'Our hero forever': Love of their late father inspires Latina sisters to launch their own wine label

For Elia and Laura Rodriguez, wine equals love.

So when the suburban sisters launched their own wine label, Ella Wines, they did it with a love of their Mexican heritage in mind. And more importantly, the love of their late father, Macario.

The sisters are believed to be the first Latinas to introduce a new Mexican wine label in the Chicago area. The wines are sourced from three vineyards in the northern Mexican state of Baja California.

Working with a Mexican sommelier, they tried over 20 producers in the region before settling on the four varietals for their initial offerings: Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Merlot and Grenache Blanc.

The name Ella, which means “she” in Spanish, is also a combination of the first part of the sisters' names.

Though separated in age by 14 years, they were always on the same wavelength about what they wanted to do with their lives.

“We always aspired to more,” said Laura, who lives in Hawthorn Woods. “And we think alike a lot.”

“We call each other the other half of our brain,” said Elia, who lives in Elgin.

Apart from making the wine, the sisters handled the rest of the business on their own. They started their own distribution company, got all the licenses, acquired trademarks and did everything else that comes with starting a wine label.

“I feel proud,” Laura said. “From where we came from in Mexico, we had no luxuries at all. We just followed our dreams. We didn't have a goal to be the first Latinas to do this or anything. We just did it for our dad.”

Because as much as the wine is their vision, it's inspired by their love for Macario.

“This is dedicated to our father,” Elia said.

‘Our hero forever'

Macario Rodriguez and his wife, Maria, moved their family from Mexico to the Chicago suburbs in 1973 to give them a better life. A field worker in Mexico, Macario worked in the laundry of the Embassy Suites Hotel in Schaumburg, providing for his 14 children.

“He was our hero,” Laura said. “Our hero forever.”

His kids had always planned to do something to honor him when he was alive, possibly opening a restaurant or bar or creating a tequila brand and calling it El Jefe or The Boss, his nickname.

They never got the chance. Macario died in 2016.

Later as they all drank wine at a family reunion and shared memories of Macario, the two sisters had an idea to launch their own line of wine.

“You drink wine when you're celebrating the good things in life,” Elia said. “For me, wine is equal to love. So we thought it was a good way to honor him with love.”

They started the process in the fall of 2019 by visiting several vineyards in Illinois, Indiana and California before heading to Mexico in 2021. There they fell in love with a number of regional varietals, but especially the Nebbiolo.

“Nobody here has it,” Laura said. “No restaurants, no liquor stores.”

Nebbiolo is a variety usually associated with the hilly, cool climate of northwest Italy. But it can also flourish in the arid desert of Baja California. The Mexican version has a ripe, dark fruit flavor and plush body.

“I love it. I could drink it every day,” Laura said.

Elia agreed. “When we met the producer and tasted it, we said, ‘We want it. All of it.'”

‘We try to guide them'

While they're new to the wine biz, the sisters have already had plenty of success in their primary business.

They opened Alianza Hispana in 2000. The financial services company caters to the Hispanic community with services dealing with taxes, accounting, real estate, mortgages, translations, retirement, insurance, travel and more.

They were inspired by the experiences their parents had navigating the system as immigrants in a new country.

“Every time I see somebody that doesn't know how anything works yet, I think of (our parents) when they came here,” Elia said. “So we try to guide them. And if we can't do something, we refer them to someone who can.”

They started with an office in Wheeling and later expanded to locations in Hanover Park, Elgin and Round Lake. The company has roughly 25 full-time employees, adding another 10 part-timers each tax season.

‘We did it for him'

The first shipment of Ella wines, 2,260 bottles, arrived in late August at their warehouse in Elk Grove Village.

So far, the wine is available for sale only on the company's website. Regular prices range from $31.99 for the Granache Blanc to $64.99 for the Nebbiolo, though they currently are on sale for 20% off.

The sisters consider the project more personal than one of ambition. However, they hope to be carried in some select retailers and restaurants and have been approached with interest already. They also use the wine as gifts for their other business.

Laura said she'd love to open a small wine bar or bistro to highlight their wines.

“That would be my dream,” Laura said. “To have a little place to share our wine because we know it's good.”

They have a trip planned in January to do more tastings and chose five more varietals to add to their portfolio of offerings.

As the whole process came together, their sommelier tried to impart upon them the significance of what they'd done in such a short time.

“To me, it's just something we did out of love to honor my dad,” Laura said. “Our sommelier was trying to tell us, ‘This is a freakin' big deal. You own your own wine.'

“We don't know where it's going to take us,” she added. “But we accomplished something for my dad. Whatever the results are, we did it for him.”

  Sisters Laura, left, and Elia Rodriguez are the first Latinas to introduce a Mexican wine in the Chicago area. Rick West/
  Elia Wines are currently offered in four varietals - Grenache Blanc, merlot, Nebbiolo and Tempranillo. Rick West/
  Sisters Elia and Laura Rodriguez received deliver of their first bottles of their new Ella wines in August. Rick West/
  Ella Wines are produced in Mexico from Mexican grapes. Rick West/
Sisters Elia, left, and Laura Rodriguez held a launch party for their new Ella wines at Los Fernandez restaurant. Courtesy of Laura Rodriguez
Ella Wines recently held a launch party for their New Mexican wines. The company is owned by sister Elia and Laura Rodriguez. Courtesy of Laura Rodriguez
Sisters Elia, left, and Laura Rodriguez pose with the cases of their wine. Courtesy of Laura Rodriguez
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