Published July 8, 2012

The key to finding out who is who in town is to ask the locals. The best way to meet locals who are eager to chat is to have a drink or bite to eat at a local watering hole. It might also make you more approachable if you are attending the bar alone. In Healdsburg, locals raved about an immigrant from Mexico who now owns vineyards in Sonoma County and has quite a rep for running his own vineyard management organization, and making wine. Their respect for him was clear and I was intrigued to hear his story. Besides, he has the coolest name ever: Ulises Valdez.

Ulises Valdez is what everyone had said: hardworking, honest, and fair. He came to this country with nothing, worked in the vineyards during the day, slept in a trailer, and learned all he could from his surroundings. He offered the vineyard owner to work for free for a year in exchange for part ownership of the vineyard. Now, he owns his own vineyard and makes his own wine.

But, that’s just the beginning to the depth of his personality. What they didn’t say and what’s hard to articulate is how real he is. I know it sounds simple. But he is not only conscientious about wine, vineyard management, and the work he does. He is genuinely cares about people, life, and integrity. He is not alone in his credo to treat people as he’d like to be treated. We’ve all heard that somewhere. He’s always learning and asking how something could have been done better. He gives people the respect they deserve, and gets it in return. He pays employees fairly and never overcharges but knows the money is never as important as how happy you are with the work you do. If this brand of sincerity makes you proud to be an American, the White House agrees; after hearing of the legend of Ulises Valdez, they requested his Chardonnay to serve at a state dinner honoring the President of Mexico.


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