Don Cieli

Don Cieli

The last four mornings I rolled out of bed to fresh temps and dawn’s early light. The sun has already begun its journey south for the winter. Our days grow shorter, the evenings are cool … our mornings even cooler. Some mornings a light blanket of ground fog hovers close above the vineyards across the Valle.

Ground fog above the distant vineyards.

Ground fog above the distant vineyards.

In the smaller wineries, fermentation is finished.  The wine has been racked to the barrels to sleep through the coming winter. The larger wineries, those with hundreds or thousands of acres in vineyards, will be crushing, pressing & fermenting all the way to November. For the smaller wineries, as mine will be, the focus has already changed to bottling the aged wines and preparing the spring release.


Final press of the must

Final press of the must


Here at Bodegas Cieli, I’ve turned my total attention to brewing our craft beers and building inventory toward my anticipated spring opening. I don’t know that I’ll make it, but I hope to announce our grand opening for sometime in May 2015. No, the project will not be complete, but the first small vineyard will be in. The main building housing the tasting room, gift shop and the terrazzo should be complete and ready to accept guests in comfort with our deli case stocked with delicious snacks, my new wines ready for release and a great selection of our craft beers available in a wide variety of choices.

Sterilizing the bottles

Sterilizing the bottles

Getting the Saison bottled

Getting the Saison bottled

On tap now. Left to right: Cieli Golden Ale - Saison di Cieli - Cieli West Coast Pale Ale

On tap now. Left to right: Cieli Golden Ale – Saison di Cieli – Cieli West Coast Pale Ale

I now have eight recipes I feel are ready to bring to market. I’ve been so busy with crush I’ve only produced enough beer for the three taps I currently have in the tasting room. I rotate them out. In the past, it would depend on the beers of the week what you were able to taste. With the bottling, you’ll be able to buy the beers by the bottle. I plan to build inventory so there are several cases of each of the current recipes available. You’ll be able to taste what we have on tap and buy a bottle of any of the other beers you’d like to try. Sorry folks, I can’t give it all away. Here’s how I work it: Whatever I have on tap in the tasting room, I will give you a 2 oz. taste; no charge, on the house. You can then purchase a pint of what you liked best … $40 Pesos – $3.00. For now I have only 12 oz. bottles available but I will carry pints (16 oz) and bombers (22 oz). Before long we’ll have growlers available, also. Ultimately, I plan to form the Bodegas Cieli Beer Club, which will offer great deals, special events and exclusive tastings of new beers. I plan to make available roughly twenty-four different beers.

My labels and packaging will be ready soon making it easier. I plan to provide 4 and 6 pack carriers and patrons will be welcome to mix and match from the cases in the tasting room. Or buy a case of what ‘Ales’ you!

Packaging is coming

Packaging is coming

While I accelerate my brewing schedule, my guys are busy getting the tile down on the terrazzo. We are beginning to wind things down here for the year. I plan to stop work in early November and return to San Carlos for a long overdue rest. I also plan to try to finish my new novel, Slaughtered.

Tiling the terrazzo

Tiling the terrazzo


I have endured many challenges this year. At times I’ve wondered if it is all worth it? Then a car pulls off the highway and crawls up the hill toward Bodegas Cieli. In a few moments four people I’ve never met come inside and immediately I’m reminded why I’m doing this. They instantly fall in love with the breathtaking view. They are fascinated with the painstaking job I’ve undertaken to restore this beautiful old adobe building. They love my wine. Ore Quatro Vini has become a great hit. Come out and give it a try. They love the beer, too. Somehow, they begin to see my vision. And I see reflected in their eyes just why it is I go on with this project and why I will see it to fruition.

I hope you’ll take the time to come visit me here at Bodegas Cieli. It’s still pretty rough up here. Most things are makeshift for now. But I’ll bet I will see my vision light up in your eyes, too.

Rat patrol on duty!

Rat patrol on duty!

Don Cieli
Don Cieli

I don’t often drink wine or beer … but when I do, I drink only the crafted wines and beers produced by my own, Bodegas Cieli. I am, frankly, the most exciting, attractive, intelligent, interesting, kindest man in all the universe. I produce the finest wine and beer on the planet. Why would I drink anything other than the Cieli Brand? Pretenders abound, but if you are seeking the finest wine and beer experience in all the Cosmos, then you have no choice other than the wine & beer of Bodegas Cieli.

So, I’ll work on that intro. I know … it isn’t exactly the most original, but it seems to me there are some absurdly funny ways to employ that famous beer commercial in my blog. All you winemakers and brewmeisters who were ready to jump through your computer screen to rip my gizzard out, calm your milk … it’s a joke! Sort of … :-)

The early part of the week was consumed with crushing at Montano Benson. Mario is my accountant. But he also owns a very fine small press winery. Along with so many administrative matters we dealt with this week, Mario invited me to join he and his crew in crushing several tons of grapes.


Making wine is hard work. It is also one of the most satisfying jobs I’ve ever undertaken. My knowledge is growing by leaps & bounds as I work with many different winemakers around our Valle. Philosophically, I have always had my own ideas about the wine I want to produce. Understanding other talented winemaker’s ideas and methods only enhances my ability to dial in what I want to put in my bottles.

My friend Vicente Falcone, Brewmeister at Pilot House Microbrewery in San Diego begged off the planned Friday night brew-fest here at Cieli to attend the funeral of a friend. I agreed. Beer can wait. Respect for a colleague who has made the final journey is important.

My other guests, however, were here a couple hours early. The afternoon got under way with plenty of cold beer, as we have a regular heat wave going on here in the Valle de Guadalupe. It was a battle of the defenders for their favorite Cieli craft beer between Doug Roegiers, finalist on NBCs talent search with Nick Lachey’s Sing-Off, and friend of Cieli, Mike Caruso. Doug was crazy for our Saison … so much so we coaxed him into an acapella medley of Frank Siantra tunes. You should check Doug out on YouTube. There is a very good chance Doug will become a regular performer here at Cieli when our facility is ready for the bright lights! Mike Caruso held his ground on our Golden Ale. Both are excellent beers, but it was fun to listen to my guests defend the honor of the beer they selected as their personal favorite for the evening. Logan Crow and his wife went straight to our Ore Quatro Vini. ‘Ore’ has become very popular with my guests. Developed with winemaker Ivan Coral, it is a blend of 50% Cabernet ~ 50% Tempranillo, which has spent 12 months on French Oak and 8 months in the bottle. It is a spicy wine with a wonderful floral bouquet, well balanced acid, notes of ripe berries and a pleasantly lingering finish. I don’t think it’s polite to discuss consumption of one’s guests, but it was wonderful to keep pouring for them.


Renee Caruso and I assembled the evenings taste treats while we shared back and forth between Cieli beers & wine. We may have had the best time of all. Except possibly for my little black ratter, Nebbiolo!


It is very informal here at Cieli. I am still in construction and the electricity has not come here yet … though we are looking forward to that in the near future. Guests bring along food treats for now and I provide the wine & beer and the most breathtaking setting you will ever find.

We eat and taste and share stories and simply enjoy life. I’m not sure there is a great deal more to it than that. I hope more of you will begin to come visit us here at Bodegas Cieli.

Don’t hesitate to give me a call if you have questions about what is acceptable here and what is not: 646-150-9837 As long as you’re nice and leave by around 8:00 p.m. most everything is good with me.

Don Cieli




Dón Cieli

I’ve had a big week here at Cieli. Tomorrow holds the culmination … the finale! I have a Master Brewmeister, Vicente Falcone, of Pilot House Micro-Brewery, from San Diego coming to brew with my equipment. In the evening, a group of 5 who say they plan to take no prisoners with my wine & beer. Obviously, we got something … brewing … pun intended! So the real blog post will come on Saturday … photos included. Taking no prisoners of my own! :-)

Tonight I’m tired. I spent the morning getting the brewery ready for my guest brewer and the terrazzo, such that it is, ready for my wine tasting guests.

When I finished with that, I started work in my mini-vineyard, my nursery, preparing the infant plants for their journey into greatness, which is to say, getting them ready for the transplant in February. What once looked so lush and verdant … well, take a look.

SAM_2052 SAM_2053


I know … doesn’t look like much, but my back is sore and I’m quite proud of these wonderful plants. These are the Nebbiolo plants that I nursed from pruning-cuttings from my dear friends, Ray & Patricia, Adam & Kristen at Lechuza, one of the finest vineyards in the Valle de Guadalupe. They were generous enough to let me have the small canes from my pruning last year and I have worked my ass off to nurse them into the vines that will become my own Estate Vineyard here at Cieli. It will be small, but those vines mean everything to me and I will husband them to the best of my ability.

Okay … know what? I’m tired. I need wine. Surprise, right? I promise you a new blog on Saturday. For now … good night dear friends!

Dón Cieli

Brewing Beer – Getting Organized

I’m doing my best to get into the habit of blogging regularly. I wear so many hats, and lately there have been so many distractions it has been all but impossible. But this past weekend my nephew, Chris, the computer genius and model for the Colin Craig character in my popular novel, Betrayed, drove down from LA to assess the quality of Cieli Craft Beer, brew a Belgian Triple Ale with me and take in a bit of wine tasting.

The two of us engaged the beer tasting with genuine enthusiasm, but questionable professionalism … well … we were fairly objective for the first hour or so. By the time we were brewing that Belgian, we were reasonably convinced we were the best Brewmeisters ever. With that affirmation we headed back up to the tasting room for another hit of that Saison. We decided we love that beer, but Chris has declared the Golden Ale my best brew … he and everyone else who has tasted that one. I don’t think the 6.6% abv has anything to do with that, do you? :-)

Il Divo-Sunset-Wine          Sunset @ Cieli

In spite of ourselves, we managed to get some organizing done with the Cieli website. Chris loaded an App that literally changes my life. I can blog, as I’m doing now. When I hit the publish button, the post will auto-upload to FB & Twitter. Voila! I know, many of you will be groaning about how challenged I am technically. Why couldn’t I have done this long ago? I probably could have had this all in place sooner and been doing a better job of keeping everyone updated all along. But you know … I can do what I can do with this laptop. Websites and feeds are not things I understand or have the patience to engage. So … we arrive when we arrive. And thanks to Chris, I finally have a more efficient way of communicating with my followers.

Next order of business is to get those of you who are interested to Like the winery Page and begin tracking progress. Construction is moving along and electricity is finally coming to Cieli!

Another Modification in The Brewery      Construction   Electricity is Coming

2014 has been a turbulent year. As we grow close to the final quarter, I reflect on the road traveled. Some great things have come my way this year, but horrific tragedy has managed to inflict more of life’s reality on me than I care to endure. Unfortunately, life didn’t drop me an email and ask if I could handle what was coming my way … it just sent it and I’ve done the best I could to handle it.

Alisa's Art Work Beer Taps   Robust Porter    Cieli Tasting Room

For the moment, I seem poised to go into the final quarter of the year with my heels dug in with a solid burst of positive energy to close the year on an upbeat note. Some of you may have noticed I’ve been closed to the public for several weeks. The issues that precipitated that necessity have been resolved. My workers will return from vacation Monday the 15th. Friday, 9/19 thru Sunday, 9/21, my small, temporary tasting room will reopen. It’s still fairly rough up here. Construction is my first priority. If you drop ’round, you’ll find us laying the tile over the grand terrazzo. (Well … it’s grand to me!)

Books, Wine & Craft Beer    Cieli IPA Bottled   Friends of Cieli

The tasting facility is makeshift, but the people who have come up to visit us have had a great deal of fun, enjoyed the wine and the beer and promised to be back with friends. I hope you’ll do the same!

Cruash 2014 Montano V       Luis-Push Down

Stay Tuned,

Don Cieli

Weekend Update!

My nephew Chris is here from LA. The first order of business was to do a critical analysis of the 4 beers I now have on tap. That required a good 4 hours. Then we brewed 15 gals of Belgian Triple. Voila! Wish it was ready to drink. Stay Tuned!

Bodegas Cieli Website

Dear Followers:
My nephew, Chris is getting my site up and operational. Now he’s trying to teach me to drive the car without him holding my hand. I wrote the post for March, but sent it to him for posting, as I hadn’t yet been allowed to take the car out of the garage alone.

Now Chris is trying to give me some driving lessons. He sent instructions on how to post on this site without him holding my hand. I thought you might enjoy sharing the test drive with us.

Shortly Chris will add a full photo gallery to the site and you can review a great many activities and happenings out here at Bodegas Cieli.

Our brewery is coming together nicely. We have installed a 30 gallon pilot brewing system, which we had custom built here in Ensenada. The system is now receiving the final adjustments of installation.

Yesterday our 3 new fermentation tanks arrived and my welder, Jorge, is building the stands for them. We are trying to finish our water filtration system with the hopes that Cieli will brew its first commercial batch of beer later this week. We plan a Lee Chimay White – Cinq Cents Triple V2. This crisp beer is dry and bears an orange color. Its slightly hazy appearance and very fine head are reminiscent of a dry Saison, characterized by highly agreeable aromas of fresh hops & yeast; perfect for those hot summer days ahead. Stay tuned for the judging!

Now when Chris explains to me how to add photos to my posts, you’ll have a few shots to look at along with my updates.

Don Cieli

Bodegas Cieli Genesis

The Year in Review

Exactly one year ago this month, March 2013, just two months before my award winning second novel, Thick Fog in Pacheco Pass, was released, I sat down with Natalia Badan of the Mogor Badan Estate and negotiated the final agreement that has allowed my decades-long dream of building a small boutique winery to become a reality.

The Badan Estate, roughly 2000 acres mountains and valleys of pristine ranch land, with cattle and horses and sheep and chickens and coyotes and bobcats, and quail, and golden eagles and ferruginous hawks and rattlesnakes and acres of premium wine vineyards and organic farming, is one of the oldest and most respected ranchos in Northern Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe. The Badan family history reaches back more than a century here in our beautiful Valle.

Resting roughly 300 feet above the Valle floor on the side of the hills overlooking the long Valle on the Badan Estate was an abandoned adobe building of dubious condition but possessed of all the charm and romance of the tumbledown villa from the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun … at least it did for me. The problem with allowing one’s self to get caught up in the romance of movie themes and settings is that in real life, projects like this don’t get fixed up in ninety minutes and rarely does the beautiful girl ever show up. But who knows, right?

I get caught up in these things because by nature I am myself a romantic. I fell in love with the old building and the beautiful hillside on which it sits the moment I laid eyes on it. After several months of discussion, with critical support from my good friend Amado Garza, Mrs. Badan and I reached an agreement for the entire hillside on which the old building sits. In that moment, the possibility of Bodegas Cieli became a reality and thus began one of the most challenging years of my life.

By agreement, Mrs. Badan did not want construction traffic from my project or future customer traffic to use the primary entrance of her Estate. As a solution, about a kilometer north of the Mogor gate, an easement on the north side of a small hillock, out of sight of the Badan home and winery, was provided for me to build my own private road. I may not have mentioned that there is no electricity to the property. The closest source for that electricity is nearly a half-mile away.

Carving a semblance of a one-kilometer road through rough shoulder-high scrub along the base of a mountainside and setting power poles over rough mountainous terrain over a half-mile, where the only access in many cases was on foot became the very first task. For the first few months I often heard the question asked, “Are you actually doing anything up there? We don’t see anything that looks like work.” I still get that comment from time to time from people who don’t understand how the groundwork for a project the size and scope of Bodegas Cieli must be laid out.

The work I do here is slow and sometimes tedious. I have turned down numerous offers of investment capital to allow me to hire large crews and equipment aimed at getting Cieli up and running now. I have turned that down in favor of doing a good deal of the work myself along side of the two young Mexican men I have hired. I’m working on a very tight budget with limited capital, but I’ll find a way. Cieli will have only one owner even if it takes a couple of years to have her ready. I cut the entirety of our access road across the mountainside with a chain saw, 48″ commercial hedge trimmer, an axe and my GMC pick up as a bulldozer. My guys worked on building our entrance gate using straw bales while I worked gouging out a road. The road still isn’t properly graded but the gate is finished and quite beautiful. In a week, road signs will go up telling you we are here and our name in huge stainless steel letters will finally be installed in our entrance.

Our hardships have come the same as they do for other projects. The frontend loader I imported to do so much of our heavy work, ‘Ole Bessie’, failed after only a short work period. I suppose that was predictable. There was nothing to do but rebuild the engine. The tractor is now back to work and carries the workload of 4 additional men. It will take a while to catch up to the cash outlay for the repairs, but in the end, it was an investment that will pay dividends.

Work at Cieli suffered a good deal during harvest and crush last year. I opted to work with winery owners and winemakers to gain sorely needed experience. I spent weeks in vineyards hauling lugs of grapes out of the rows to trailers, I bent my back and put my hands in every aspect of the process anyone would allow me to touch. I did gain a good deal of knowledge. But more important than that, I gained the respect and friendship of people who I have come to care about and who care about me and what I am trying to achieve here at Cieli.

Viewed in the bigger picture, the work time lost at Cieli during ‘cosecha’ last year was insignificant. Since then, installation of the power poles has been completed, the septic system from the old building has been excavated and recovered, the entire front of the old building has been excavated for two small bodegas. The larger bodega will become our bottle storage facility. Ultimately we may even do our labeling and pallet storage of finished cases here. The smaller bodega to the south will do current duty as our brewery facility but will ultimately be dedicated as a beer and cheese cave.

Through the balance of this year and crush, we will concentrate our efforts at finishing the work on our old adobe building. A new terraza is now out front with a seating capacity for approximately 100.

The main building will be used as tasting room for our craft beer products; a small deli dedicated to our famous cheeses of Baja and specialty meats from Italy and our winetasting room. There will be a large retail space with a small corner reserved for a library.

At the moment, I am hard at work preparing canes from recent cuttings, which I plan to nursery and transplant to my own vineyards as we go into next year’s dormant season.

I’ll do my best to do a better job of posting regularly to our new webpage, courtesy of my nephew, Chris. You’ll be able to track our progress and I won’t have to try to do a wrap-up of a whole year.

Check in again soon!