By James Knight
Only a decade ago, it seemed as though General Mariano Vallejo was the last Mexican-American to own a winery around here. That's changed. In 2001, Ceja Vineyards joined the growing number of operations founded by one-time field workers and their families who have parlayed their experience into vineyard-management businesses, bought land and ultimately built their own wine brands. In 2008, Ceja opened a sleek new wine salon in Napa's once-sleepy downtown. To top off the week and spice up the Napa night, third-generation scion (and general manager) Ariel Ceja has come up with "Salsa Saturdays."
Each week Ceja leads a group salsa lesson followed by an open dance party. It already appears to be a favored recommendation from local hotels—the room soon filled with a vanload of well-dressed tourists and business trippers. Gentlemen, take note: free salsa dance lesson. That's all you need to say.
First, we fortified ourselves with a flight of Ceja wine. The 2006 Vino de Casa White ($20) suggested a new spoke on the wine wheel—candle shop?—a pleasant, waxy mélange of almond, vanilla and honeydew melon. The citrusy, grapefruit-and-lemon grass 2007 Sonoma Coast Sauvignon Blanc ($26) was clean and bracing—for ceviche, for sure. Dry and substantial, the 2007 Bella Rosa ($22) is a full-bodied rosé with passion, while the reds veered toward the sauvage. Candied cherry and rhubarb balanced the 2005 Sonoma Carneros Pinot Noir's ($40) sweet green beans, and the fleshy and rich 2005 Sonoma Carneros Merlot ($34) was a hit. The gamey 2005 Sonoma Coast Syrah ($34) seemed to be a little bottled up; it needed some air.
"Look at her shoes," said a woman at another table, scoping my date's Fluevogs. "Let's watch her. I'll bet she knows what she's doing." Alas, while Roller Girl is a sprite on the rink, we're well-paired on the dance floor. But first, the lanky, bespectacled Ariel Ceja commanded the group into opposing ranks of men and women, ranging in age from their 20s to 50s. Efficiently and with levity, Ceja moved through the steps at a fast clip. En masse, we got the basic two-step down—or was it six steps?—then mastered a three-point turn. Sort of. Halfway around the partner-swapping circle, we were bravely muddling through the reputedly fiery Latin dance. For me, anyway, dance steps are like algebra, except harder. Even if I only have to count to six.
When I got back to Roller Girl, we did a few turns to the music before sweatily retreating to our table to watch Ariel show the room how it's really done. Meanwhile, the Syrah had gotten some air, too. Now, the dark, supple wine was ready to dance with the tongue. Bailamos!
Ceja Vineyards, 1248 First St., Napa. Sunday–Friday noon–6pm, Saturday noon–10pm; free salsa class starts at 7:30pm. Tasting fees vary. 707.226.6445.
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