It’s a typical summer evening at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, sizzling with the energy of summer tourists just arriving and locals heading out of town. But on this Friday night, the strains of a live salsa band permeate the air with a festive beat, while a dressed-up crowd follows the music, filing into a private courtyard.
Wineglasses in hand, these visitors aren’t boarding a train. They’re striking out on a journey of a different kind—a three-hour culinary adventure with a Latin flavor. East LA Meets Napa and Beyond brings together Mexican-American winemakers and some of Los Angeles’s best Latin restaurants to raise funds for AltaMed, a nonprofit network of community health clinics in Southern California. The “beyond” includes vintners from Mexico’s Valle del Guadalupe, a fitting way to expand the successful event’s scope.
One of the first food and wine tastings to shine the spotlight on the storied Napa Valley’s Latino heritage, the event boasts an ever-growing following and even inspired two UCLA professors to launch a study on Mexican and Latino contributions to the wine industry in Northern California.
Although California’s commercial winemaking industry actually began in 1830s Los Angeles a few blocks from present-day Union Station, Mexican and Chinese laborers were brought to Napa and Sonoma counties to maintain the vineyards that began proliferating during California’s Gold Rush in the late 1840s.
Today, many of Napa and Sonoma counties’ Latino winemakers can trace their roots to a second wave of Mexican laborers who arrived in the Napa Valley as part of the Mexican Farm Labor Program of 1942. One of them is Vanessa Robledo, president and partner of Black Coyote Wines and one of the first Latina winemakers to participate in East LA Meets Napa.
“My ancestors came here as braceros,” she says. “Many of the old vines in Napa and Sonoma were grafted by Robledos.”
Next up, a look at the delicious dishes served up for East LA Meets Napa...