Restaurants

Rolando Herrera’s Amazing Life Story and the Wine That Came From It

Why You Need to be Drinking the 2016 Mi Sueño Syrah

BY // 10.28.20

Rolando Herrera’s story has been told many times, and it is certainly a tale worth knowing. What follows is a summary, a relaying of the highlights of a remarkable life, because this piece is about the 2016 Mi Sueño syrah (Napa Valley). First, the man behind the wine.

The story can begin when the Herrera family moves to Napa, in 1975, relocating from Michoacán, Mexico. Rolando’s father takes a job in a vine nursery, and the 8-year-old Rolando enters school. In 1980, the elder Herrera, ready to retire, returns to Mexico, taking his family with him.

In 1983, Rolando and his brother move back to St. Helena. Rolando said that he missed the American way of life and the beauty of the Napa Valley. He enrolls in high school and work nights and weekends as a dishwasher at Auberge du Soleil.

In 1985, Herrera starts working as a cellar rat at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, where he learns the craft of making wine from Warren Winiarski. Three years later, he is named cellar master at Stag’s Leap.

Chateau Potelle is Herrera’s next stop. In 1995, he joins the winery as assistant winemaker. In 1997, he marries Lorena Robledo, and that same year the couple launches Mi Sueño Winery with 200 cases of Chardonnay made from fruit purchased from Lorena’s father. It was an instant success.

This summary does not do justice to the Herrera tale, which is nothing short of an archetypal American success story. Rolando went on to work at Vine Cliff Winery (beginning in 1998) and at Paul Hobbs Winery (beginning in 2001), and in 2003 he and Lorena founded Herrera Vineyard Management.

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Before we get to the 2016 Syrah, a few more notes about Mi Sueño:

— The 1999 Mi Sueño Los Carneros chardonnay was served at the Bush White House at a state dinner honoring the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox.

— The 2006 Mi Sueño Russian River Valley pinot noir was poured at the Bush White House during the 2008 Cinco de Mayo celebration.

— President Barack Obama’s first state dinner, honoring Mexico’s president at the time, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, featured the 2006 Herrera Rebecca cabernet sauvignon. (In 2004, the couple founded the Herrera portfolio, starring single-varietal and single-vineyard bottlings named after their children.)

Rolando Herrera knows how to prune vines.

In 2004, Rolando began devoting all of his time to Mi Sueño, and in 2016 he and Lorena purchased a property on Mount Veeder, where they plan to construct a winery and a tasting room.

To the syrah: 2016 was a great growing season in Napa Valley, marked by moderate temperatures in July and August and an increase in heat closer to harvest. The fruit was in great condition when it was picked, in mid-October.

This 2016 syrah (Coombsville AVA) was aged for 20 months (50 percent new French oak). It is 100 percent syrah, and the fruit came from the Cortese Vineyard. Alcohol is at 14.5 percent, and 290 cases were produced.

If you like syrah, you will want to buy a bottle of this wine. If you are not overly familiar with syrah, this bottle a good one to add to a tasting panel. You will certainly note the peppery characteristic here, white pepper to be exact. Vanilla and black fruit are also evident.

I opened this bottle immediately upon taking it from a 55-Fahrenheit environment, and sampled it shortly thereafter. Dark purple color in the glass, and the tannins are soft, even supple. (I left the bottle uncorked for the rest of the day, until dinner, and the tannins grew a touch softer.) With the elapsed time since the cork was pulled, subtle notes of bay leaf and cola emerged.

A rack of lamb goes well with the Mi Sueño syrah.

Pairing this wine is going to be fun. I plan to have at least one bottle at the table come Thanksgiving, because I think it will marry perfectly with the smoked turkey we’re ordering. Lamb is another way to go with this syrah, which is what I did on the tasting day, a rack crusted with panko and Parmigiano-Reggiano. You can order this bottle directly from the winery, or inquire at your favorite merchant.

For extra wine, travel and more from James Brock, check out Mise en Place.

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