Nancy Ulloa of Ulloa Cellars

For those who grew up in (or are familiar with) the ’60s, the hippies, the Summer of Love in San Francisco, Woodstock, and free spirits—and transcended into the 70s with an outlook of self-inspection, self-awareness, spirituality, and self-respect, Nancy Ulloa, a millennial, may be described as “a very old soul.” She epitomizes the free spirit of “the Age of Aquarius,” and always “lets the sun shine in.”  She is infused by life and the universe. Her wines reflect her spirituality and vivacious outlook on life. You may also find a pinch of magic, the unknown, and an aura of the energy and philosophy provided by her use of crystals.

When you first meet Nancy, your brain immediately says WOW! Your sense of sight of this beautiful young woman is transferred to a feeling of anticipation. Immediately you look forward to that first pour, that first sniff, that first taste, intuitively knowing that her wines will reflect this young woman’s persona. Nancy’s flaming wine-colored hair (which may change from a bright Grenache to an earthy Merlot to the color of a 20-year-old Cabernet), her smile, her vibrant tattoos, and everything about her simply screams out: LIFE! LIVE! EXPLORE! ENJOY! You are about to experience Nancy’s wines and the story of her on this journey.

The Road She Travelled

Nancy is at the tail end of the millennial generation. Hard-working, dedicated, passionate, grateful, she is appreciative for all she has, and for all she has been through. Having “arrived” and established a respected place as a Paso Robles winemaker and community member, Nancy has not had an easy road to travel.

She emigrated from Guadalajara, Mexico to California in 1999, at the age of twelve, barely able to speak English. Nancy’s father took a risk, moving his family to Salinas, California, where he had family ties. He wanted to give his children an opportunity for a better life, and to be able to pursue “the American Dream.” With a determination to build a future, learning English, going to school, and working, she graduated from San Jose State University in 2009, with a sociology degree.

While attending college, Nancy worked in the food industry in fine dining restaurants, becoming enthralled with the flavors and creative aspects of food and wine. Seeing how food and wine complimented each other, Nancy felt “a calling” and started taking classes in enology. Fast-forward to 2017, she arrived in Paso Robles, with the promise of a job at Thomas Hill Organics with Debbie Thomas, who instantly took Nancy under her wing, becoming her unabashed mentor.

But the road Nancy traveled to this point was not easy. She shared with me many obstacles she faced on her journey to Paso Robles. The main challenge Nancy confronted was breaking away from an abusive relationship. Finding the courage to do so, Nancy said: “I realized how much freedom and love of life I had. I knew this was the perfect time to make a life and career shift and pursue something to bring me happiness and joy.”

Despite the excitement of moving to Paso Robles, and becoming immersed in food and wine, Nancy felt she was entering a community that was by appearance somewhat restricted. We like to believe there is universal acceptance, but as Nancy looked around Paso Robles she thought “I don’t see anyone like me.” Starting her “new life” Nancy’s past life experience of being a minority, and striving for respect and equality still ate at her.  It may be a cliché, to say “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but Nancy’s struggles, successes, and courage gave her strength to begin anew and become stronger, her mantra became, “El Universo Conspira a Mi Favor,” (the universe conspires in my favor”).

Nancy soon discovered that in addition to Debbie Thomas’ support, she found her new hometown of Paso Robles a community with open, embracing arms. Nancy went from the feeling of being an outsider and different to being accepted, encouraged, and part of a special community. This gave her the resolve to make the leap from the restaurant industry to winemaker. AND HOW LUCKY WE ARE FOR THAT!

The Wines and The Commitment: “Manifesting Mystical Wines into Existence”

Without formal wine education, she became self-taught. An avid learner, she also follows a life philosophy that is spiritual, metaphysical, theoretical, and somewhat mystical. Nancy says, “I love learning and trying out new mindfulness techniques. Yoga, breathwork, crystal healing, rituals, and connecting with nature. Gosh-I sound like a hippie.” This self-awareness led Nancy to produce different, exciting, and less available white wines, saying “Life is too short to drink Chardonnay, be adventurous, try something new.”

Each of Nancy’s wines honors strong, creative, women, and the back label always has a motivational phrase (in Spanish), such as her Gruner Veltliner, “No hay limites en mi camino,” (there are no limits in my path.). Additionally, Nancy “pairs” her wines with specific crystals that emulate that wine and its purpose, such as her Pinot Blanc with Amethyst, the crystal of intuition.

In an area that has an abundance of highly respected red wines, Nancy has carved herself a niche producing elegant, pleasing, fun, energetic, wines, sourcing grapes from a variety of respected vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County such as Vogelzang, Paragon Vineyard in Edna Valley, Coyote Moon in Paso Robles, plus additional selected central coast vineyards.

Nancy is hands-on in the vineyards, selecting the blocks, and grapes, and making decisions, so that when the fruit arrives, she can do her magic. Choosing grapes originating from different European regions, Nancy’s wines are all small production, and include:

  • “Baby” Grüner (Austrian) and a Grüner Veltliner that is Amphora aged.
  • Gewürztraminer (German) 
  • Pinot Blanc (Burgundy, France)
  • Semillon (France)
  • Verdejo (Spain)
  • Albariño (Portugal)
  • Nancy also produces a special 33 month aged Albarino/Gruner blend.

But, you won’t find any Chardonnay!

(Note: due to small lot production, all wines are not necessarily available)

On the road Nancy has traveled, there are many experiences she is grateful for. Perhaps, at this point in her life, what gives her the most satisfaction, is having recently opened her own tasting room. Nancy loves having people experience the magic, passion, and energy of her wines, face to face. Nancy strives “to provide experiences and wine education to people who feel intimated to try wine.” A visit to this vibrant space will certainly provide a unique experience.

From that little girl of twelve years old, who couldn’t speak English, being uprooted and moving to Salinas, California, Nancy has overcome hardships, and challenges, found the vision of a dream, and has followed that dream. She is an inspiration and role model to young girls and women proving that you don’t have to be held down, that you CAN do what you want, just believe, try, and maybe, sprinkle a little pixie dust around as you go.

It’s been a gratifying journey for Nancy-and there is no question that Debbie Thomas, her mentor, was a huge inspiration, describing Nancy in the following way: “In the workforce, exceptional employees like Nancy Ulloa don’t just shine; they illuminate the path to success for their organization, proving that dedication and a relentless pursuit of excellence are true building blocks of greatness.  Nancy is a rock star,”

The other great inspiration, of course, was Nancy’s father. A man who took a huge risk relocating his family from Mexico providing them opportunities for a brighter future.

As Nancy told me, “I attribute my success to my dad, the hardest working person I know. He has humbly provided all the opportunities possible for our family, even though he still doesn’t have much himself, and continues supporting my dreams any way he can.” 

“I wish one day I can repay to him what he has done for me and our whole family.”

You may not realize this Nancy, but through your determination, success, focusing on community, and helping others, you have repaid him, and continue to do so, while having become an inspiration and role model to others.

Don Sonderling is a freelance writer covering California’s Wine Country lifestyle, and culture. He and his wife are constantly sipping their way from Santa Barbara to Napa, focusing on Paso Robles and the Central Coast, where they have explored for about 25 years. Don has earned his WSET2 (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) certification, has completed the Bourgogne Masterclass through the Napa Valley Wine Academy, and is a member of the LA. Wine Writers.

Focusing on the people and unique experiences to be had, Don’s goal is to have people read about California’s amazing wine country adventures, seeing it through his eyes, and say: “I want to go there, try that, meet them,” and enrich the lives of others as his has been, by exploring California’s wine roads.