Empowerment Series: First Mexican American Woman to Become President of a Wine Production Company in the World: President of Ceja Vineyards – Amelia Moran Ceja Shares Resilience with AW
My appreciation for wine began during my 20’s. However, it wasn’t until the 30’s when I took a genuine interest in learning about the many regions, varieties, and vineyards making the fermented grape juice. The world of wine is complex and extensive which takes time to understand. No two palates are the same, neither are the grapes fermented for years to produce the popular alcoholic drink. The wine industry is fascinating, there is a science, art, process, history and elegance behind it but there is another side not often discussed.
Recent figures reflect how grossly misrepresented our gender is in this industry. For example, the number of women winemakers in California is said to be less than 15% of the total 4200+ wineries in California. The facts were not too surprising but extremely disappointing. Luckily, after a little digging and chat with friend, Kerin Martucci at N.U.S.W, I was encouraged to seek out a story that would highlight the success of a woman in this line of business. My hope was to empower other women to go after their dreams no matter who is in the race. The opportunity to showcase a boss is always amazing, when she is the President of Ceja Vineyards, it surpasses expectations.
Amelia Moran Ceja‘s go-getter personality jumped across my screen soon after her bright smile showed up on Zoom. Our virtual meeting was more of a friendly and open chat about life as matriarch and fighter of dreams, rather than a formal interview. She has a strong, yet, gentle presence that exudes confidence. The energy she reflects is infectious, it left me in an empowered state of mind. Her story has been shared on Bloomberg Newsweek, CNBC, Univision, Napa Valley Register, Today Show and Smithsonian Magazine, just to name a few. Having the Mexican powerhouse as part of this series was pure joy, adding fuel to the AW fire.
At the age of 12, she had her first taste of Merlot grapes. The dreamer arrived from Jalisco, Mexico to Rutherford, CA with green card in hand. In 1967, she joined her father, a vineyard foreman to pick grapes and attend school in the states. The young Amelia knew what she wanted early on, when she told him that one day, she would own a winery of her own.
She received formal education from UC San Diego then went on to receive her experience in the industry. In 1983, Amelia along with a group of family members purchased 15 acres in Carneros to grow the family’s own grapes – history in the making! In 1999, she did something in the wine business that was unheard of, become the first Mexican American woman in the world to hold the position of President at a wine production company.
You’ve said that you “Don’t believe labels and stereotypes matter – what matters is what you do with your life moving forward.” Unfortunately, the reality is that we live in a world that sees color, socioeconomic status and perception matters. People are not always kind to each other. In a Bloomberg interview, you shared your thoughts on how, “The wine industry is built to keep people away – especially people of color.” Your ability to break countless barriers, reaching unimaginable goals is truly inspirational.
You set out to build your dream and bring it to fruition. Undoubtedly, your story offers hope to many. What type of resistance have you encountered on the journey to become the woman you are today? Are you able to share an experience that forced you to dig deep, to fight back any thoughts of giving up? I come from a matriarchal family, born in the town of Las Flores in Mexico, where there was no electricity or running water. We bathed in the river but despite our humble beginnings, my maternal grandmother made me feel like I could do anything, achieve whatever, I set my mind to. Doing my absolute best in school was a priority, education provided opportunities and infused my confidence. I’ve learned to follow my passion, stay on the path of success and not take no for an answer. It is hard to be turned down, there are lots of no’s on the road to our dreams but I did not let it stop me. Immigrants have a difficult path but we’re born with the fight in us. There are differences in access to education, however, it should not discourage you. Be willing to work harder than anyone else, you will win! The only one that can stop you is yourself.
You have been described as a “5’ powerhouse of resilience.” Obviously, the accomplishments under your belt are a clear sign of your sheer determination. I’m learning that anything worthwhile takes effort, as the path to success is never easy. Struggles are inevitable, I often think challenges are necessary to build character, test our will and make us stronger. Human beings are more resilient than given credit for. Where do you get your resilience from? Can you offer advice on learning how to build resilience? The wine industry is dominated by Northern European white males. In the late 90’s, few of the world’s winemakers were women, today we are more in numbers which is better but there is still a lot of work to do. We have lots of obstacles as women, Latinas, and immigrants. In the past, there has been a perception that wine is for the “well to do.” It is a disservice to believe it can only be enjoyed by people with a surplus to spend. My strategy was to create something that would complement our food, showcasing the plates we love to eat. No one was talking about a Cabernet that could accompany beans, for example. Latinos were not part of the wine industry, consideration was not given to our culture. It was instinctual, I wanted to add our signature to the brand, showing what we have to offer. The mission was never in doubt, I knew we were adding value and goals for the business continue to be on target. No fire, earthquake, pandemic will extinguish the dream we are building.
The energy and resilience goes back generations, not just for me but all of us. We have an advantage as immigrants, our work ethic, and commitment to grow and learn is relentless. It doesn’t matter what you do, be the best at whatever you choose to be. Have the courage to hold on to your sense of worth and freedom to be yourself. Do not doubt yourself, fighting the fear of failure can give way to the resilience, we possess deep down as human beings.
Ceja Vineyards continues to thrive despite a pandemic. I read that 90% of your harvest is sold to vintners, the remainder is used to make small batches of your vintage. You have moved the tasting room into your kitchen for Mexican cuisine cooking lessons and wine pairings that air on the Ceja YouTube channel, as well as, recipes posted to the vineyard site. Your Facebook Live show, Taco Tuesday is gaining popularity. I loved the mother-daughter duo, the segments on Ceviche and Guacamole were great! It is authentic and helps fans connect with you and your brand. Seeing the transition of a young girl’s dream turn into a successful venture must be fulfilling as a business owner and woman that has made her mark in Latino history. Your daughter, Dalia is a partner, joining you as you build the Ceja wine empire. Our goal as mothers is to leave our sons and daughters with as many life lessons, as they’re willing to learn but I’d like to ask – What has been the biggest lesson Dalia has taught you? I am constantly learning from my daughter. She is so creative, I am amazed watching her use her gifts to do all the social media marketing that puts the face and brand of Ceja Vineyards out into the world. We are a small business but we run it as a family and she is such a big part of everything clients see on the platforms. It is important that as women, we share our knowledge to empower each other. We do this constantly, and as mother and daughter – are stronger for it. Imagine, everything that can be accomplished, if all women, did the same across the world. I passed on my dedication to Dalia, seeing her be a mother to Luna is wonderful. The love that “my Mama Meli” gave to me now transcends into a new generation, it is a blessing to be able to see it all unfold. We learn from one another every day.
We often have fears or hesitation about trying new things. Daring ourselves to be different and thinking outside the box can be challenging. However, we have to keep trying, it’s part of how we elevate ourselves to become who we are meant to be. A few years ago, during a speaking engagement, you challenged the audience to find something uncomfortable and go out and do it. How do you continue to challenge yourself to be better? There are always opportunities to learn and challenge myself. Education is power, I am learning from my daughter and the world around me all the time.
I like to end AW interviews with a quote, mantra or advice that inspires readers. Can you share a message or story that inspired you during a time you needed strength to keep pushing towards your vision? In 2018, I took a trip with my husband, while in Budapest, we heard about a Frieda Kahlo exhibit. The artist’s strength and confidence has always been a source of admiration for the women in my family.
An accident early in Frieda’s life left her in lifelong chronic pain but it never stopped her from living a life of passion and purpose. The Mexican painter and feminist went on to become a figure of unbelievable strength, despite her suffering. I wanted to see her work up close but could not get tickets to the exhibit that day. There were lots of people waiting outside, it was beautiful to feel the energy of an inspired generation. In conversation with a young woman on the ticket holder’s line, I realized just how much of an icon Frieda was to many others, too. Her story is an inspiration, it holds so much power to learn about a woman who is able to thrive in a male-dominated society in the 20th century, as she battles personal and medical struggles. Stories such as these empower us to step outside the comfort zone and create greatness. We can do so much, anything that we set our minds to when we don’t give up!
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It is how tough you can be when life’s circumstances beat your spirit. In life, challenges are going to present themselves, you will be tested. Sometimes, you feel so disappointed or broken that you can’t see the bigger picture. Truth is human beings have an indelible ability to come back from hardship but we don’t give ourselves enough credit. If you believe that you can overcome the afflictions, you can go on to win the war.
Ceja Vineyards began with a dream to create something unique. It was a wish until Amelia and her family put in the determination, sweat, tears, and patience to make it a reality. If you have a goal, you are working to accomplish, count on the hard days to happen but don’t let those moments shake your confidence, as you build your dream.
AW is grateful to have an opportunity to share the story of Amelia Ceja Moran. It served as a reminder of the value in working hard and the ability we have to design the life envisioned. Everything is possible when you believe!
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