Chuy Ordaz, Hero of the Vineyard
We have so many amazing wineries coming to our Spring Wine Walk this year, but sometimes we come across a winery’s story that is so inspirational, we feel compelled to share it.
Jesus “Chuy” Ordaz is the founder of Ordaz Family Wines, a winery that will be hosted by Master Rosenberry’s this Saturday at our Spring Wine Walk. Chuy was raised on a farm in Mexico along with 10 other siblings, but when he was about 20, a family member encouraged him to emigrate to the United States. Ordaz and his then 13 year-old brother made their way to Tijuana, with hopes to get into the States by running across a bridge. They tried several times but Border Patrol continued to catch them until Chuy’s younger brother finally made it across.
It took Chuy a total of 33 attempts before he finally made it into the United States. He started out by chopping wood for Korbel Cellars in the outskirts of Sonoma County, but before long, Chuy saw an advertisement for grape pickers needed at the Kenwood Winery and was hired on the spot. It was noticed early on by the owner that Chuy was different; special, smart and he had the trust of the other pickers. Chuy was the only one of all the pickers that spoke a little bit of English, so he naturally became the spokesperson of the group. After some time, Ordaz organized a strike during peak harvest season because the crew of pickers wanted $2 more for each ton of grapes they picked. The owner immediately agreed, and with Chuy’s okay, the whole crew went to work.
That is when the vineyard owner realized the strength of Chuy’s leadership, and that same day he was made foreman. However, Ordaz was not just a leader, he could also be considered an organic activist. Chuy convinced the owner that the labor would combat the need for pesticides, even considering the rise of sustainability standards. Ordaz did not want to expose himself and his people to hazardous chemicals, especially because he believed that they did not need the chemicals to produce good crops.
Not long after coming to California, he met an American woman named Beverly Young, whom he ended up marrying (thereby obtaining his green card) and having children with. However, Chuy got lucky and many of the other workers were still illegal immigrants. Sometimes, immigration agents would raid the vineyards, and Chuy would do his best to distract them so his undocumented workers could flee.
Eventually, the owner of Kenwood sold to the owner or Korbel. Ordaz proceeded to get his farm labor contractor license then start his own vineyard-management business. It didn’t take long because many of the independent vineyards that worked with Kenwood wanted Chuy to continue managing their property with his supreme leadership and green thumb. Although Ordaz is a leader, and has many people working for him, he still performs the tasks that any other employee would do, like pruning plants.
Chuy is still looking to purchase a vineyard of his own, but he and his family continue to produce wine with grapes from the vineyards he manages, under the name Ordaz Family Wines. Chuy’s story is not over yet, for all we know it could just be the beginning of another chapter. One thing we do know for sure is that Chuy Ordaz is an inspiration to us all.
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