Photo by Helena Frazier.
For 30 years, Manuel Corona has been a backbone in the Peju family's wine venture. Manuel has worked alongside Tony and Herta Peju from the beginning planting and caring for the vineyards, assisting in the production of Peju's award-winning wines, overseeing the Rutherford property and playing a role in raising the two Peju daughters, Lisa and Ariana.
Manuel appeared on the Peju's property in 1983, shortly after Tony and HB moved from Southern California to their new 30-acre Napa Valley vineyard. Though he didn't speak much English, Manuel was able to communicate his work ethic loud and clear. Tony knew there was an immediate connection and the relationship between Manuel and the Peju family has since blossomed into a 25-year bond formed around business, loyalty and friendship.
Today, Manuel serves as Peju's Foreman, which includes the vital tasks of managing three vineyards, overseeing bottling, shipping, receiving and caring for the Peju facility, grounds and gardens.
Born in Jalisco, Tamazula, Mexico, Manuel left his family at the age of 15 to find opportunity in the United States. He began working seasonal harvests of dates, lettuce, peaches and tomatoes and later grapes throughout the states of California and Oregon. During that time, he stationed himself in wine country and began to learn the art of planting, pruning and harvesting at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County. A few friends told him about the beauty and potential of the Napa Valley. Together they crossed the mountain to make a visit and that's when he stumbled upon Tony and HB's wild and overgrown property.
He immediately helped the Peju family get their new wine business off the ground and was Tony's partner in the cellar until 1994. In the early years when times were hard, Manuel worked as a janitor in San Jose during the week and drove to Rutherford to work in the vineyard on weekends. In 1995, Manuel's brother, Alejandro, joined the Peju team and helped plant the Persephone Vineyard in the Pope Valley upon its purchase. One by one, Manuel was able to bring his parents and eight brothers and sisters to wine country to begin a new life. In the process, he fought long and hard to stay, earn a living, raise a family and finally gain citizenship. Manuel continues to be one of Peju's hardest-working and most pleasant employees.
"All I have to do now is work," he said with a smile. "That's nothing compared to what I've been through."
Manuel's meticulous record keeping in the cellar and in the vineyard has been a key cog in Peju receiving organic certification for its Rutherford Estate. And for his countless contributions and 25th year anniversary at Peju in 2007, Tony presented Manuel with an acre of vines at Persephone.
"Manuel has been a pillar of strength in every facet of my family's lives," Tony said. "My children's friends thought he was their father. He has been loyal to me all through the years, even in a cash flow crunch in 1985. He has pleased everyone throughout the 25 years. We love him."
Manuel now resides in Napa with his wife of 27 years, Ofelia, and three children: Iris, Daisy and Oscar.