour.
Corte Riva is the first Filipino-owned winery in the Northern California wine region. They are also a runaway success story — literally, working from the bottom up as grape pickers, gleaning knowledge of the crops and the winemaking process, and eventually exploding onto the wine making scene in 2003 as a top 3 finalist and gleaning 90+ ratings from the elite wine critics of Napa county.
Today, Corte Riva is booming, with a devoted American population and a Filipino following that is starting to bloom. The name pays homage to family names. The winery is headed by Lawrence Cortez and Romel Rivera, two Filipino immigrants originally from the island of Luzon. Nieves Cortez is Lawrence’s wife who also has years of wine growing experience and is in charge of the business part of the enterprise.
But winemaking was not a part of the original plan.
“We had no choice,” Nieves started, “We were new in America. We were strangers. We were new so whatever job we could grab, we took it.”
“When I was in the Philippines I never liked to work on the farm. But when I came here it was the opposite. I had to work on the farm — picking grapes and hoeing. Hoeing was so hard in the summer. And picking, I didn’t like because the smoke from the tractor made me dizzy.”
All 3 –had come to America in their 20s. Beginning as grape pickers, Lawrence, Romel and Nieves eventually worked their way up to positions in the Pride Mountain Vineyards of St. Helena, a dignified and respected wine entity in the Napa Valley. Romel was the winemaker and Lawrence was the cellar master.
The 14 years working in wineries paid off as the family played with the idea of starting their own winery at the kitchen table.
Nieves continues, “My husband said, ‘Are you dreaming? Do you know how many wineries there are in California? There are 3,000 wineries!’ I said I didn’t care.”
To add to the challenge, all 3 had no formal education.”I didn’t go to school,” Lawrence testifies. His discretion is a combination of more than a decade in the trade and pure and passionate instinct. This natural oversight could be a product of his ancestral history: though many of his family were fishermen, farming and coconut plantation is also in his blood. Lawrence recollected learning some farming techniques from his father as he was growing up.
Luckily, there was no need to worry, as formality seemed to bear no weight on unbridled passion. Corte Riva exploded on to the wine scene and continues to defy the critics. In 2003, (the year it was introduced) the label was a runaway success; with 360 cases (4,320 bottles) selling out in 2 months at $45/bottle. In the Napa Valley region it was rated in the top 3 in the state.
One quality that could vouch for this is Corte Riva’s quest for currency and individuality: instead of investing in long term contracts with grape growers Corte Riva hunts for the best grapes in each successive year.
And although the winery does not market itself as a Filipino-brand, they do have a Mabuhay! varietal and make appearances at Filipino community events.
“In the beginning, it was mostly Americans coming to see us,” Nieves reflects, “But now I see that a lot of Filipinos; they’re starting to come around. They’ll send me an e-mail that they want to come and visit to taste.”
Cabernet and Merlot pair well with — ADOBO, KARE-KARE
Mabuhay pairs well with — BARBECUE, NY STRIP, RIB EYE
MORE INFORMATION ———
Corte Riva Winery
1724 Alan Drive, Penngrove, CA 94951
Winery owners: Lawrence and Nieves Cortez, Romel Rivera
Corte Riva has 5 main red varietals:
- 2006 Mabuhay
- 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2007 Cabernet Franc
- 2006 Merlot
- 2006 Petite Sirah
They also have a Cortez 78 Collection:
- 2010 Rose’
- 2007 Firepit Red Blend
- 2007 Petite Sirah
All photos courtesy of Maxwell Reyes.