Fausta Franco Guerrero walks through the gold-tinged grape plants that encircle her family’s home, searching for a straggler cabernet grape. She finds one, tastes it and says, “See, they are so sweet. I have a feeling the wine from this year will be the best yet.”
Fausta and her husband, Roy Guerrero, own Fausta Family Vineyards and have just won a platinum award for their 2011 cabernet sauvignon – the only wine they entered – in the Sommelier Challenge. The international competition had 898 entries from 15 countries and judged sparkling, red and white wines, giving 517 medals from platinum to silver. Fausta was one of 52 contestants to receive the platinum recognition, going up against prestigious wineries such as Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros, Ravenswood Winery, and Moët and Chandon.
But Fausta’s story isn’t about winning an award. Her story is about hard work. Her success lies in the 3,000 grape plants on her 4.52 acres, working her way up from a 500-square-foot house in Schellville and achieving her childhood dream of cultivating her own vineyard.
Fausta’s father came to the United States with her grandfather who was a brassero; he eventually went back to Mexico where he met Fausta’s mother and the two then moved to Sonoma. Fausta, an only child, lived with her parents in a modest house. Her father worked as a grape picker at a Sebastiani Winery vineyard, eventually working his way up to a job at the winery. Her mother cleaned houses and would often take Fausta with her to her jobs.
Fausta says her dream to work hard and have a vineyard first started as a way to make her mother proud, noting how her mother grew up in a small Mexican town and, at the age of 7, left school to support her 11 siblings.
Today, Fausta and Roy live with their three children in the home they designed. Fausta’s mom lives on the property in a smaller home and helps Fausta take care of her children. “I feel so thankful that I was able to build that house for my mom. She worked so hard her whole life to take care of people, and now she can relax and let other people take care of her,” Fausta said.
Fausta jokes that a man once told her he’d like to name a racehorse after her because “Fausta” means lucky. “Of course, I went home and looked it up and my name does mean lucky. For me, though, I feel more blessed than lucky.”
For Roy, his wife’s success in life doesn’t seem to be guided by luck. “She works hard, she barely sleeps,” he said, noting determination is one of the things he admires most about Fausta. “Her secret is that she is always going and going,” he said.
Fausta Family Vineyards currently produces three wines, the 2011 cabernet sauvignon, a 2011 reserve cabernet sauvignon and a 2012 viognier. Fausta says she is looking into making a rosé. She sells her viognier at girl and the fig in Sonoma, her 2011 cabernet sauvignon at the Glenn Ellen Inn and, most recently, her cabernet sauvignon and viognier at Meritage Martini and Oyster Bar.
Fausta said she is careful not to compare her wines to others, noting she respects other winemakers and their different tastes. For Fausta, it’s all about learning through trial and error and working to make wine that she and her family want to drink all the time.She describes her viognier as crisp and light with aromas of peaches and pineapple. Her cabernet sauvignon is creamy and rich with cherry and chocolate aromas and boasts a stronger alcohol flavor on the finish, rather than at first taste. Fausta feels empowered as a woman winemaker and has even designed a curvier bottle and label to look more feminine.
“We live in world where we can have the greatest opportunity,” Fausta said. “Everything is possible and if you really want something then you should try – you have to keep dreaming.”
Roy, who was born in the United States but grew up in Mexico, believed in the same opportunity when he started a landscaping business in 2005.
In 2008, the couple purchased a decrepit property with three small homes that needed to be demolished, and worked for a year to build their dream house with a vineyard for Fausta. A devout Catholic, Fausta feels called to her property. She keeps a white Virgin Mary statue at one edge of her vineyard and has her grapes blessed by a priest at each harvest.
Fausta took viticulture classes at the junior college in Napa and Roy worked with his landscaper colleagues to learn about vineyard maintenance. Fausta Family Vineyards was officially making wine in 2010.
Building their vineyard on this trial basis wasn’t always easy, Fausta and Roy say. The couple recalls one of the hardest times when they had to throw away their crush because they did not have the appropriate paperwork to take it from a facility that was helping them. But, Fausta says, when she struggles she thinks of her children and how much she wants to make her family proud.
“The reason that I can do this (achieve my dream) is because my family is dreaming with me,” Fausta said.
Along with the help of her husband, Fausta also gets guidance from her uncle who works at a vineyard in Napa and whose grapes, grown in the Alexander Valley, make her viognier.
Before pursuing her career as a winemaker, Fausta worked for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and credits a former colleague for pushing her to start making wine and motivating her to continue in the toughest times. Fausta’s family and friends also help with the grape harvesting.
On a recent autumn day, Fausta and her family gathered around their kitchen counter, which was covered in dishes Fausta worked all night to prepare. She’s used her mom’s recipes to make pico de gallo, molcajete, guacamole and ceviche. She has even used some of her viognier to cook garlic shrimp and her cabernet to make lasagna and steak tacos. “This is Fausta,” said Roy, “she doesn’t do anything halfway.”
Fausta took a break from the feast to hold up her platinum award. She got goosebumps and cried, remembering how she felt when she found out she won. “I felt overwhelmed that this came from the effort of us working the land, a dream I’ve dreamt all my life.”
On Nov. 22, Fausta will test the legs of her award-winning 2011 cabernet sauvignon again, at another competition. She is currently working to expand sales of her wine in Sonoma, Napa, St. Helena and Healdsburg. While she hopes to have a production facility with an onsite tasting room in five years, she is working on achieving a shorter-term goal of finding a property where she can build a tasting room in 2014.
For more information on Fausta and her wine, visit faustafamilyvineyards.com.