Napa Valley AVA

93 Points Wine News - 90 Points Wine Spectator

When Sergio Gonzalez was just eleven, he emigrated with his parents from Cuba to New York to escape the island. In his new home, Gonzalez prospered and in due course was able to attend medical school in Spain where he eventually became a neurosurgeon. It was also in Spain where Dr. Gonzalez first became interested in wine.

“In Spain,” he began, “it was common practice to have wine with each meal that was served. Since none of the students had any money, it was also the norm for three or four of us to share living space with a Spanish family. By the time we graduated, I was really fond of wine and actually knew a little about it.” It was nearly twenty years later before Dr. Gonzalez did anything about his affection for wine. By then, he and his surgical nurse Maria Morales were married and his successful practice in Miami was flourishing. The Gonzalezs’ interest in wine had perked and wine had become more than just a passing fancy.

“We were at a Saturday wine tasting with a close couple we knew, Doug and Sue Gallagher,” Gonzalez related. “We started talking about wine and the talk became serious. It didn’t take us long to decide to go ahead and do something about it.” The entity formed was called Two Crazy Couples and Sue Gallagher suggested a name for the proposed winery. She felt Soñador (Spanish for dreamer) was perfect for the new venture and everyone agreed. By early 2001, the first 70 cases of Soñador Cellars became a reality. The wine was a product of one ton of Mt. Veeder grapes and was well received despite its relative availability. It was then up to the partners to fine-tune their fledgling enterprise.

Maria Morales-Gonzalez became the president of Soñador Cellars and handled all the administrative aspects even though she also handled all the duties of running her husband’s surgical practice in Miami. Well-respected consulting winemaker Bruce Devlin (Ballentine Vineyards, Frias Family Vineyards) guided the winemaking chores and provided valuable insight to long-term contracts for ultra quality fruit from growers in Napa Valley. Soñador Cellars grew slowly, and gained great acclamation and numerous awards for their wines. This year, a total of around 450 cases will be produced, most of which will be sold prior to its release.

“We are perfectly happy to be so small,” remarked Dr. Gonzalez. “That way we can truly control the quality and we don’t have to compromise anything. We are able to do everything ourselves. If we were any larger, we would have to hire people and that wouldn’t be as much fun.” Dr. and Mrs. Gonzalez make at least five trips a year to Napa Valley and literally do all the work for Soñador Cellars including the picking of the grapes and the bottling of the finished wine. Long-term agreements are in place that assures the owners the same fruit each year from several selected vineyards throughout Napa Valley.

“We consider the privilege of wine to be certain episodic events and certain milestones that, when completed, produce wines of a distinct quality level,” Gonzalez added. “We follow a specific pattern and are totally hands on as far as our wines are concerned.” The neurosurgeon also stated that he feels the most fulfilling aspect of the business is the myriad of people he has met through the winery. “We have met people in all walks of life, and the one thing in common we share is our love of wine. Unlike the healthcare profession where many physicians remain within the confines of the industry and are therefore limited to other people in the profession, the winery allows us to experience the human side of wine. It has truly been a wonderful experience for the four of us.” While Doug Gallagher takes care of marketing on the West Coast, the East Coast is the domain of Maria and Sergio Gonzalez. They attend tastings and functions and meet more Soñador supporters.

“Not that I will ever stop my neurosurgical practice,” he informed. “But the winery is a great break from the pressures of being a doctor.” With a possible tasting room in the works back in Napa Valley, all the pieces are in place for Soñador Cellars to be around for quite a long time.

Not bad for a project that began as a dream and has become a wonderful reality.