During the last stretch of April, art lovers, oenophiles, members of the business community, and Guamanians who just wanted to give back crowded the Cars Plus showroom in Maite for the Edward M. Calvo Cancer Foundation’s annual Guam is Good Wine, Food & Art Festival. The event was a highly anticipated fundraiser where guests could sample some of the best wines on island for a good cause.
Among the bottles of sweet moscato and glasses of flowing red merlot was a very new line of wines to Guam, but one with a special connection to the island. Milagro Wine made its debut at the festival, the first in a partnership between Mid Pacific Distributors and the California-based Milagro Vineyard.
Tucked away in Santa Clara Valley, the vineyard belongs to former Guam resident Cathy Cruz Rudolph and her late husband, John Rudolph, who was a sommelier, grape farmer, and wine maker. He died of cancer in August 2015.
His wife reached out to the Guam distributor to help release some of the wine that had already been barreled in the estate, striking the initial plans of the partnership. “The first batch we didn’t produce,” John T. Calvo, president and general manager of Mid Pac, explained. “It was already done. She already had these barrels from 2015, and we would [just] produce the label for it.”
To begin building a Guam-branded wine, the label would have to be from Guam. That meant commissioning a local artist to create the first label. Calvo was drawn to artist Michelle Pier’s acrylic “Divine Mother,” a painting similar to the Our Lady of Guadalupe image on the Milagro Vineyard labels. The piece became the base for the first Guam label.
Pier created the “Divine Mother” for herself for the New Year, one that she continues to reinvent for others. “There’s a lot of abstract factors to this piece, inspired by our own culture and history,” Pier said. “There are root designs with hidden symbols. She does have her heart there, and with Guam history, there’s the legend with our Lady of Camarin who came out of the water. While the image is not specifically inspired by one thing, it’s a lot of those different factors that come together in one piece I decided to create.”
Although not specifically depicting Guam’s patron saint, it was that echo that Calvo most related to and found fitting for the initial label. “For us, I think it’s a depiction of Our Lady of Camarin,” he said. “We told her to focus in on the heart with a little more earth tones.”
The painting features the figure of a veiled woman at its center. Beams of gold and white light surround and emanate from her body. Behind her clasped hands is a large, red heart. That’s a clue to the wine Mid Pac wants to produce. Milagro Vineyard grows a variety of grapes, including the very rich Petite Sirah. It’s a very dark, inky grape, high in tannins.
“It’s what makes red wines good for the heart,” Calvo said. “It’s typically known as a blend. It was used for blends, and now it’s making a comeback. It ages a little longer, and they’ve got to spend more time in bottles. We want to focus on the heart-healthiness of the variety, and if we do make more, we’re going to concentrate on blends.”
The first varieties brought in included a Mourvèrde Reserve, Estate Petite Sirah, Reserve, Cabernet Franc, and Estate Chardonnay Reserve served at the wine festival.
As Cathy Cruz Rudolph is a cousin to John T. Calvo, and with the impact that cancer had in her family, the first of the Guam Milagro Wines were donated, with proceeds to go to the Edward M. Calvo Foundation.
There are grapes that are still in barrels waiting to be bottled by Mid Pac. It marks Mid Pac’s full endeavor into winemaking, evolving into a company that no longer just imports wine, this according to EJ Calvo, Mid Pac assistant general manager.
Other grapes, including the pinot noir harvested in 2016, will be ready for bottling later this year. Unlike the Petite Sirah, it doesn’t require as much time in barrels before bottling.
“Going forward, we at Mid Pac are making wine with [Cathy Cruz Rudolph],” EJ Calvo added. “We hired the winemaker. We’re harvesting the grapes from her vineyard. We’re involved with even the picking of the grapes, and they’ve asked me to come back and mash. We are winemakers officially. We’re shopping for our own barrels, and we’re involved in the process. It’s the first time Mid Pac has ever done this on this scale.”