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Wine and friendship that sparkle: The story of Las Amigas Cuvée

Wine and friendship that sparkle: The story of Las Amigas Cuvée

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: June 26, 2021 series
  • Updated

Las Amigas Cuvée, the first collaboration on a limited edition Napa Valley sparkling wine, is now available from Honrama Cellars, Llamas Family Wines, and third-party sellers. The wine is now also offered at a number of Napa Valley restaurants, including La Calenda in Yountville, Celadon in Napa, and Napa Valley Bistro in Napa.

Las Amigas’s 200-case run is the brainchild of two Latina friends, Miriam Puentes, co-owner of Honrama Cellars, and Lola Llamas, co-owner of Llamas Family Wines, both in Napa.

“Our slogan is two families, two brands, one dream,” said Llamas.

Puentes said the wine comes from grapes picked in 2013. The cuvée is a 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay blend from grapes grown in Napa County. Both varietals are grown in the Los Carneros AVA.

“This is a well-balanced, crisp, and refreshing wine with notes of pear and honeydew. It goes well with many different entrees, including mole, fried chicken, truffle popcorn, and shrimp ceviche,” said Puentes.

Llamas said the cuvée, which has an ABV of 12%, is light and not “super sweet.”

“Schramsberg Vineyards fans say it reminds them of those sparkling wines,” said Llamas.

Llamas and Puentes said they are the first Mexican-American vintners in Napa Valley with their own wine brands who joined forces to create a sparkling wine separate from each of their portfolios.

“(Our effort) is bridging our wineries together. We started this project together because we both own micro-wineries. We share the vision of scaling our wine companies. We also believe in building a legacy for the future of our children and our loved ones,” said Puentes.

She added making the cuvée has been like “sailing a ship with two captains.”

“We even have both our wineries’ logos on the label. This has been a journey, from our first step of acquiring the grapes to now, when we’re developing fun, welcoming events for guests,” said Llamas.

A friendship that started with MAVA

Llamas and Puentes’ friendship began in 2015, when they met through the Mexican American Vintners Association (MAVA). Their wineries had joined MAVA before that year. Soon Llamas and Puentes were traveling to Los Angeles and San Diego together for wine-related events. They also regularly teamed up to put on MAVA’s annual harvest festival.

“Over the course of these six years, we’ve found we had so much in common. During the pandemic, we started spending time together by taking walks and bike rides,” said Llamas.

On their travels, the two women would talk about the wine they were creating. In early spring 2020, Puentes told Llamas her husband, Juan Puentes, could offer them a batch of wine from an unrealized project.

“That’s when Lola and I decided to take our first step in making sparkling wine together. We both loved bubbly wine, but were new to the processes involved. Our baby steps involved figuring out the dosage (the amount of sugar that must be added to sparkling wine) and how frequently to riddle the bottles (regularly twist them back and forth to make sure the wine is freed of sediment),” said Puentes.

At the same time, Llamas and Puentes began promoting the wine.

“We did an Instagram launch for our brands (Honrama Cellars and Llamas Family Wines) in late May 2020, titling the project “Las Del Vino.” Later we created a website for the wine, designed and printed the label for the bottle. We also came up with budgets for operations and advertising,” said Llamas.

After the partners bottled the wine in late August 2020, they assembled a schedule of events that spanned the coming year.

Events for days

Puentes and Llamas said it has been extremely challenging to work through the obstacles 2020 and early 2021 have presented.

“We faced the pandemic and related shutdowns as well as fires, smoke, and power outages. Our strategy was to start with soft launch parties in late August, just a handful of people outdoors,” said Puentes.

Llamas said over time, she and Puentes organized other events, particularly ones that involved local businesses.

“In September 2020, we shared the wine at an in-person Dailey Barre Express class at Honrama Cellars that featured a glass of Las Amigas Cuvée and light bites afterward. Also in September, we partnered with the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley to offer Las Amigas Cuvée at the organization’s annual Sisterhood Brunch. That event was virtual. We gave attendees a 15% discount on all wine purchases and an invitation to two complimentary wine tastings at our homes, for not only Las Amigas but all of the wines each of us make,” said Puentes.

In October 2020, Llamas and Puentes offered a free virtual tasting of Las Amigas with the Napa County Hispanic Network.

“We donated 25% of donations to NCHN’s scholarship program,” said Puentes.

In December 2020, Llamas and Puentes discussed Las Amigas Cuvée on “The Wine & Chisme Podcast,” a wine podcast hosted by Jessica Yañez, a San Diego native. This podcast showcases wine professionals of color.

For Valentine’s Day 2021, Llamas and Puentes offered a deal of a bottle of Las Amigas Cuvée and chocolate-covered strawberries, with free local delivery.

In March 2021, Llamas and Puentes partnered with Be Bubbly Napa Valley, a sparkling wine lounge in downtown Napa, for a sold-out event. In April, Llamas and Puentes spoke about Las Amigas Cuvée as part of an Inspirational Women’s panel event at St. Helena Teen Center, a program of the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga.

Puentes said the schedule has been full but she has loved working with Llamas on this project.

“Las Amigas is about two women supporting one another. I’m so happy with the outcome. It’s been eye-opening to go from being good friends to being business partners,” said Puentes.

Llamas said she is proud that Las Amigas has been well received well in Napa’s Latinx community and beyond.

“In the past, most of the sales happened in the tasting room. This year, we’ve gone outside those doors. We brought our sparkling wine to an audience that is enjoying it, with yoga, meditation, and other activities that bring people closer together, but without the risk,” said Llamas.

Puentes said the effort has resulted in the sale of at least 100 cases.

“Given the success of Las Amigas Cuvée, this is an effort we want to repeat. We’re going to make the cuvée again next year. We are also considering making a sparkling rosé,” said Puentes.

Llamas said working closely with Puentes and networking with other women has changed how she sees business.

“Sharing Las Amigas awakened me to the fact that there are so many women in the wine industry and industries tied to it. Let’s promote each other. We’re already supporting one another. Let’s do more,” said Llamas.

Puentes agreed, stating the productive and positive interactions with other women in Napa Valley motivated her to think of new ideas. She added she and Llamas are considering entering Las Amigas Cuvée into a competition for boutique wines.

“All of the work Lola and I did and the help other people offered to support Las Amigas was a bright spot during a hard year. Making this wine strengthened my relationship with a friend as well as with other women. That’s why we’re proud that we did this. I know we have the grit to keep Las Del Vino going and move forward this fall,” said Puentes.

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