SIP Feature
Miguel Caratachea: Local Hero
“American Wine of the Year” International Sommelier Challenge


Published On: March 01, 2024
Miguel Caratachea in black hat, black smiling with wood wine barrels behind him

Napa Valley attracts the most renowned winemakers worldwide, from U.C. Davis megastars to “flying winemakers” from abroad. And yet, in the prestigious Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition founded by famed critic Robert Whitley, a humble alumnus of St. Helena High School took the top prize in American wine.

Miguel Caratachea has been making wines as a trusted consultant, helping client wineries chalk up over 100 scores of 90-plus points from the three leading wine publications. He is so respected that the Smithsonian Institute chose his wines made for Punch Vineyards to open its Napa Valley Museum exhibit in 2017. At last, Miguel has started making wine under his own name—and his inaugural vintage 2019 Miguel Caratachea “Venerable Vines” Cabernet Sauvignon is already winning wide acclaim.

“I grew up in a small village in Mexico, the youngest of 11 children. I was most interested in fútbol, but my mother tells me I wouldn’t get out of her way in the kitchen, always fascinated by flavors and textures.”

At age 14, he joined his brother in Napa Valley and enrolled in St. Helena High School. “I was the only boy in cooking class, and not just to meet girls. I needed to earn money, so I worked in the Frog’s Leap Winery cellar after school. It was natural. I learned to make wine before I learned to speak English.”

Notably, Caratachea is an entirely self-taught winemaker. “I didn’t get a winemaking degree, so I never learned a ‘recipe.’ But I started young and have been able to work with over forty winemakers with so many styles. Some made great wines back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. They showed me techniques that have been lost to time. But they are part of me now, along with modern techniques and discoveries of my own.”

bottle of wine with white label with logo for Miguel CaratacheaThat expansive know-how contributes to Caratachea’s personal style, and it shows up in the glass. “For ten years, I focused on mouthfeel. Think of a silky, aged Bordeaux or a rich, snuggly Pinot Noir. Tannins totally hidden. Then, flavors from the grapes only—many flavors. Mouthwatering acidity, but not sharp, and never tiring on the palate. This is my style.”

The “sacred heart” on Miguel’s label symbolizes the small church in his native village and signifies his extreme passion for making wine. When asked how he felt about winning American Wine of the Year on the first release under his own name, he said, “I’m glad the sommeliers like my wine. After my family, winemaking is my life.”

2019 Miguel Caratachea
“Venerable Vines” Cabernet Sauvignon ($295)

American Wine of the Year &
Best Cabernet Sauvignon Worldwide

Sommelier Challenge International
Wine & Spirits Competition 2023

“Your first guess would be France on a blind whiff, with a rather classic Bordeaux character jumping out of the glass, slowly giving way to a deeply layered, perfumed mix of fruit and brown spice. Great depth and supple texture. The finish goes on and on – it’s the most unique Napa Cab I’ve tasted, and it’s certainly a cellar trophy if you roll in this price tier. Bravo!”

98 Points
Rich Cook
September 27, 2023