A visit and tasting at the Ceja Vineyards.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers August 16, 2006
Amelia Ceja does everything with passion, style and a smile. The second-generation American met her husband Pedro while picking grapes when they were 9 years old and they shared a dream of having their own vineyards. In 1999, they established the Ceja Vineyards along with Pedro’s brother Armando (a University of California-Davis grad who is their winemaker) and his wife Martha. Amelia, who studied literature and history at UC-San Diego, is the first Mexican-American woman to serve as president of a wine producing company, and the entire family is involved in all aspects of the business.
While standing in the kitchen of the renovated house on their property that serves as the Ceja world headquarters (in California’s Carneros region, south of Napa), Amelia supervises my preparation of the guacamole for that evening’s dinner while explaining their winemaking philosophy.
‘‘The key is the vineyards,” she says, ‘‘We started as farmers so we are able to bring out the best in our grapes. Armando is very talented and our wines are made to work well with food and to express the character of the varietal.”
Out of ‘‘respect for the land,” they utilize sustainable farming and biodynamic principles in all their vineyards.
Leading us outside, she points to the vineyard’s logo inscribed in the center of the patio surrounded by vineyards. Under a Mission Bell (a reminder of their heritage) are the words: ‘‘Vinum, Cantus, Amor” that translate to, ‘‘wine, song and love.” Smiling, she says, ‘‘These words are our essence.”
Ceja makes two high-quality blends. The Ceja Vino de Casa — White 2005 ($18) is made from 68 percent Chardonnay, 28 percent Marsanne and 4 percent Viognier. The Viognier is noticed mostly in the aroma along with lemon and tropical fruit flavors balanced with a crisp bright finish. Produced from 52 percent Pinot Noir and 48 percent Syrah, the Ceja Vino de Casa — Red 2003 ($18) is very food friendly with nice balance. It has aromas of smoke and leather with dark fruit flavors and touch of pepper on the finish
The excellent Ceja Sauvignon Blanc 2005 ($24) has mineral and citrus aromas, lemon, green apple and melon flavors and a bright citrus finish. My wife’s favorite is the velvet smooth Ceja Chardonnay 2004 ($30) with lovely cream brulee scents, rich lemon and peach flavors and a touch of orange in the beautifully long finish.
The Ceja Pinot Noirs are wonderful. The Ceja Pinot Noir 2003 has cherry and red berry aromas with a bit of earthiness, dark cherry and plum flavors with great balance and finish. It is a bit lighter in style than the Ceja Pinot Noir 2002 ($38), which has attractive red berry aromas with oak and black cherry flavors and a bit of tea and smoke at the end. The Ceja Pinot Noir 2001 is almost Burgundian, with earthy and red fruit scents, gorgeous, silky smooth black cherry flavors, slight spiciness and a long finish.
Made with Sonoma and Carneros grapes, the red berry and plum flavored Ceja Merlot 2002 ($32) has an interesting acidity and black fruit in the satisfying finish. Another enjoyable offering is the Ceja Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 ($38), a not overly tannic wine, but with enough body to allow aging. It has cassis and licorice aromas along with rich black fruit and raspberry flavors and a touch of chocolate in the finish. Made entirely from their Sonoma Coast fruit, the Ceja Syrah 2003 ($28) is also very good, with leather and cherry aromas, spicy cranberry and blueberry flavors and a bit of smokiness at the end.