Tale of Two Victors

by | Sep 18, 2023

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, this two-part story celebrates two Washington state Hispanic winemakers named Victor. Victor Palencia and Victor De La Luz have a lot more in common than their occupations and first names. Their journeys are about deep ties to family, pride for their heritage, strong work ethics and a dash of serendipity mixed in. We begin with Victor Palencia’s story.

Palencia’s family relocated to the Yakima Valley in Washington from Michoacán, Mexico, in the late 1980s due to the region’s burgeoning agriculture industry and the possibility of year-round farm work. At the time, Palencia was two years old.

His father farmed mint, corn, wheat and other crops. As the wine industry started to boom, his father began working in vineyards. “One of the most beautiful memories I have is seeing mint and corn fields transition to the beautiful landscape of vineyards,” Palencia reminisces. “When it was all said and done, vineyards were all around us as far as we could see. It was a cool transition to witness over the course of the mid-’90s and early 2000s.”

Palencia spent his summers and after-school hours working in the vineyards. “My family was part of the agricultural wave of laborers installing irrigation and trellis systems,” he says. “As early as I can remember, I’d go out and help tie vines and I loved riding the tractor with my dad.”

When Palencia was a teenager, Dave Minick, winemaker and owner of Willow Crest Winery, took the young boy under his wing. He rapidly worked his way up the ranks, starting in the vineyard and eventually becoming cellar master. He began considering a future in the wine industry.

“As I started to learn more about wine and the wine business I was thinking ‘Wow, this is fun! I get to be in the vineyard part of the day and part of the day in the cellar working on analysis,’” Palencia recalls. “I knew I loved the science. I knew I loved being outdoors. My dream became to be a winemaker.”

Palencia’s mom was not as thrilled when he chose to work in the wine industry. “With Latino culture in those days, wine wasn’t a common subject,” he explains. “None of us in our family really drank wine. She was worried that I’m going to be overindulging on the job. I had to explain to her that’s not how it works.”

By the time he was a senior in high school, Palencia became one of the first Hispanic winemakers in Washington, making wine for Willow Crest even though he was under the  legal drinking age. This required him to develop a discerning sense of smell.

After high school, he received a scholarship to attend the Enology and Viticulture program at Walla Walla Community College. “When I left for college, I was heartbroken because our family was tight-knit,” Palencia says. “I was one of the first to leave our household. But I knew it was necessary to do what I wanted to do.”

In 2012, he started the Palencia Wine Company, taking his dream to the next level by becoming one of the first Hispanic winery owners. “When I started the business, there were not a lot of Latinos out there,” he says. “It was important for me to acclimate myself and fit in because I didn’t grow up around wine culture. Over time, it became obvious it wasn’t good enough to just fit in, you also need to know how to stand out.”

Launching a single wine brand can be challenging enough. Palencia launched two brands exemplifying his high aspirations. Each reflects different aspects of his heritage.

The Palencia brand reflects his roots. The wine label logo is a man holding a shovel. “[The logo] is emotional and motivational for me,” he says. “It is a reminder of my dad when he was working in the fields and all the life lessons I learned from him. He was my hero.”

The Monarcha brand also connects to his heritage. Every year, millions of Monarch butterflies travel thousands of miles from east of the Rocky Mountains to the mountains of Michoacán, close to where Palencia was born. “Monarcha wines represent letting your dreams take flight,” he says. “I put a wing on every bottle because that’s what I did.”

Palencia is encouraged about the future of Hispanic winemakers and owners. “I’ve seen a tremendous increase in Latinos furthering their education in viticulture, enology and sales,” he says. “It makes my heart happy because when I started, I was it. I hope that my story serves as a model for our industry and what Hispanics are capable of.”

Featured Wine

2020 Palencia Casa Amarilla GSM | Yakima Valley AVA

Casa Amarilla, named after the yellow house in which Palencia grew up, is a Rhone-style blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre. This medium-bodied wine offers enticing red and berry fruit on the nose. It has a soft and silky mouthfeel with nice acidity and light tannins on the finish. Very drinkable now, but also has enough acidity from the Grenache and tannins from the Mourvèdre to cellar and let evolve with age. It’s a versatile wine that would go well with roasted or barbeque red meats, or perhaps try it with spicy Mexican food.
$36 | 14.5% ABV

Next up: Victor De La Luz of De LaLuz Wines


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A Tale of Two Victors, part 2

A Tale of Two Victors, part 2

Building a legacy at De La Luz Wines Victor De La Luz is from Tehuacán, Mexico, about 150 miles southeast of Mexico City. He had a difficult childhood. After losing his father when he was 3 years old, his mother tried hard but struggled to make ends meet. “When I was...

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