Rolando Herrera


Michoacan, Mexico

Napa Valley Winemaker


As a little kid, my mind was always busy dreaming. I was born in El Llano, a small town in the state of Michoacán, and when I was little my father brought us to America, to the Napa Valley, where he had landed a job working in a nursery. In California the first sport I fell in love with was football.  I loved it. I loved the contact, I loved the speed and the complexity of it, and my first dream as a little kid was to become a professional football player. I was shorter than most of my friends, but I was a little faster than most, not the fastest, but a little faster than most, so growing up I had zero doubt in my mind that some day I was going to be the running back for the San Francisco 49ers.

It didn’t happen. After a few years, my father had a falling out with the owner of the nursery, and so he moved our family back to El Llano. It was not easy going back. My life, my dreams had been forged in America but here I was back in Mexico. Soon, though, I had a new dream: to become a professional soccer player and one day play for Mexico’s national soccer team. As a goalie. I was a pretty good goalie, and I was engaged and disciplined, and soon I was 100 percent confident that my dream would come true. Looking back now, I feel very blessed; growing up I always had a dream or two up my sleeve, and that always gave my life direction and purpose. Still, at the age of 14, I realized that it was in America, not Mexico, that I had the best chance to build my dreams.

So, when I turned 15, I told my parents I was going back to America, back to the Napa Valley. They were not happy about it, but they accepted my decision. My older brother had already moved back to the valley. He was working at a restaurant and I got a job at the same restaurant working as a dishwasher at night after school. It felt good to be back in the Napa Valley, for sure, but my first priority was schooling. So that fall I enrolled at Napa High School, as a 9th grader. Since I’ve always loved numbers, and I loved fixing things, and taking things apart and understanding how they work, I set my sights on becoming an electronics engineer. I studied hard in high school, did well, and after graduation I enrolled at Napa College, still intent on becoming an electronics engineer. But then something beautiful happened…

One day that summer, before I started college, I landed a job working as a cellar worker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, which was owned by the eminent winemaker Warren Winiarski. From the moment I set foot there, I fell in love with the whole process of wine-making, and Warren very kindly took me in hand and showed me the ropes. That fall I began my studies in electronics as planned, but I continued to work at Stag’s Leap and I loved every bit of it. Whether I was barrel washing, cleaning floors, drains, tanks, and the more I learned about the wine-making process, the culture, the history of wine, I just developed this passion, this strong love for the work. Soon I dropped my electronics classes and started taking wine-making classes at Napa College.

At this point, my direction in life changed, but not my ambition: I still wanted to be “The Best.” Not in football, or soccer, but, first, I wanted to become the best cellar worker I could be. I was so impressed, watching the experienced cellar workers do all this amazing work with the wine, and that motivated me. My point here is this: I always had a dream. I always had a picture of myself in the frame of a dream, and that really helped me. It helped me to stay focused. To stay driven. To always have a reason for getting up in the morning, to build that dream. And that’s what I tell my kids today: set goals. Find out what you love to do, what you’re passionate about, and then stick to that. It’s like that old saying, “Find what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

That formula worked beautifully for me. I became Warren’s cellar master. I was able to bring my entire family here from Michoacán. I met my wife Lorena and soon we had six kids and they have all grown up and done well here in America. I am so grateful for the opportunities that I found here.  So grateful, that when I left Stag’s Leap to create my own family of wines, right here in the Napa Valley, I knew exactly what to name my winery: Mi Sueño. My Dream. And you can imagine, I’m sure, how I felt when some of our wines were chosen to be served at the White House, at a state dinner honoring the President of Mexico. It was, truly, a dream come true!