By Janet Perry
Rolando Herrera is being honored as one of Wine’s Most Inspiring People by the Wine Industry Advisor. Herrera is an outstanding winemaker, overseeing his own family winery, Mi Sueño, and previously serving as Director of Winemaking at Paul Hobbs Winery and Paul Hobbs consulting. His joyous attention to detail and tireless venture for “beautiful” wine make Herrera a gifted winemaker. His journey to becoming a winemaker, and the joy he shares along the way, has made him a great inspiration.
Rolando Herrera was born in Michoacan, in a fertile high mountain Mexican valley. His earliest memories include working with his family in their field, growing corn, wheat and produce. He says that gave him a very strong foundation early on, in understanding the importance of the simple things.
Herrera’s grandparents taught him to pay attention to things like the sun, the wind, and the rotation of different plots. Herrera says that understanding and foundation gave him confidence later when he was learning about growing grapes. “The grape vines are so generous, they can literally grow anywhere,” said Herrera.
Herrera came to the area with his family as a child and fell in love with Napa’s rolling hills and vineyards. Once the family returned to Mexico, he and his brother bravely returned as teenagers and worked to put themselves through school. Herrera wanted to make his way into the wine industry. He caught a break when Warren Winiarski, of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, became impressed with Herrera’s work ethic as the young Herrera built a wall around Winiarski’s property. Winiarski hired Herrera to work in his cellar and his journey into the wine industry began.
Herrera then met the woman who would be his wife, Lorena. He’d been a cellar-rat for a year, he loved his job and was happy, but wasn’t where he wanted to be yet. Ten years later, he took his dear friend Lorena out on one of their favorite hikes and there he asked her to be his bride. She said yes and the dream was born.
Herrera had eleven grape harvests under his belt at this point and wanted to go to the next level and become a winemaker. He says he bought grapes and made a few cases to use for his interview for a winemaker position. The wine turned out “beautiful” and he was encouraged by friends to bottle it. He says that when his friends made the suggestion, the name of the wine came to him immediately. It had to be Mi Sueno, my dream. He and his new bride bottled the wine together. “It’s our dream, with our kids,” said Herrera.
“Twenty-two years later, I feel very fortunate,” said Herrera. “There’s no words to describe how blessed I feel, how fortunate I feel, and how thankful I am to my wife.” The Herrera’s have six children, the youngest is eleven and the oldest is twenty-one. “It’s just been a great journey. Blessings that also have a lot of hard work behind them, and moments, accomplishments and successes. There’s a lot of hard work behind that and a lot of sacrifice.”
“I love the wine industry 100%, from being a cellar-rat, a farmer, to a winemaker, and it makes a big difference if you love what you do,” said Herrera. “It helps you to get through the most challenging, difficult moments. I would go back and do it all over again.”
“Mi Sueno is a family owned business, with my wife and I, and so everything, all of the growing pains, the accomplishments and great times, we’ve shared them together every single one of them.”
“We decided from a very young age, to involve our kids, so they could see what we were doing,” said Herrera. “They have lots of great memories of being out in the vineyard and pulling weeds or suckering vines together, or out here in the bottling line putting little labels and stickers on them, or sweeping the floors. So my kids are very, very involved and have many, many memories of growing up with the winery.” He chuckled and added, “I can tell you that with my six kids, we can run the bottling line all by ourselves.”
Herrera carries that same love into his work with other wineries. “Not only is he our winemaker, he has become part of our families,” said Rich Aurilia. The former major league baseball player is co-owner of Red Stich, where Herrera has been the winemaker since 2008. “From day one, Rolando has been a pleasure to work with. He crafts incredible wines for us that continue to get better every year.”
Paul Hobbs, of Paul Hobbs Consulting, met Rolando Herrera in 1999, while Herrera was a cellar-rat working at Stag’s Leap Winery. Hobbs said Herrera immediately came across as truly engaged, hungry, and driven. He said Herrera was also warm and generous in a magnitude you rarely find in any person. “He is an exceptional individual, Rolando.”
Hobbs and Herrera worked together for two years and are friends. “It was invigorating to work with him, because he’s passionate about making high quality wine. I know a lot of people say that, but truly, he’s all about that. And of course, we spent a tremendous amount of time working together side-by-side in the vineyard and in the winemaking itself. Great attention to detail, he just always wanted the wine to get better. He challenged me while he challenged himself to make improvements. He’s driven in that way.”
“Rolando has a spirit that brings joy and that uplifts those around him, like the wine we were making.” said Hobbs. “I see wine as a celebration of life. I’m very proud of Rolando, of what he’s accomplished. He went off and did his own thing and did it his own way. He gives hope to others.”
Herrera said he encourages young people to, “follow your dream. Make sure it’s something you truly love to do, because a dream is fulfilling a fantasy with real substance. If you are passionate about it, if you are truly enjoying it, regardless of how much money you make, you’ll be happy. He said it’s also important to be patient as things don’t happen overnight. Herrera says he tells his own kids to “find something you love. Put all your effort and focus on that, and you’ll be fine. If you find something you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.”
The Wine Industry Advisor’s honoring of Herrera as one of Wine’s Most Inspiring People has humbled the successful winemaker. “It’s a great honor, to be recognized in this way, when I’m doing what I love to do and it provides for my family. It’s been a beautiful journey.” Herrera said he “never forgets where he came from. My feet are solidly on earth, on the ground. I take this honor with pride and happiness.” Herrera added, “I think that is very, very important, no matter what success we have, to not forget where we come from.”
“During these challenging times we’re going through, I would like to remind everybody that the American Dream is still alive,” said Herrera. “This country is still full of opportunity. The dream is out there, the opportunity is out there. The one thing we cannot forget or change, are those principles that our ancestors, our grandparents, and great-grandparents taught us. To remember to be respectful, to be thankful, grateful, to be kind, honest, and work really hard with that sincerity and that pureness, and the dream is right around the corner.”