Rue Ziegler, cultural anthropologist and RDS board member, conducted this interview with Rafael Rodriguez on May 9th and May 20th, 2002. The excerpts below cover the period from 1943 to the present day.
Rafael Rodriguez came to California from Mexico as a young man, part of the government sponsored Braceros Program to provide farm labor for California's burgeoning agriculture industry. Rafael worked as a plum-picker, then a nurseryman, until he was hired in 1952 by Joe Souza, Inglenook's property manager. Mr. Souza recognized Rafael's passion for the vines and spent a considerable amount of time grooming him to take on more and more responsibility. When the Braceros program ended in 1954, it was only at the plea of John Daniel Jr., Inglenook's owner, that Rafael was allowed to remain in the United States to work and raise his family.
He was promoted to vineyard manager in 1965, shortly after John Daniel Jr. sold part of the estate to United Vintners. Rafael remained at the winery up until 1970 when it was sold to Heublein. He was at odds with the change of direction initiated by the new ownership.
Rafael spent the next five years representing various community and social interest groups, in addition to teaching a vineyard management class at Napa College.
When the Coppola's bought the property in 1975, Francis Coppola persuaded him to come back and manage the property he loved. For Rafael Rodriquez, the integrity, history and traditions of Inglenook were important--he and the Coppola family shared these ideals. When Rafael Rodriquez was ready to retire, the Coppolas asked him to stay on as estate historian. With his in-depth knowledge of the estate and the history of Napa Valley, a tour with Rafael is a step back in time.