When Tom Stolpman purchased the land that is now Stolpman Vineyards, he declared that if his dream of owning a vineyard was to come true, it would benefit everyone involved. He asked vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano to employ our vineyard workers year-round, so the team members could have a steady job, a career, and raise their families with security.
Ruben Solorzano took Tom’s idea a step further: he aimed to further engage our workers. He wanted our crew members to learn the lifecycle of the vine and become engaged and passionate about their work. That yearning to empower and educate the crew members granted Ruben the status of Godfather of the Crew, El Padrino de la Cuadrilla; but the story goes much further.
Ruben started a training program in which he gave one Cuadra – a small vineyard block – to his team so they would take responsibility for their own land. Each crew member became the farmer rather than just the worker. The crew immediately took pride of ownership. The crew proactively made every pruning, training, adjustment, and harvest decision; all independently.
A few years later, once the crew mastered vineyard management, Ruben revealed this grand social experiment to Mr. Stolpman. Thrilled, Tom declared that all of the wine made from the crew’s training Cuadra would be given to the team members for their own consumption. Having this special self-titled wine at the dinner table served as both a source of pride and a chance for the crew members to learn to appreciate fine wine, the fruit of their labor!
Growing up alongside the vineyard, Ruben has always been a mentor, perhaps a Godfather type, to me. Teaching me first the basics, and then the intricacies of his “grape whisperer” version of viticulture.
In 2009, I took over operational management of Stolpman Vineyards from my dad, Tom. The financial collapse had already commenced, our bank opted not to renew much needed credit lines, and that summer, it was none other than Ruben Solorzano, the Godfather, coming to me with a loan to help cover payroll. Even in the face of foreclosure, Ruben and I stayed committed to keeping our full-time crew stable – the 22 months we spent in un-financed limbo solidified our bond. That period makes our success, and the success of each of our crew members, much sweeter.
In August of 2010, minutes after I received the news, I called Ruben and proclaimed “We got re-financed!”
Instead of congratulating me, he simply said “You and Jessica need to come to Jalisco this Christmas to celebrate”. Ruben had long implored us to come down to see the Ranchito where he grew up, meet his extended family, and to meet the extended families of all of La Cuadrilla.
To date, that December 2010 trip to Jalisco is the most memorable of my life. Meeting all of the crew members’ friends and families, hearing their stories and feeling their pride – I began to understand the effect of what my dad and Ruben had started – and I wanted to grow it.
On our final night in Jalisco, over a bottle of Abuelos Tequila I told Ruben I wanted to make the Cuadrilla wine much bigger than just the training Cuadra. After-all, the crew members had mastered every block Ruben assigned them. It was time to graduate.
Now blessed with financial stability, Ruben and I decided it was only fitting to allot at least 10% of Stolpman Vineyards’ total production into La Cuadrilla wine and give the members the profits from their cuvee.
The New Cuadrilla
Back at home, Creative Director Kari Crist proffered up the idea of changing the label image on Cuadrilla each vintage. Every year, the black and white photo would capture some essence of the crew, but also keep up our customer’s engagement with the evolution of our vineyard. And the crew has indeed evolved from 15 full time workers in 2009 to 26 today, ten years later.
Since Ruben’s face appeared on one of the first artist series La Cuadrilla labels, we’ve each had our favorites. But assistant winemaker, Matt Nocas took his enthusiasm to a new level when he arrived back from vacation with the 2015 label tattooed down the length of his forearm.
Matt debuted his new ink to Ruben and I at the Lompoc winery, and I saw a near reverential level of respect emerge on Ruben’s face. He immediately stated, “OK, I will get the next label tattooed”.
With the tattoo in mind, Kari designed the 2016 label to be Ruben’s spirit animal. The hawk floating in the wind above Ballard Canyon, all-seeing. In tune with nature and the vines, a full moon and waning moon adorn either wing, with picking shears in the body.
Ruben sent us a photo of his “ink” from Mexico, and it was a horrible, obviously henna version of Kari’s beautiful Hawk. We realized Ruben had no real intention of getting the label tattooed. As his niece Emely explained, neither Ruben, nor any of his 10 older brothers and sisters, have a single tattoo between them – and with their conservative, rural upbringing, that wasn’t about to change. So, with the 2018 La Cuadrilla, we decided to give Ruben the tattoos he promised – each one representing either a past label or a ‘Cuadrilla’ ideology.
The regular bottling will be released in April of 2020, but we bottled our favorite sub-lot of the blend into larger 1.5 Liter bottles. We call this special limited run of magnums, ‘El Padrino de la Cuadrilla’. The larger bottles will guarantee the wine, and Ruben’s tattoos, will live with us for the rest of our lives. And, the larger bottle allows us to make tattooed Ruben even larger and more beautiful!
El Padrino de la Cuadrilla bursts with red fruit, spice, and mint. The robust, firm fruit gives way to a happy, soft, plushness in the mid-palate and finish. Certainly dense and coating, but with an elevated, high-toned profile that can be enjoyed now or when we are all very old.
The wine possesses a happy warmth and Christmas-time baking spices intermixed with its twinkling red energy. This wine brings me back to the 2010 holidays in Jalisco!