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Film: A life’s ‘Harvest’ for Vanessa Robledo

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When Vanessa Robledo saw herself on the big screen, her story brought to life as one of the primary plot lines in the new documentary, “Harvest Season,” her heart pounded with a mixture of embarrassment and honor.

“The movie has a way of storytelling that is such a window into my life,” she said. “I didn’t realize the impact it would have.” She is thrilled that the film is being shown at the Sebastiani Theatre this weekend as a fundraiser for the La Luz Center scholarship fund, and she will be in attendance to greet friends and answer questions after the screening.

“It’s like a homecoming in a way,” Robledo said. “I have always been supported by the community and this is a very humbling opportunity.” Born here and later moving to Napa where she lives now, she was the president of the Sonoma winery her parents started, Robledo Family Winery, from 1997 until 2007. She now owns VR Wine Business Consulting, and at age 41 has worked in the wine industry her entire life, starting out helping farm her family’s vineyards when she was 8 years old.

“Harvest Season” captures a year in the lives of three Latinos in the wine world – a winemaker, a vineyard worker and Robledo, who is involved in all aspects of the business from pruning to sales. The camera follows them from January through the harvest of 2017, which includes the devastating October wildfires, an event that never could have been imagined when the filming began.

Filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz wanted to unfold their stories in a way that shows “the immense wealth” of California’s Wine Country in contrast to the “working-class agricultural communities with high rates of poverty and crises in affordable housing,” he explained in a written description of his work.

Robledo said that she was “not paid for anything” but wanted to be involved because of the powerful message she believes the film delivers. “Resilience to overcome life’s challenges no matter what happens,” she said, “That’s the message.”

She said being a woman who has held leadership roles in the industry has sometimes been difficult. “The biggest dilemma in my life has been accepting myself and knowing it is OK to be a strong woman,” she said. After leaving Robledo she was the CEO of Black Coyote Winery, where she oversaw the production of an award-winning cabernet that was twice served at the White House during the Obama administration. It is the wine she is most proud of, although the wine that is her favorite is Robledo Family Winery’s Tempranillo.

“Harvest Season” shows Robledo working at Mi Sueno Winery, owned by her sister and her husband, and also overseeing the vineyards owned by her mother, Maria Robledo, who also appears in the film although she does not speak English. Being filmed constantly for close to a year, Robledo said she became used to having a cameraman always close by, but that it was unnerving at times because she never had any idea what would actually be used. “Eventually I realized I just had to have faith in the filmmaker.”

Robledo’s daughter, Jocelyn, 20, also appears in the film, “but she is very quiet,” and is now at the University of Colorado studying filmmaking, a pursuit she has been interested in since she was a child. Since being around the making of “Harvest Season,” Jocelyn is now specifically interested in making documentaries about women. She and her cousin, who is the same age, will be the first in the extended Robledo family to graduate from a four-year college.

“I was not allowed to go away to college,” Robledo said, explaining she was brought up in a very traditional Latino culture where they spoke only Spanish at home. When she traveled as president of Robledo, her father would insist she be escorted by one of her seven brothers. “That was normal for me, I didn’t know anything different.”

She did attend Napa Valley College and took wine courses at UC Davis. She is especially pleased to have been given a scholarship to twice attend business school workshops at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Robledo feels an immense connection to the wine business, and especially to being in the vineyards. “I am very lucky that I love what I do,” she said. As she looks forward she sees herself remaining in the wine business, but has added new goals.

“I want to find a better way for us to give back to the environment and to make sure we have a future given the environmental challenges ahead,” she said. “And to create more housing for farmworkers. They are the ones closest to the vines. It is the right thing to do and I feel passionately about it.”

“Harvest Season” will be shown Sunday, April 7, at the Sebastiani Theatre, sponsored by La Luz and the Sonoma Valley Historical Society. Advance tickets are available at harvestseasonmovie.com or at the door. Vanessa Robledo and the director Bernardo Ruiz will answer questions at a reception after the film at Depot Park Museum, 270 First St. W. More information angie@laluzcenter.org.

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