When she was 23, Maria Rivero Gonzalez had a plan for her future — she wanted to take her father’s hobby, winemaking, and turn it into a business. When she suggested to him that she start selling his homemade wine for him, he told her no.
Luckily, she was never very good at listening.
More than a decade later, Rivero Gonzalez is running RGNY, on Riverhead land that used to be known as Martha Clara Vineyards. She’s bringing a new winery that is steeped in her family’s Mexican roots to the North Fork. Her father and other partners purchased Martha Clara Vineyard in 2018, but the family began planting vines in the Parras region of Mexico in 1998, with their first harvest in 2003.
I do something that I love, and that will hopefully leave or start a nice legacy for my niece and nephewsMaria Rivero Gonzalez
Ms. Rivero Gonzalez, now 37, said she ultimately didn’t wait for her father’s consent to start selling the wine, forging ahead with the plan. Before long, the rest of the family got on board, and she started working alongside her three older brothers to build the business and brand. The growth of the operation has been impressive. The family started with one 1.7 hectares of land in 1998, and 10 years later, has planted 50 hectares. They opened a store in Mexico City in 2013, and additional stores in Monterrey and Parras two years later, before expanding their business to the North Fork with the purchase of Martha Clara Vineyards. The Parras region is the oldest wine growing region on the continent, and showcasing their native country is a big part of the RGNY brand.
Rivero Gonzalez said that her often brazen enthusiasm early on was more of a blessing than a curse when it came to building the business and the brand.
“I was lucky enough to be very young and inexperienced, that I didn’t really know what it took,” she said. “In my head, it seemed easy enough in the beginning. I quickly realized there are a lot of moving parts in the business, all the way from making the wine to creating a brand and marketing and selling it. I was young and stubborn in the beginning. My brothers were instrumental in making me understand that I needed help. And my father always said that if you’re going to bring someone on, make sure they’re the best or better than you.”
Rivero Gonzalez has her hands full as CEO of both wineries, in New York and Mexico. She believes the wine industry is conducive to a family operation for many reasons.
“It’s such a long process, that you become appreciative of the way things are done in life,” she said. “I have 13 nieces and nephews, and they all come here and also to Parras to help grow the grapes and harvest and see the winery. During the bottling process, they get to see, ‘Oh, this was from two summers ago.’ They start learning the value of hard work. It’s all very romantic, but in the end it’s about hard work and doing it together as a family, and in the end, we’re all sitting around a table and drinking the wine.”
The RGNY operation is still in its early stages, but Rivero Gonzalez hopes she can pass along her passion for the business the same way her father did, when he was making wine purely for the joy it brought him, rather than as a money-making venture.
“I do something that I love, and that will hopefully leave or start a nice legacy for my niece and nephews,” she said. “It’s amazing being in two different places and having two cultures, but in the end, the work you put into making a bottle of wine is the same here as it is there.”