Amelia Moran Ceja wants you to challenge yourself.
The president of Napa Valley’s Ceja Vineyards told a crowd of about 350 at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa Thursday to “do something bigger than yourself.”
“I want all of you to find something that makes you feel uncomfortable and go out and do it,” she said. “The only one who can stop you is you.”
Ceja, 61, is a 5’ powerhouse of resilience. She said the journey of a Latina, immigrant, woman hasn’t been easy.
“I had three things going against me,” she said, “but I’ve always seen them as advantages.”
Ceja explained the labels and stereotypes don’t matter. What matters is what you do with your life moving forward.
Ceja emigrated to America with a green card when she was 12. It was 1967 and she joined her father, a farm worker who toiled in the California vineyards.
Ceja didn’t speak a word of English but she soon met her husband-to-be, Pedro, during their first pick in a Napa Valley vineyard. They married in 1980 and in 1982 they found their first vineyards on Las Amigas Road in the Carneros. By 1986 they planted their first vines, and their first harvest was in 1988.
“Once we got used to owing a lot of money and could sleep okay with it,” Ceja said, “we bought our last property, 65 acres on the Sonoma Coast.”
Ceja joked, “Sometimes ignorance is bliss. If we would have had a business plan, it wouldn’t have made sense and we wouldn’t have had Ceja.”
Of course it wasn’t long before Ceja had a savvy business plan. Her goal was to tap into the 40 million Hispanics that the census revealed weren’t drinking wine.
Her mentor said: “People of color don’t have discretionary income to spend on wine.”
Ceja thought to herself, ‘You keep thinking that way. I’m going to get all the people of color to drink wine.’
One marketing class, Ceja said, taught her all she needed to know – that marketing is just a way to sell yourself.
Ceja created a series of YouTube videos on food and wine pairing to show that wine and Mexican food marry well.
“People were saying ‘you’re crazy’ because I was talking about beans and cabernet and popcorn and chardonnay,” she said with a broad smile.
Ceja Vineyards is a boutique winery that produces roughly 7,000 cases a year. It has been farming sustainably since 1986 when the owners planted their first vines. Now Ceja has plans to build a mission style winery in Napa Valley. She’s undaunted. Ceja was the first Mexican American woman ever to be elected President of a winery.
“I really feel like I can do anything and the best is yet to come,” Ceja said. “It’s all up to us. We are the authors of our own book.”
Ceja was one of the three speakers in the Press Democrat’s Sonoma County Women in Conversation series. For more information, visit socowomenevents.com.