Living the American Dream in Sonoma

Apr 19, 2007

Ulises Valdez has an infectious enthusiasm for winegrowing. “My heart is in the vines,” he says with a bright smile as his racy 2006 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc is poured, showing zesty citrus and lemon-lime flavors.

Valdez’s story is straight out of one of those American Dream scripts. At age 16, he crossed the border from Mexico to the United States. During the 20 years that followed, he worked and studied hard, becoming one of Sonoma’s top viticulturists. His vineyard management company oversees hundreds of acres of vines, including more than 100 of his own grapes.

Now, with a star-studded cast of winemakers helping Valdez out, he’s joining the ranks of the vintners. The vintners he farms for--Mark Aubert, Paul Hobbs, Jayson Pahlmeyer (on the Sonoma Coast) and Jeff Cohn of J.C. Cellars--give you an idea of the trust and admiration these winemakers have for Valdez’s skill, expertise and dedication. Hobbs uses Valdez’s name on his Russian River Chardonnay, while Aubert used his initials, UV, on his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Hobbs makes Valdez's Sauvignon; Cohn makes his Zinfandels and Aubert makes his Pinot Noir. Yesterday Valdez poured the 2005 Russian River Pinot ($55-$60 on release), which was deftly balanced, with an elegant mix of cherry and berry flavors and light cedary oak. Alas, only 27 cases were made, although 250 cases of 2006 were produced. You can sign up for his mailing list at www.valdezfamilywinery.com.

Valdez is proud yet modest about his talents. “Farming is easy if you’re always there [working with the vines],” he says. Judging by the vineyards and the wines they produce, he’s never too far from his love.

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