Victor Palencia carefully considered the names he chose for the wines that he makes: Palencia Wines, his premium label, honors his family name; Monarcha, his more affordable wines, honors his family’s journey.
Palencia, who launched both labels in 2013 in Walla Walla, Wash., was born in Michoacan, Mexico, one of eight children who with their parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1987 when he was 2 years old. The Palencia family entered the U.S. illegally but were among those granted a path to citizenship when President George H.W. Bush extended President Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program. Palencia doesn’t hide the fact that their crossing into the U.S. was illegal, nor was it without risks. He can recall his father carrying him as they crossed a river.
“My mother was surprised. ‘You remember that?’ But it was a big event in our lives,” Palencia said.
Palencia, as a teenager, followed his father into the fields and vineyards of Prosser and the Yakima Valley, where he helped him prune vines and pick grapes. He soon found an affinity for vineyards and an interest in winemaking, and after graduating from Prosser High School in 2003, earned a Leonetti Cellar scholarship to attend Walla Walla Community College to study viticulture and enology, words, he said, he had to look up in the dictionary. There he found mentors among the region's winemakers, including Washington wine pioneer Stan Clarke, who founded the college's Center for Enology and Viticulture.
Following his graduation in 2005, Palencia continued his education, working for Walla Walla’s Zerba Cellars and Willow Crest and Apex wineries in Prosser.
Most recently Palencia has worked as director of winemaking at J&S Crushing in Mattawa, a custom-crush facility where he makes wines for Jones of Washington, Henry Earl Estates and now his own. Among his wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, Tempranillo, a GSM blend, Albarino and Sauvignon Blanc for Palencia Wines and Chardonnay, Pinot Grigo, a Pinot Noir rose, Merlot, Sangiovese and Malbec for Monarcha. Most of the Monarcha wines are currently sold out, but spring releases will be available soon.
Palencia has earned praise and medals for his wines, both his own and those he makes for Jones and Henry Earl Estates. Palencia’s talents as winemaker helped Jones of Washington earn Northwest Wine Press’ Winery of the Year Award in 2012. Most recently, Monarcha’s 2014 Pinot Noir rose, which Palencia dedicated to his mother who still lives in Prosser, won best of show at the Great Northwest Wine competition.
Depending on the wine, Monarcha’s labels, designed by Jim Carey of Doubleknot Creative, feature the left or the right wing of a monarch butterfly. For the interest of wine buffs, there’s some symbolism in which wing is on which label, Palencia explained. The left wing is for wines that generally are associated with France's Left Bank varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon; the right wing for Merlot and other Right Bank varieties.
Stand left and right labels side-by-side and the bottles’ curving wings mimic a monarch in flight.
“It’s something to see, when they come together,” Palencia said, who added that he enjoys watching people make that discovery without his prompting during wine tastings.
The symbolism goes even deeper regarding the choice of the monarch, whose migration begins in Michoacan, Mexico, before it makes its way to the United States. For the monarch it's a long journey that takes generations to complete and has special meaning for Palencia.
“It goes back to my upbringing and the work ethic I learned from my parents,” he said.
This story was originally published May 22, 2015 12:00 AM.