For our Faces of Finger Lakes Wine Country campaign, we spotlighted local entrepreneurs who work to elevate the region to its award-winning status. We’re excited to continue sharing these stories and introduce Tito Chavez, a local Latino-American winemaker from humble beginnings that have blossomed into the best version of the American dream. We’ve previously shared how Wagner Vineyards is working on Diversifying The Wine Industry in the region. This is how Tito is diversifying winemaking in Finger Lakes Wine Country. 

How long have you been working in the wine industry?

Tito Chavez: I have been working in the wine industry since I can remember. My parents, born in Mexico, migrated to the United States at the age of 16 & 15 and have since been here working for practically every winery or vineyard at one point or another. They mostly do the hand-work of pruning, tying, sprouting leaf pulling, hand harvesting, etc. I never liked staying home as a kid, and always wanted to go work with my parents, so they would take me. 


"The immigration experience I have seen has been difficult, my dad and brother run a crew of migrant workers." - Tito Chavez
What has the winemaking journey been like for you?

TC: The journey into the winemaking industry for me has been great. I started by helping Steve Shaw of Shaw Vineyard with a harvest during high school. I was also involved in my local Penn Yan FFA Chapter. One day we toured the Finger Lakes Community College Viticulture and Wine Technology Program which I would later attend and learn from the likes of previous professor Paul Brock of Silver Thread Vineyards and Coordinator Gina Lee. Also while there I was given the opportunity to have an internship which later became a job at Wagner Vineyards in Lodi NY, before moving on to Assistant Winemaker at Anthony Road Wine Company.

What made you passionate about the wine industry, specifically winemaking?

TC: I felt like I was missing the winemaking side of the industry and started asking if I could help around harvest if they needed me.

How have the wineries been welcomed you, a starting winemaker?

TC: When I began my internship at Wagner Vineyards in Lodi during harvest I was helping in the cellar. I was able to see many tons being processed and the winemakers Jess Johnson and Kevin Lee were teaching me a lot of what I now know. Anthony Road Wine Company has been a very welcoming winery. I am now “part of the family" as they all say. 

wagner vineyards

Can you speak a bit about the immigration experience, as it relates to you and your family coming to the Finger Lakes and in the ways you have been able to find opportunities for yourself in pursuing your dream?

TC: The immigration experience I have seen has been difficult as my dad and brother run a crew of migrant workers. Many of the field workers in the Finger Lakes are of Hispanic/ Latino background. With many of them being undocumented there was a time when Border Patrol/ ICE came in and raided some of the homes and pulled over many of the workers on their way to work. Since I can remember, my parents have gone through the legalization process. For me it was missing days of school, practice, and often team games or matches to help my parents translate difficult legal paperwork in a courtroom setting. 

Tell us a bit about wine-making. What do you love most about it?

TC: Wine-making is fun! I like seeing the process of fruit being grown and eventually ending up on the crush pad, pressing and fermenting juice and monitoring it until it is ready to bottle. 


"My ultimate goal in the industry is to have a family-owned winery and vineyard."- Tito Chavez
Do you feel like the wine industry is more open to diversity and inclusion? If so, how? 

TC: Yes, I believe it is. What I really like about the wine and grape industry is that I could pick up my phone and call or stop in at a neighboring winery or vineyard to reach out with questions or ask for opinions on a topic. Everyone is very welcoming and wants to help out in any way they can. If they can't help they will point you in the right direction.

What would you tell others, especially diverse community members, looking to get into the wine industry? What would you say to encourage them? 

TC: I would tell others to reach out and not be afraid to get their hands dirty, be teachable, be willing to learn, and ask lots of questions. Winemakers and grape growers in Finger Lakes Wine Country want to help you do better.

What are some of your ultimate goals within the wine industry?

TC: My ultimate goal in the industry is to have a family-owned winery and vineyard.