Subscribe

How migrant farm workers created Napa Valley's Llamas Family Wines, an inspiration for entrepreneurs

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

About the business

Who: Llamas Family Wines

Co-founders: Oscar and Lola Llamas and Alex Castillo Llamas

Founded: 2009

Where: 1905, 100 Paradise Drive, Napa 94558

North Bay Latino business leaders

Read profiles of dozens of more North Coast Latino business leaders from 2017, 2018 and 2019,

Llamas Family Wines is more than a winery. It’s a way for co-founders Oscar and Lola Llamas and Alex Castillo Llamas to stay connected across generations and state borders.

The company is comprised of Oscar Llamas, a former migrant field worker; Lola Llamas, Oscar’s wife and the granddaughter of St. Helena grafter John Torres; and Alex Castillo Llamas, Oscar’s nephew, who also grew up harvesting grapes. Alex is now the company’s winemaker.

Since 2009, Oscar, Alex, and Lola have produced between 300 and 500 cases a year of different single-vineyard wines, including syrah, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and cabernet sauvignon. In 2014, Oscar and Lola Llamas joined the Mexican American Vintners Association (MAVA). In 2016, the couple joined the Napa County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (NCHCC). For years, the couple has mentored other Latino business owners throughout Napa County.

‘It started out as a hobby’

Oscar, Lola, and Alex established Llamas Family Wines when they got the opportunity to buy Syrah grapes.

“I acquired a ton of grapes from Stagecoach Vineyard. It started out as a hobby, but the wine turned out very well. That’s when we decided to come up with a label to represent our family,” said Oscar Llamas.

The logo is the curvy outline of a scorpion, the Llamas Family cattle brand. Oscar, like Alex’s mother, Lourdes Llamas, grew up in the small town of San Nicolas de Acuña. The town is a small fishing village near the largest lake in Mexico, Lake Chapala in the state of Jalisco.

The family had a route, starting with table grapes in Coachella, moving up to wine grapes in Napa Valley....Alex Castillo Llamas

Oscar’s father, Jesus Llamas, began coming to the United States in the 1950s. In 1972, Jesus Llamas Barajas (“Papa Chuy”) brought his family, including Oscar’s mother, Rosario Llamas Aceves (“Mama Chayo”), and their three sons and two daughters to the United States. They all began working as migrant farm workers.

“The family had a route, starting with table grapes in Coachella, moving up to wine grapes in Napa Valley, harvesting the pear and cherry orchards in Medford, Salem, and Portland, and then going to Redding and Corning to harvest olives. During the Christmas holidays, we’d go back to Mexico and visit the rest of the family. Growing up, I went to about 17 different elementary schools,” said Alex Castillo Llamas.

The family developed more permanent roots in Napa Valley in the mid-1980s. A Napa foreman asked Jesus Llamas and his children to stay on past harvest for full-time work.

“Later, I returned to Napa after completing auto body school at Contra Costa College. In 1992, I started my first business, Valley Auto Body in Napa. Lola and I, who have been together for 32 years and married for 26 years, co-own the shop. We got into wine because I really wanted to do something to honor my family and create a legacy,” said Oscar Llamas.

Lola, who grew up in St. Helena, said she was interested in establishing a brand to carry on the legacy of her grandfather, John Torres. For years, Torres worked in Napa Valley as a vineyard foreman and grafter.

“He was a master at grafting. So many people learned the art under him,” said Lola Llamas.

Lola said John Torres worked for many local wineries, including Beaulieu Vineyard and Trefethen Family Vineyards.

“I used to visit him every week with my mother. I remember he was the hardest worker and so patient. He was always happy to talk and spend time with us,” said Lola Llamas.

About the business

Who: Llamas Family Wines

Co-founders: Oscar and Lola Llamas and Alex Castillo Llamas

Founded: 2009

Where: 1905, 100 Paradise Drive, Napa 94558

North Bay Latino business leaders

Read profiles of dozens of more North Coast Latino business leaders from 2017, 2018 and 2019,

Lola furthered her knowledge in 2017 by completing a master’s in business administration in Wine Business at Sonoma State University.

“The program allowed me to meet some amazing people in the wine industry. My cohort was an exceptional group of people. I learned so much from them,” said Lola Llamas.

Sharing the wine

Llamas Family Wines markets through word of mouth, social media, and private dinners.

“We offer wine tastings at different events, including the Napa Valley Film Festival. We let people know the latest news about the wine through Instagram and Facebook,” said Alex Castillo Llamas.

The company sells its wine to local restaurants and stores, including Napa Valley Bistro, Celadon, Napa General Store, Cadet Wine Bar, and Oakville Grocery.

Lola said connections from professional networks have helped raise awareness of the business. She currently serves as treasurer of the Napa County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“Steadily, we’ve gotten more involved in the local business community. We go to the NCHCC mixers, to which we invite five to ten people every month. We introduce them to other members and friends. We also attend MAVA meetings,” said Lola Llamas.

Guillermo Herrera, president of MAVA, said Oscar and Lola have mentored a wide variety of entrepreneurs.

“I typically send folks over to Oscar to pick his brain a little bit. Lola’s also a paralegal at Murphy, Logan & Bardwell. She sends people in the right direction for business advice. We’re a tight community here in Napa. We help each other out,” said Herrera.

Bernie Narvaez, vice president of the NCHCC, said Oscar and Lola are an inspiration to the community.

“They’re a good example of leadership because they make time to be there for the community and set a great example for aspiring entrepreneurs. We are fortunate to have professionals such as the Llamas in our community,” said Narvaez.

Lola Llamas said she and Oscar enjoy being involved on many different levels.

“One of our favorite events with MAVA is the Altamed Food and Wine Festival in Southern California. We pour wine and have the opportunity to share our wines with some wonderful people. This event supports the Latino, multi-ethnic and underserved communities by raising funds for health care services,” said Lola Llamas.

Lola Llamas said the couple supports Napa County Hispanic Network (NCHN) and MAVA’s efforts to provide college scholarships to local high school students.

Staying close, despite distance

In 2017, Alex Castillo Llamas moved with his wife, Michelle Castillo, to a 23-acre rural site between Aspen and Telluride, Colorado. They are in the midst of establishing a new business, Hollow Horn Farm.

“My wife and I are developing a vineyard and diversified farm (a farm that produces a variety of crops and animals). Our small dairy herd connects to my heritage, my grandfather, and his rancho in Mexico,” said Alex Castillo Llamas.

Alex returns to Napa every few months to oversee the winemaking. Oscar and Lola have been supportive and welcoming.

“It’s still the three of us sorting the grapes and preparing for crush every year, me, Alex, and Lola, sometimes with Alex’s dad, Ricardo Castillo, and other family members and friends,” said Oscar Llamas.

Oscar said his father, Jesus Llamas, taught him it was important to work hard and provide for the family.

Lola said members of the Latino community who want to start a business in the North Bay should know there are resources like NCHCC and MAVA.

“Becoming members and being involved with these associations are great ways to network. They have been so helpful for Llamas Family Wines,” said Lola Llamas.

When you embrace the idea of educating and sharing your passion with your customers, this creates a bondAlex Castillo Llamas

Oscar said anyone who has an idea should just “go for it.”

“I explain that it’s definitely hard in the beginning. If it’s a great idea and they work hard, they’ll get it done,” said Oscar Llamas.

Alex’s advice for entrepreneurs is to share their story.

“When you embrace the idea of educating and sharing your passion with your customers, this creates a bond. It shows them who you are and what you’re about. That is genuine. Your story will always be unique,” said Alex Castillo Llamas.

Show Comment

Our Network

Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine