by Heidi Cusick Dickerson
photos by Ree Slocum
Although he didn’t grow up with wine at the table, Cesar Toxqui (pronounced “SES-zar TOE-ski”) feels he was born with an innate affinity for winemaking that began subliminally where he was born and matured over his last two decades working in Mendocino wineries. Cesar, who was born in Mexico and Ruth, his wife from the Philippines, are proprietors of Cesar Toxqui Cellars (CTC) in Hopland.
“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,” says Cesar. As he puts it, “it sure was exciting to find out this piece of history. No wonder I love making wine, it runs in my veins!”
Cesar moved to the United States at the age of sixteen. He met the late renowned Mendocino winemaker Jesse Tidwell and got a job on his bottling line. When Cesar graduated from Ukiah High in 1989 he went to work at Tidwell’s Parsons Creek winery in Ukiah. Later, Cesar joined Brutocao Cellars in Hopland where he was the cellar master for ten years.
“The Brutocaos are a great family. I will always be grateful for their support in encouraging me to work on my own label venture,” he says. After Brutocao, Cesar worked as the winemaker for Mendocino Farms (which later became Campovida), where he learned the art of organic and Biodynamic winemaking.
From Mendocino Farms Cesar became the head winemaker for Jeriko Estates and improved his skills on Biodynamic Pinot Noir. “Pinot Noir is such a delicate grape, it requires intuition and experience,” says Cesar, who was extremely proud when the Wine Enthusiast gave his 2013 Pinot Noir Pommard Jeriko Estate 93 points. “To receive such a score for Pinot Noir grown inland in Mendocino County was just amazing to say the least,” beams Cesar.
While Cesar was working in different wineries, he was meticulously honing his skills by blending homemade wines. “People said I should create my own wine label,” says Cesar. The Cesar Toxqui brand launched in 2005.
CTC is a family operation. In their charming brightly lit tasting room in downtown Hopland, you’ll often find Ruth, 13-year old daughter Paloma, and son Hugh Oliver, 20, whose name graces their new sparkling wine label.
Cesar Toxqui Cellars produces about 2,500 cases a year. “We are a mom and pop boutique winery, we do everything from winemaking to marketing,” says Ruth, the vivacious marketing arm of Cesar Toxqui Cellars. Cesar has created a label in her honor called “Ruthless Red.” It refers to times when Cesar is in the tasting room alone and wine club members come in looking for Ruth. Cesar’s face lights up with his response, “I’m Ruth-less today,” he grins, sharing a glimpse of his ironic humor.
In addition to using organically grown grapes, Cesar and Ruth are committed to creating wines that have “heritage.” Their Uno Heirloom Red Wine released in 2005 was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Merlot wines made by Cesar Toxqui. “It’s a unique style,” explains Cesar, whose Heirloom wine is made only when they have the best blending grapes. For the first Heirloom, which was a blend of all the wines they made that year, they had six barrels of wine but only bottled four, setting aside two for Heirloom Two. “Part of our history is in these bottles, which contain wine from every vintage and varietal made so far by us.” Currently CTC is offering Heirloom Six.
In addition to CTC’s Heirloom red wines, they make award winning Zinfandel, Merlot, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sparkling Wine, and a fortified after dinner wine they named Dolce Paloma Bella after their daughter. For white wine lovers, Cesar produces Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Viognier and a sweet Muscat Canelli.
As one of the friendliest tasting rooms around, Cesar Toxqui Cellars is especially inviting when Ruth is serving food, which is often a mixture of both family heritages. Filipino lumpia filled with vegetables and shrimp are a favorite. Cesar, who is a 2016 graduate of Leadership Mendocino Class XXIII, and Ruth donated a dinner to the Leadership Mendocino fundraiser last year. Eight guests were treated to a multi-course winemaker dinner served by the family at the tasting room. Cesar paired a 2014 Pinot Noir from Yorkville Highlands with a winter salad topped with pears, walnuts and gorganzola. The main course was Tri-tip with bright chimichurri sauce, buttercream potatoes and brocolinni with the 2013 Cabernet Sauvingon. Everyone felt like guests in their home.