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Vino Latino

Juan and Marta Nevarez had a dream, and it brought them to Paso Robles, the wine capital of the Central Coast of California.

Paso Robles is located in San Luis Obispo County, which has been called the last of the old Spanish counties in California. The only Hispanic governor since statehood, Romaldo Pacheco, hailed from here. Some of the first vineyards in California were planted by the Spanish padres at Mission San Miguel and Mission San Luis Obispo. Later on, the large ranchos followed suit, and after statehood, French and Italian immigrants also cultivated grapes.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski is given credit for bringing Zinfandel grapes to the area in 1914. The reknowned concert pianist was told by a San Francisco doctor that the famous Paso Robles mineral springs could cure the arthritis in his hands. The nearby spa was owned by Drury James, the uncle of the nefarious brothers, Frank and Jesse.

Paderewski spent 25 years there cultivating 2864 acres in almond trees, fruit orchards and Zinfandel grapes. He continued playing concerts, became a noted Polish patriot, signed the Treaty of Versailles, and became the first president of independent Poland. The Paderewski Festival takes place in Paso Robles every November.

Another immigrant was Juan Nevarez, born in Durango, Mexico. He met his wife Marta, a native of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico in Pennsylvania while working in a mushroom packing plant. They later married in Chicago. Thirty two years ago, they came to Paso Robles as farm workers. Juan wound up working in wine production, doing everything from planting to pruning, harvesting the grapes, washing the barrels. He also met Cesar Chavez, with whom he tried to organize the local farm workers. Juan worked every job he could and gained valuable knowledge, which helped him ride the wine boom that was taking off in Paso Robles.

Juan and Marta’s dream was to have their own farm, grow their own grapes and perhaps, someday, make their own wine. But having that dream was just the first step on the road to making it come true. After working many years for Justin Vineyards, Juan started his own vineyard management company, Nevarez Farm Labor, which now has 100 employees and manages many of the prominent vineyards in Paso Robles. That was and still is his main source of income.

But by 1996, he managed to save enough to buy his own farm, and started planting wine grapes, a little at a time, starting out with Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Juan selected his land carefully. It overlooked the Salinas River, on the east side, had plenty of water and was a mere five miles from the town of Paso Robles. Juan and Marta raised a family and built a house for his father, Daniel. We met his dad pruning grape vines on a bright and clear winter morning. One daughter works as a counselor in the San Joaquin Valley. His two sons, when not working on the vineyard, attend the local community college.

Today, eighty acres of grapevines are laid out in a very efficient and well planned manner at Nevarez Vineyard. Four houses, a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe and a gazebo grace the family front yard. Across the vineyard, a tasting room is being constructed. Besides wine grapes, they manage a herd of goats and a watermelon patch.

Juan has added Chardonnay, Syrah, Viognier, Mourvedre, Tanat, Roussane and many other varietals in his plantings. Most of his fruit goes to other vineyards in Paso Robles, but last year he produced 640 cases of his own wine. Juan and Marta let us taste a 1992 Syrah which had a powerful bouquet and a lingering aftertaste of jammy fruit.

Kevin Riley, the Nevarez Vineyard winemaker, calls Juan a “pioneer in the Paso Robles wine industry, a meticulous craftsman, a manager of the highest end vineyards in the region, and one of the most important people in the local wine scene.” Kevin feels that making wine for Juan is a cinch! His grapes are at the perfect sugar level (determined by Juan) and harvested rapidly. Juan has planted, pruned, watered, trellised and harvested his own grapes. The rest is up to Kevin.

Juan and his family’s dream is close to becoming a reality. He isn’t planning to make a lot of money with his tasting room as yet but hopes to be able to showcase his wine and his love and care of the vine. To order wine from Nevarez Vineyard, call (888) 521-7790 or e-mail Currently available is a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2007 Syrah and a 2009 Roussane. For more information or to arrange a visit, go to


Veronica Rivera is the executive director of ALAS. ALAS will be celebrating its 10th anniversary at its annual education summit. Registration information may be found at