Whitehall Lane has always been committed to running business as a family. When Tom Leonardini bought the winery in 1993, he had plans of starting a family legacy; not only within his family, but in that of others as well. When Tom bought the winery, Fernando Cortez had already been working there for over a year.
Starting in 1992, Fernando was hired onto the vineyard crew at Whitehall Lane. Now over 20 years later, he is the Cellar Master and right hand to our Winemaker, Dean Sylvester. Two years ago, his son was hired onto the crew as well. Get to know Fernando, his family and his time at the winery.
What is a normal day for you at Whitehall Lane?
F: I’m basically Dean’s right hand man. Dean is in charge of making wines and I take over from there. From testing barrels every day, racking the juice and managing the blending process, I oversee our cellar crew through it all. During bottling season, I prepare the bottling line each day and ensure that all of the machines are ready for the crew. We run 36 bottles per minute for a total of 22 pallets a day!
Where were you working before?
F: I spent time at Joseph Phelps, Hess Collection and Harvest Inn in St. Helena. At one time or another, I have done just about every job in the winery.
What brought you to California?
F: I was born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico and came to California to follow my passion for food and wine. I’m happy to now have a dual citizenship so that I can travel back to see my brothers and sisters at the holidays. One day, I hope to retire back in Mexico with my family there.
You’re a proud father; tell us about your children.
F: I have two children. My daughter, Mayra, is 26 and lives in Portland where she graduated from Portland University. She has a beautiful three-year-old boy! I love to go visit her and her family and go at least twice per year.
My son, Fernando, works in the cellar with me. He is 22 and really enjoys working the winery. It’s nice to see him everyday.
F: I really love that I learn every day and get to see customers enjoy our wines. I get to use my skills every day to make something great. I am so proud to work with the family and make great wines. They take pride in everything we make, so it’s easy to stand behind the company and the Leonardinis.
What is your favorite wine from Whitehall?
F: I really like our Belmuscato. Our Pinot Noir is always really great as well. It’s hard to find a bad wine around here, though.
Anything else you want to tell our readers?
F: Just that I truly love what I do and I am so proud to be a part of a great family business. It’s extra special that I get to have my son by my side!
Happy Father’s Day!