Winemaker Chris Rivera hopes more Latinos start taking up space where they typically haven’t felt welcomed before. As the owner of Lodi, CA-based Seis Soles Wine Co., Rivera is blending tradition and modernity into an impressive lineup of wines hand-crafted in what’s known as the wine grape capital of the world. Seis Soles Wine Co. is solely run and produced by Rivera, but even though the business is currently a one-man show, he is on a mission to introduce Mexican culture to winemaking and to welcome wine drinkers from all walks of life.
Tell us about your family growing up, and what you did before founding Seis Soles Wine Co.
I was born in the California Central Valley to parents that immigrated from Michoacán, Mexico. My parents worked as farm workers and we moved around a lot early on, but eventually settled in Modesto, California. I would say that we struggled financially, but I didn’t want for anything I actually needed. I’m not sure how my parents did it, but they came through for me every time and I grew up a pretty happy kid.
How did you get into the winemaking business?
In 2014, I was working in the physical therapy field and decided that I wanted to pay for school, so I took an entry level job at a giant winery in my area. It was my first exposure to wine other than whatever inexpensive stuff we could get our hands on in college. The process really opened my eyes to how intricate making wine could be. I decided that I wanted to work at a smaller winery and progress my way up to winemaker, so I moved to Lodi and completed the winemaking program at UC Davis while working for a family-owned winery.
What inspired you to launch Seis Soles?
I knew how tough and competitive the business is, but eventually I realized that there was a need for a wine brand that Latinos could identify with and enjoy. The tipping point was a specific day when I went wine tasting with other Mexicans and we finished the day feeling like we were treated differently at every tasting room we went to. Nothing egregious, but there were several instances of the hosts being indifferent to our group and making comments while enthusiastically engaging with another group. We just expect to be treated like anyone else. I refuse to “validate” that we belong in the space. That experience made me feel like shit but it also inspired me to launch Seis Soles. A quality brand that is meant to be presented in an unpretentious way. I welcome everyone, but I hope Latinos see themselves in what we’ve created.
How did you come up with the name?
I workshopped ideas with various groups and eventually a friend led us down this path of Aztec creation stories. One involved a cycle where the world had been created and destroyed four times before their reign during the fifth sun, “Quinto Sol.” It is a common idea in Chicano culture for that specific reason and my friend suggested “Seis Soles” as a way to celebrate Latinos today. The idea is that we as descendants under the new sun contribute, create and thrive.
How are you doing now, years after the COVID-19 pandemic hit?
I’m a one-man show and I’m still grinding. Seis Soles was a side hustle until a year ago when I quit my salaried position and moved to L.A. It was basically a restart, so I’m still in that uncomfortable building mode defined by lack of capital and challenges in competing against companies with more resources.
What are your best-selling wines?
The Rosé and the SolTierra. The Rosé is soft and semi-sweet, while SolTierra is a robust complex red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot and Petitie Verdot aged on new French Oak. The wines are polar opposites and usually enjoyed by people in different parts of their wine journey, but they can exist at the same party.
How do you source your ingredients?
I buy my grapes from the same farmers I’ve worked with for years in Lodi. We developed professional relationships when I sourced for the wineries I worked for and now it’s for me.
How do you honor and celebrate your culture through your wine?
I continually take my wine into spaces where Latinos don’t normally have access to quality wine. Sure I’m pouring at country clubs and private estates, but I’m also proudly taking Seis Soles to car shows, quinceañeras and restaurants in East LA and the Central Valley. I’ve also paired my wine with traditional Mexican dishes like mole, tacos and pozole/menudo.
How do you give back to the community?
I’m not at the point where I can donate money, but I donate wine, wine tastings and my time, that they in turn can auction or sell. I definitely hope to evolve in how I give back, but for now I can support folks that are themselves involved in the community. The organizations usually work to support low-income children or women who escaped domestic violence. I’d love to pick an underserved area and work on providing school supplies and aid in battling food insecurity for children from low-income families. I also think performing arts programs are always in need of funding.
Being a Latin-owned business in such a competitive marketplace, what advice do you have for those who dream of pursuing their passion?
I suggest having a plan because passion alone may not be enough. Take advantage of programs that can teach you about basics in finance, business and accounting. Pursue your dream, but please have your plan and funding hashed out.
Where can we find your wine?
Currently my full lineup is available on our website. You can also find select wines at various locations in California, including Meat & Vino in Long Beach, Hi Times in Costa Mesa, Sip in Escondido, La Central in Chula Vista, Chula Vista Brewery in Eastlake, 1010 in Inglewood, Boulevard Gastropub in Compton, Pocha in Highland Park, and Monoplole in Pasadena.
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