Note: This is the latest in our series of interesting baby boomer profiles. Our goal is to portray a variety of active baby boomer retirement lifestyles for our members. If you know a boomer retirement we should know about tell us via the Contact Us link.
Amelia Ceja is President of Ceja Vineyards, which Inc. Magazine named “Entrepreneur of the Year” (one of 7) in 2004. She and her husband Pedro are hard-working people. After talking with them for just a short time it is easy to see why their perfect idea of retirement is to just keep doing what they love doing – growing grapes and making wine in the Napa Valley. We think you will enjoy the story of these successful baby boomers and how they are living their dream retirement.
What Amelia Did Before Retirement
Amelia emigrated to the USA from Mexico at age 12. Her parents worked in the California grape industry. Growing up Amelia also worked in the vineyards as a child and during summers in college. After attending UC San Diego where she studied history and literature she married Pedro Ceja, who studied engineering. Like Amelia’s, Pedro’s family was also involved in agriculture. In fact Pedro’s brother Armando went to the famed viticulture program at UC Davis, and he is the winemaker at Ceja Vineyards.
The young couple was living in the Silicon Valley in 1983 with good jobs when, together with Pedro’s parents and brother Armando Ceja, they bought their first land. Although the land was in the famed Napa Valley, the parcel they bought had no vineyards and little water. Soon after that the family had some financial troubles, and they had to put the land up for sale. Fortunately, no one was interested in purchasing it.
Initial Plans and Preconceptions about Retirement
The Cejas had never thought too much about retirement. Just about all of their hours were consumed with pursuing their dream – owning a vineyard and producing their own wine. Amelia was working in marketing in the wine industry, and she tried to learn everything she could about business and the wine industry. By 1986 the couple had moved to Napa Valley, when they planted the first vines on their land. Two years later they had their first harvest; finally in 1988 they had something to sell. Both she and her husband continued their outside full time jobs throughout this time, although the family continued to acquire land in both Napa and Sonoma Valleys when they could.
By 1999 their kids were old enough to allow the dream to advance further. Amelia, together with husband Pedro Ceja, brother-in-law Armando Ceja and sister-in-law Martha Ceja, were ready to start a wine production company, even though she nor anyone in the family had any previous wine sales experience. At that point she became the first female Mexican-American President of a wine company in the world. Her husband kept his engineering job while Armando came in to run the wine making operation. In 2001 they released 750 cases of chardonnay, pinot noir and merlot – varieties that grow well at the site of their first vineyard in Carneros.
Her retirement – it’s a working dream
The Cejas are totally consumed by winemaking – this is all they want to do for the rest of their lives. Theirs is truly a family dream, with both sons and their daughter now in the business. Ariel opened restaurant Bistro Sabo a block away from the Ceja Vineyards tasting room in downtown Napa, where their son promotes the wines and the Ceja story. Son Navek studied Digital Arts and shoots all the educational videos found in YouTube under the Ceja Vineyards name. Daughter Dalia is in charge of sales and marketing for the winery. Husband Pedro is the Secretary and the Artistic Director.
The awards keep coming in: Amelia was named “Woman of the Year” in 2005 by the California legislature. Ceja Vineyards has received recognition and numerous awards as well. By 2012 Ceja Vineyards will have increased wine production to 10,000 cases. If that sounds like a lot of wine, Amelia informed us that a “boutique” winery is one that produces under 50,000 cases. They are in fact a “micro” winery – for now!
The family continues to have ambitious plans, and they recently broke ground to build a mission style winery in Carneros in the Napa Valley. The winery will have a commercial kitchen to conduct cooking demonstrations and wine-and-food pairings. The Cejas pride themselves in making food and wine exploration more democratic. A case in point is one of their favorite pairings – Chardonnay with popcorn!
Keep on Going
Here, living in beautiful Napa and surrounded by her children and wonderful food and wine, Amelia is pursuing her lifelong dream of producing world class wines from her family’s estate vineyards. She says she will do it until she can’t breathe anymore or gets kicked out.
Advice on starting a new career in retirement
Amelia advises anyone contemplating a career change that it is never too late to start something new. Case in point, she worked until she was 45 in a more mainstream career. She says that “Starting something new is easy. But you have to take the first step – and then you have to keep going. You have to have a desire to work 24/7 on your dream, AND learn more than anyone else. Once you become an expert, your knowledge and passion will make you successful”.
Amelia has plenty of practical advice for anyone starting a business. She became a member of every wine trade association she could, because they offer so many tools and resources. She recommends starting small and building a strong foundation. Having a plan is essential – the Cejas knew who they were going to sell their wines to before they had a product.
Connecting with others has paid off handsomely for Amelia. Her persistent press releases ended up with Ceja Vineyards getting a high profile review by NY Times wine critic Eric Asimov. And this February, she will be featured as one of 12 Californians portrayed in “Dreamland,” a BBC and PBS co-production about the day in the life of 12 extraordinary Californians sponsored by Visit California.
Amelia’s story is a good example of the many twists and turns that retirement can take. For some people retirement means an end to one’s career and a time to relax. For others it is a time to volunteer. And for folks like her, it is a time to realize the dream of a lifetime.
Visit the Ceja Vineyards website. Or, if you are in Napa, stop by their tasting room in downtown Napa. Don’t miss the Pinot Noirs!
Comments? What is your idea of a dream retirement? Do you have a passion you intend to pursue? Please share your ideas with your fellow members in the Comments section below.