Edgar Torres came to the United States at age 8, smuggled over the Mexican border to Cambria in a stranger’s van, following his parents who had made the trek earlier.
He spent most of his life here illegally, going to school, working odd jobs, getting into the restaurant industry and eventually into winemaking.
Now Torres has permanent resident status and is working toward citizenship. He is owner and winemaker of two brands — his own Bodega de Edgar and Hug Cellars, which he acquired when the founders decided to retire. And he’s considered Paso Robles’ first Mexican-American winemaker, a designation he’s learning to embrace.
“At first, I didn’t want to be labeled. I wanted to be judged on my winemaking skills,” Torres said. But people pushed him to share his experience as one of inspiration and the value of hard work. “It’s also about paying respect to my community and my parents who left their country and worked so hard so we could be here.”
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Torres’ story is showcased in a new short film premiering Wednesday, June 21, at Paso A Paso, an event exploring immigration and what it means to be an American in the 21st century. The film is an outgrowth of a project at UC Berkeley in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution exploring the lives of 31 Mexican-American winemaking families.
Getting into the wine industry through restaurants, then working as a cellar rat for area wineries, Torres launched his own brand in 2006. It now produces about 2,600 cases focusing on Spanish varietals including garnacha, albariño, torrontés and tempranillo.
When the owners of Hug Cellars, for whom Torres had worked for several years, decided to retire a few years ago, he took over the brand as well as the winery, where he continues to produce small-batch chardonnay, pinot noir and cool-climate syrah.
Torres also has ambitious plans to grow, slightly increasing production of both brands. He’s on the verge of debuting a new one aimed at millennials that will feature lower price points, screw-caps and other alternative packing. The first offering from that brand, Work and Play, is a hard cider that will be released in coming weeks.
“You can’t stay stagnant in this business,” said Torres, who credits a hard-working ethic learned from his father, a willingness to take calculated risks and a lot of patience for getting him where he is today.
“Coming from where I did and being hungry for more, it made me work harder and appreciate things more,” he said. “It takes a lot of work, but you can make a dream happen — it doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is.”
Paso A Paso
What: An event exploring what it means to be an American in the 21st century
When: Starts at 5:30 p.m. June 21
Where: Talk on E Pluribus Unum: From Many, One exhibit at Studios on the Park, 1130 Pine St., Paso Robles; continues to Park Cinemas at 1100 Pine St. for premiere of a short biopic on winemaker Edgar Torres of Bodega de Edgar. Ends with dinner at La Cosecha at 835 12th St. (Meal prepared by chef/owner Santos MacDonal paired with Torres’ wines).