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How a diverse group of winemakers are making their mark in the Central Valley

“I think I carry my heritage on my sleeve. I love talking about my country. I’m so involved in it,” said winemaker Joseph Smith.

LODI, Calif. — The stories of Hispanic winemakers are as diverse as the backgrounds from which they come. It's a sentiment that rings true for Lodi's Joseph Smith, a winemaker with Klinker Brick, and Gerardo Espinosa, the owner of Anaya wines.

“I think I carry my heritage on my sleeve. I love talking about my country. I’m so involved in it,” Smith said.

Smith came to California from Belize in 1996. He got his first job in the industry that year. In 2006, he became a winemaker with Klinker Brick, where he has been at it for the past 15 years. Smith is creating a cross culture dialogue.

“One of the big parts, what I think I’m contributing back to my country, is giving them a different avenue to say, ‘Hey, wine and food goes together, man. There’s a big part that we’ve missed but let’s not keep missing it. Let’s get it going,’” Smith said.

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He has seen Lodi change a lot.

“The amount of change I’ve seen is the amount of wineries that’s popped up and the different ethnicities of winemakers at these wineries now. It’s becoming so diverse; it makes me happy,” Smith said.

He offered himself as an example, explaining that he was one of the only black winemakers in the area when he began.

“I am actually head winemaker and, I mean, I’m not from a wine background. My assistant, which was Chris Rivera, he has his own brand after working with us... He didn’t come from a wine background,” Smith said.

He knows some people of color from historically under-represented groups can be intimidated by the whiteness of wine culture and may have a hard time seeing themselves in it.

“So you giving us this platform to talk about it and showcasing it, I think that’s what’s going to make people comfortable, make people want to get out there and say, ‘You know what? I’m a part of that too, and I can be a part of that too. So this is why it’s important,” Smith said.

RELATED: These Hispanic winemakers in Lodi are changing an industry one bottle at a time

Gerardo Espinosa is the owner of Anaya wines.

“You are who you are, be proud of it, be proud about it and that’s what I am. I am proud about where we came from and what we have now and what we are showing with our final products,” Espinosa said.

His family is originally from Mexico.

“I’m a third-generation farmer. My grandfather came here in the 1940s,” Espinosa said.

Espinosa’s grandfather bought land over the years and his relatives planted grapes. He said that history is what he tries to put into his product.

“Be able to showcase the vineyards, you know, so the majority of my wines are what we grow. We don’t purchase any grapes. So we have six different varietals that we make wine off of and we all farm the vineyards,” Espinosa said.

He also knows about the perception the industry has.

“Majority of front image, it’s Caucasians or white. But I think when you see the background or backstage, it’s the opposite. Majority are Hispanics, majority are from different parts of the world, and I think that’s what the winery is. If it wasn’t for them, there would be no front image,” Espinosa said.

He said Lodi has found its place.

“People are making such a great wines, representing the land, representing the region, that I think we’re pretty comparable to other regions,” he said.



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