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Mexican Wine and The American Woman: Put a Label on It!

by Jo Ann Knox Martino

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”

― Paulo CoelhoBrida


 This is a quote I live by, and it plays a part in every day of my life as a winemaker in Ensenada’s Valle de Guadalupe.  It is an exciting time for me — and it was especially so as I got ready to put my wines out in front of the public.   The wine – a Zinfandel — was finally bottled and ready.  But what to name it?

Many friends were being helpful by making suggestions: “Sinfandel,” “Oso Zinful,” “Joanna Jones” (which had been my nickname and business name for years – you know, Indiana’s sister), “J Martino,” (which is my family name and was  my brother’s suggestion), “Borrego Negro,” which means ‘Black Sheep’.  Why Black Sheep, you ask?  Perhaps because I am one of the only American women making wine in Valle de Guadalupe.  I thought it was a bit cute and certainly true.

So, I started having fun designing a label and asking friends what they thought of the name “Black Sheep.”  All of the Americans I asked liked it but would Mexicans?  I asked my good friend and tango instructor Humberto what he thought. I wanted to make a decision based on both Mexican and American cultural reactions.

“So you’re calling your wine a black animal?” Humberto asked, startled.  Obviously, it just did not translate. Hmmmm. Back to the drawing board. Suddenly it hit me like a lightning bolt…tango, of course! My other passion. I should marry my two passions together. Wine and tango. What could be better?

After trying out many names with the tango theme, I decided upon “Solo Tango” (“Only Tango”) for the Zinfandel and “Two2Tango” for my blend. Of course these names were well received amongst my fellow tangueros (tango dancers).  But a name is just a name…until it becomes a label!  That’s when my two dear artist friends, Humberto Rivera (yes, the tango instructor) and Francisco Cabello stepped in, creating original artwork that could just as easily be hung in a gallery as placed on a wine bottle!

I proudly presented my wine at our milonga in Rosarito. (Milonga has two definitions: One is a style of tango music and dance and the other is a fiesta where tango is danced. Our tango community hosts a milonga each month and tangueros from the other municipalities, Tijuana and Ensenada, come join us for a night of festivity and dance. Recently we were lucky to have a lovely Argentinian woman, Monica, join our group. She sings all of the traditional Tango music. Once a year, Humberto throws an anniversary milonga which will be coming up in August. This will be our 5th year and it will be held at Las Rocas Hotel.  It will be a special Tango Spectacular with performances by accomplished dancers and musicians and open to the public to come enjoy and participate if they choose. Who would have thought our small group which formed over five years ago would still be dancing.)

With their tango-oriented labels, the wines were welcomed at the milonga.  For me it was a moment of celebration:  I couldn’t help but think that, like grape vines, the seeds of our tango/wine partnership were planted years before when Francisco Cabello said to me, “I paint tango. One day I will dance it.”  He does, indeed.  Now, my friends and partners dance with me — and all of that is represented in the two labels that represent my wines.

Just as Paulo Coelho meant, experiencing life at all of its levels is the only way you will know which part you want to just sip and which part you want to indulge in fully.  For me, an American woman making wine in Mexico, I am drinking the whole bottle.


Jo Ann Knox Martino is a former film producer, now winemaker, living in Baja’s wine country.  Stay posted to read her occasional blogs about an American  woman-winemaker living in Baja.

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  1. Linda Brigman says:

    Joanna (So is that your real first name?),
    I like the name Black Sheep but understand the need to make the label’s meaning bicultural. I love the tango name choices and the beautiful artistic labels. But most of all, I love your wine that I have had the occasion to taste at a couple of events. Good luck on your continuing venture and am looking forward to the next opportunity to sample your wares.


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