Born to the vine

Isy Borjón has turned a family business managing vineyards into a passion

Isy Borjón admires his grapes.

Isy Borjón admires his grapes.

Photo courtesy of borjón Winery

The Borjón Winery tasting room is open Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., 11270 Shenandoah Road in Plymouth. (209) 245-3087,

Keen as a hawk, Isy Borjón is the kind of person you want taking care of your vines. He calmly takes it all in, silently formulating a plan. There’s a steely confidence tempered by natural inquisitiveness.

There’s a sense of regalness there, too. Named Iscander at birth, Borjón traces his family bloodlines back to France. His great, great grandfather escaped the 1860s French-Mexican war, also know as the Maximillian Affair, and stayed in Mexico.

His parents Jesus and Nora Borjón arrived in Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley more than 30 years ago from the small town of Paracuaro in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. Jesus did vineyard work while Nora raised their three children. Eventually, the couple saved enough to start their own small business in 1991, called Borjón Labor Contracting and Vineyard Management.

From the time his dad essentially handed over the family business to him at age 19, in 2005, Borjón has been the man in charge. Fortunately, he is wise beyond his years. Also fortunately, he has a loving and supportive family, almost all of whom are involved in one way or another in the tangled web of the wine business.

Borjón, who manages about 500 vineyard acres in Amador County, has become something of a local rock star. In addition to running a highly sought-after viticulture consulting business, Borjón also has two labels of his own. Borjón Winery focuses on the Italian and French varietals grown in Amador and Napa (where he maintains some vineyards) while Las Portales highlights the Iberian varietals grown in the Amador foothills.

Having a winery with the family name on it had long been a dream of his parents; Borjón is proud to have made it a reality. Borjón’s wife Eliana has helped run the winery tasting room since it opened in 2009.

One of Borjón’s best friends, Joe Shebl, winemaker at Renwood, has made the wine for the Borjón labels from inception, and his excellent renderings from superior fruit has helped the winery develop a reputation for bold sangiovese, barbera, petite sirah and zinfandel. Their reposada series always delivers extra bang for the buck.

It’s the barbera, though, that is the rising star of the region. With only about 30 acres of barbera in the ground, Borjón can’t keep up with the demand and is actively planting more. “It’s the most popular wine in my tasting room, followed by primitivo and sangiovese,” he says. “Italian wines are hot. I would love to plant more barbera for my own brand. It’s our bread and butter”

Being involved in a labor-intensive business, Borjón has felt the undeniable pinch of the extreme labor shortage. “We are in a serious bind. There is just no labor to spare,” he says, noting that labor costs have skyrocketed 30 to 40 percent in the last few years.

Consequently, Borjón insists on only installing new vineyards that can be both machine pruned and machine picked. Prudent, as well as wise.