Four years ago Cesar Toxqui, who was born in Mexico, and Ruth Andres Toxqui, from the Philippines, set in motion their dream to make small quantities of food friendly “Heirloom” wines and ultimately a destination in which to enjoy it all. They bottled their first wine, Cesar Toxqui Cellars Zinfandel in 2004.
Although he didn’t grow up with wine at the table, Cesar Toxqui (pronounced “ses-zar toe-ski”) matured into a focused visionary and a winemaker. He tells of what he feels is an innate affinity for winemaking that began subliminally where he was born and developed over his last 20 years working in Mendocino wineries.
“I grew up near Cholula, Puebla, one of the places in Mexico where the first vines were planted in the 1500s by the Spanish in the New World,” Cesar says. He made this discovery while reading about wine history. As he puts it, “it sure is exciting to find out this piece of history and no wonder why I love making wines. It runs in my veins.”
Cesar moved to the United States at the age of 16 while still in high school. He met the late renowned Mendocino winemaker Jesse Tidwell and worked on his bottling line. When he graduated from Ukiah High in 1989 he went to work at Tidwell’s Parsons Creek winery in Ukiah and lived with him and his family for two years. At dinner time when Jesse enjoyed his meal with a glass of red wine he encouraged Cesar to smell and have a little sip of it and savor the flavor of the wine and how it complements the food.
“I moved into the wine world,” says Cesar with characteristic seriousness. During his six years with Tidwell, who during that time became a partner in Tijsseling winery in McNab Valley, Cesar helped make wine and developed his skill in the art of winemaking. Then he worked at Fetzer Vineyards as supervisor of the bottling line. “It was not my calling,” he says, knowing that winemaking was what interested him. Cesar then went to work for Brutocao Cellars in Hopland where he was the cellars master for 10 years. “The Brutocaos are a great family I will always be grateful for their support in encouraging me to continue working on my label venture,” he says. Cesar Toxqui Cellars wines are made at Brutocao.
To expand his wine education Cesar attended Sonoma State University and received his degree in viticulture with the emphasis on growing grapes organically. Cesar believes that fine wines come from good grapes. Having this knowledge of grape growing helps him source the best grapes around to ensure the quality of his wines. “We are more quality producers rather than quantity,” he says. During that time he also worked a harvest at Barra Vineyards in Redwood Valley. After Sonoma State he went to work at Mendocino Farms and the other brands under the Magnanimous Wine Group as the cellar master. His proclivity toward organically grown grapes was boosted while at Mendocino Farms. “Owsley Brown, the owner, and Steve Ryan the winemaker, were my inspiration,” he says.
While Cesar was working in wineries, he was also blending homemade wines. He entered the Lake County Home Winemakers Festival in Kelseyville (next year it will be in Lakeport). In 2004 and 2005 his wines won the best of show. “People said you should create your own wine label,” says Cesar. Now we go to the Fest and pour our wine,” he smiles.
“I didn’t love wine five years ago,” says Ruth, outgoing and the marketing arm of Cesar Toxqui Cellars. “I would go to wine events with my Pepsi in a bag,” she laughs.
But she began paying more attention to wine and as someone who is a good cook, she knew she wanted to develop a love of wine. “I would get some really good wine and share it with Ruth,” remembers Cesar. And as they started the business Ruth knew that in order for her to sell it she would need to enjoy it, which as a really good cook, she does.
Ruth has a teaching credential and got a job working in the local schools. When a job at the Department of Motor Vehicles opened up she applied and has been there for the last ten years. She and Cesar have been married for 16 years. They have two children, Hugh, 13, and Paloma, a vivacious six-year who old are also involved in the winemaking. During harvest the whole family helps in picking grapes and Paloma loves to smash them and she also enjoys helping her Dad putting labels on the bottles.
Altogether Cesar Toxqui Cellars produces about 350 cases a year. “We are a mom and pop boutique winery, we do everything from winemaking to marketing,” says Ruth. “While we know it’s hard to break into the business, we love and enjoy what we do and Cesar is not an arm chair winemaker.”
When they started, Cesar was still working at Brutocao Cellars. During harvest, he would get up before dawn to check his fermentations. Then he went home to help Ruth get the kids ready for school and go to work. After work he checked on the wine before going home. Cesar knows he can create a style of wine that people want to drink.
In addition to using organically grown grapes, Cesar and Ruth are committed to creating wines that have heritage. Their 2005 Uno Heirloom Red Wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Merlot wines made by Cesar Toxqui. Uno Heirloom was released in 2009. Heirloom II is the next vintage and it has a hint of Pinot Noir.
“It’s a unique style,” explains Cesar, who plans to continue Heirloom wine. For the first Heirloom, they had six barrels of wine but only bottled four and they set aside two for Heirloom II. “Not only are you buying a full bodied red wine,” he says, “but part of our history is in these bottles, which contain wine from every vintage and varietal made so far by us.”
In addition to Cesar Toxqui Cellars (also known as CTC) Heirloom red wines, they make Chardonnay from grapes grown at Brutocao Cellars. As Cesar contracts for grapes for his wines, he reaches out to areas other than Mendocino County while striving to ultimately and predominately use Mendocino fruit. “Our 2009 wines were 95% Mendocino fruit,” he says. The rest is from Sonoma County.
Cesar Toxqui Cellars 2005 Zinfandel, which includes some Petite Sirah, is a favorite of locals, as is their Cabernet Sauvignon. Cesar’s 2006 Pinot Noir was such a hit that they sold out in three months. Their 2009 Pinot Noir grapes are from Philo vineyards in Anderson Valley. Their goal is to use grapes that are organically grown and dry farmed. “While some of our vineyards are not certified organic, they are heading in that direction.”
“We also are making some varieties that are not in the mainstream,” says Cesar. Their Charbono is grown at Larry Venturi’s vineyard in Calpella. And Cesar is excited about their Cabernet Franc, which like Charbono, has historically been a grape used in blends. CTC’s Cab Franc is grown by Arturo Villamontes, who works for Beckstoffer Vineyards as a vineyard manager. He has his own vineyards named Eleven Families located near Annapolis just across the Mendocino County border in coastal Sonoma County. “On a clear day you can see the ocean from the vineyard, the ocean breeze indeed adds unique flavors that are not common on grapes grown inland” says Cesar.
As Cesar and Ruth grow their wine brand, they have a dream to combine their love of food and wine with a small roadside cafe or auberge-style destination somewhere in Mendocino County. “My dream is to have a small restaurant with native dishes from our two countries served with Cesar Toxqui wines,” says Ruth. Cesar chimes in that he has carpentry skills to help fulfill that dream when they find the right spot, where they would like to include a few cottages and the winery.
In the meantime, Cesar Toxqui wines are available through the website and at SIP! Mendocino (CTC’s Zinfandel was in SIP’s recent wine club shipment). They can be found at the Bottle Shop, Raley’s, Ukiah Natural Foods, The Westside Renaissance Market, and Patrona Restaurant in Ukiah, and Mario’s Restaurant in Redwood Valley. On the coast you’ll find CTC wines at The Wine Shop, Glendeven Inn’s Wine Tasting Bar, the Ledford House, Mendo Bistro and the Cafe Beaujolais, as well as at the Boonville Gen Store and the Boonville Deli in Boonville.
Ruth and Cesar Toxqui also welcome private tastings by appointment.
Tasting Notes: Cesar Toxqui Cellars 2005 Zinfandel is one of those delicious all purpose red wines. It’s full and rich and yet very balanced and mellow and went perfectly with coq au vin. Uno Heirloom, a bottle full of the focus and history of CTC was sublime with flank steak.