Leonel Ortiz

Vineyard Manager (Sonoma)
Leonel Ortiz - Sonoma Vineyard Manager

Leonel Ortiz

At the age of 22, Leonel began his career in the agriculture industry for the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. When President Miguel de la Madrid devalued the Peso, Leonel’s cousin invited him to come to Napa, where the promise of a more prosperous life awaited.

After much determination in the face of extreme circumstances, by 1980, Leonel finally arrived at his destination: Napa. Here, his cousin was working for Mondavi. The vineyard hired Leonel to do suckering, a job that was avoided by the other laborers due to having more responsibility at the same wage. But Leonel was not like the other workers; his parents taught him to respect those around him, revere the land and explore any new opportunities available to him. One day, the Mondavi vineyard was in a pinch and needed someone to spray in an emergency. Leonel stepped up to the occasion and offered to help. Leonel continued to stay on board as a tractor driver for Mondavi.

Eventually, this hard work and desire to learn new skills whenever he could, paid off. In 1981, Leonel began working for Opus One. Happy to pitch in wherever he was needed, one day Leonel volunteered to help remove stubborn pomace from a tank, which impressed his manager. That’s when Leonel was asked to serve as master vineyard manager for a new Opus One project. Leonel graciously accepted and started by helping Opus One install an irrigation system on its property as a contractor, marking the first time Leonel was given the responsibility of managing an entire staff. Mindful of the lessons his parents taught him, Leonel farmed and tended to the land with all of his heart.

Opus One recognized Leonel’s dedication to the land and all of the people farming it, so the vineyard promoted him to marking the vineyards and developing the trellises, a position he held until 2004.

After Opus One, offers to work for well-known vineyards kept rolling in. Durell Vineyards hired Leonel, but he had already applied for a management position at Premiere Pacific Vineyards (PPV). Since the offer from PPV was a higher-level management job that required Leonel to work on a challenging new project, Leonel accepted the offer from PPV.

Leonel thanks his parents for teaching him to respect and revere all humankind and the delicate earth we are walking on together. At the same time, Atlas thanks Leonel for bringing respect and purposeful value, cornerstones upon which the company was built, to his leadership position as a vineyard manager.

Sabino Pantoja

Vineyard Manager (Napa)
Sabino Pantoja - Napa Vineyard Manager

Sabino Pantoja

Sabino was only 15 when he left Mexico with his Uncle Esidoro to pursue his dream of living in the U.S., a dream he shared with every other boy in his village. The pair embarked on a monumental journey one day in 1978. Once in America, Sabino and his uncle headed north to the San Joaquin Valley. He was amazed by the sheer abundance of everything in the United States, including the fruits, trees and food. He was so impressed by the number of peach trees in the valley that he even got sick over-eating them one day!

Ironically, in spite of the abundance all around him, these were not easy days for Sabino. For nine months while living in the San Joaquin Valley picking peaches, he lived outside, with his only protection being that of a walnut tree. Always an optimist, who was unfettered by even the most difficult, life-altering challenges, Sabino pressed forward with a positive attitude. He recounts, “If you didn’t like the neighbor you were sleeping next to, you could always go find a different tree!”

After that experience, Sabino’s uncle, Esidoro, pleaded for him to move back to Mexico because he was so young. Sabino trekked back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico for four years to pick peaches until he started his own business in Mexico making and selling candles. At the time, he was earning a decent salary (by Mexican standards) of $40 a day. But Sabino’s ambitious spirit soon brought him back to the U.S. in search of that abundance he encountered the first time he came to the country.

It was the late 1970s by the time Sabino made his way to the Suisun Valley, where he started working in vineyard development, doing everything from pruning to picking, at only 19 years old. Sabino truly enjoyed working in the vineyards, and was always an excellent listener. Even at a young age, Sabino was always intent upon listening, and ultimately learned so much from his more experienced peers. Recognizing how observant he was, Sabino’s boss gave him a major responsibility: laying out a new vineyard, or what’s known in the business as “marking the rows”.

Shortly after earning the responsibility of laying out a new vineyard, Sabino advanced directly to become a crew leader for all the vineyard operations. Ever-ambitious and eager to operate his vineyards in the most efficient manner, Sabino’s annual goal was to break his previous years’ budget record by essentially doing the same job for cheaper.

Lourdes Castillo

Viticulture Technician
Lourdes Castillo - Viticulture Technician

Lourdes Castillo

A native of San Nicolas de Acuna in Jalisco, Mexico, Lourdes started her first wine industry job while on summer vacation from school. It was 1973 in Delano, CA, and she worked picking table grapes. When her vacation ended, Lourdes returned to Mexico for school, but came back to the United States every summer to work. By the time she reached 16, Lourdes had made her way north to Oregon, where she found work packaging pears.

In 1976, Lourdes decided to remain in the US, where she took up residency in Coachella, CA for 12 years. Again working with table grapes, she performed all of the vineyard work, from pruning to picking, for a local vineyard. But this was only seasonal work, and Lourdes wanted to work year round to support herself and her family, so she went back to Oregon to pick cherries, sort pears and package pears. In the late fall, Lourdes picked olives in Corning, CA until late October/early November, and then headed back to Coachella for the winter. For the next 12 years, Lourdes worked the same grueling schedule.

The experience of working a variety of seasonal jobs involving a diverse array of fruits, empowered Lourdes to learn every aspect of crop management, and gain true insight into the lifecycle of various crops.

In 1989, when her husband was offered a full-time job, Lourdes and her family headed north to Napa where she began picking, tying and planting grapes on a seasonal basis for a local winery. The following year, Mondavi hired Lourdes as a seasonal worker for about a year, and then in 1991 she accepted a full-time position at the vineyard. One day, the Mondavi foreman tested all of the women to see who was the most observant. He asked them to read maps, identify the differences between vine deficiencies and diseases and perform other analyses of the fruits and vines. Lourdes was always extremely curious about how things function, always observant and always eager to learn, so she excelled when put on the spot by her foreman.

The foreman was so impressed with Lourdes’ analytical skills that she was called in the next day to meet the vineyard viticulturist. That was the beginning of Lourdes’ illustrious career as a viticulture technician. After all of the hard work she did on the land over the years picking various fruits and packaging them for consumers to eat, Lourdes could now work on more mentally challenging pursuits, including scouting vineyards, collecting data, conducting maturity samples, etc. During the fall harvest, when work was slower, Lourdes took the time to sort grapes, do pump overs, racking and other lab work. All in all, her career with Mondavi lasted for 13 years.

After leaving Mondavi, Lourdes accepted a job offer at Pine Ridge as a viticulture technician doing very similar work. In 2006, Premier Pacific Vineyards hired Lourdes as a viticulture technician and manager. Not only did she serve as a technician, she imparted her wisdom to new managers and viticulture technician trainees. About six years later in 2012, Lourdes was hired by Atlas to do the same work. Today, Lourdes lives near the land, grapes and vineyards she has always cared for in Napa, with her husband and six children.

  • Leonel Ortiz
  • Sabino Pantoja
  • Lourdes Castillo