For His Leadership and Winemaking in New York Wine, Cesar Baeza Wins the Phyllis Feder Unity Award

Cesar Baeza, 2024 Phyllis Feder Unity Award Winner

Cesar Baeza has had a long career in the drinks business, and it has taken him all over the world. At the moment, the winemaker is in Chile, his native country, helping his family with the harvest at Baeza Family Cellars. Soon, he expects to return to the States, promoting Baeza Family Cellars’ wines and consulting during the growing and winemaking season.

Baeza’s connection to the New York wine industry began in 1973 when he worked at Brotherhood Winery in the Hudson Valley for two years before going to California to lead the winemaking team at Bear Mountain Winery.

His next post was with PepsiCo’s Wine & Spirits Division, a job that took him around the world developing products to bottle for Pepsi, particularly in Europe. 

“I worked at Pepsi as Director of Research and Technical Services for the Wine & Spirits Division for 10 years,” says Baeza, whose team took Stolichnaya Vodka, better known to many as simply Stoli, from 30,000 cases to more than 1,000,000 cases during his tenure.

But wine called him back to New York when he had the opportunity to purchase Brotherhood Winery, 15 years after he first worked there.

25 Years at Brotherhood Winery, the Oldest Winery in America

When Baeza was first at Brotherhood in the 1970s, he did some work with Cornell developing hybrid grapes.

“At that time,” he says, ‘the hybrids only had numbers. They didn’t have names. I was able to make some very interesting wines from those grapes in the Beaujolais [Nouveau] style using carbonic maceration.”

But he suspected he could apply what he learned in Europe to New York to show what the terroir in the Hudson Valley could do.

When he came back a decade and a half later as owner, winemaster, and CEO of Brotherhood, he wanted to produce wines with Vinifera, which was his passion. Based on what he learned while working in Europe about cold climate wines, he believed good wine from Vinifera was possible in the Hudson Valley. 

“In Germany, I learned a lot about making Riesling so I started making very good Riesling. I started making great Pinot Noir and started turning the winery around from being mainly sweet wines to making some very good premium wines,” he says. Those premium wines also included Method Champenoise sparkling—Baeza worked with a French winemaker to learn how to do it properly. 

One of his accomplishments was producing what he believes was the first true ice wine in New York.

“The opportunity came by accident,” he recalls. “I made the first ice wine from Riesling in 1988 when the late harvest Riesling grapes accidentally froze. Instead of complaining, I made ice wine. No one knew what it was.” Brotherhood sold the wine as Eiswein, its German name.

Baeza’s second time around with Brotherhood lasted 25 years until he sold his share in 2012, but he wasn’t quite done with New York yet.

Helping Other New York Winemakers

“I thought I was going to move to retirement, but it was not the way I thought it was going to be,” he says. 

“I keep in touch with the New York winemakers and I also work on a lot of projects making different spirits,” he says. He consults with producers in New York, particularly in the Hudson Valley region and judges the Hudson Valley Wine Competition when he’s able to. 

When he started making wine at Brotherhood, he tried to lead the way to improve the quality of the wines in New York.

“I’m not putting down the other winemakers. We worked together because everyone affects the other. If somebody makes a mediocre wine, it affects everybody.” says Baeza.

He’s pleased that the quality of wines in the state has “improved tremendously” over the last several decades. 

“I love to see the recognition that New York is finally getting,” he says. “What I envisioned 30 years ago is happening today. I’m proud of all the winemakers from New York and what they’ve accomplished” says Baeza, and he sees a tremendous future for the state’s industry.

For his many years of leadership and winemaking in New York and his continuing support of the region, Cesar Baeza has earned the 2024 Phyllis Feder Unity Award. The award recognizes individuals who have volunteered their time, shown exceptional leadership, and achieved recognized results in building industry cooperation and unity. 

“The whole thing was a total surprise for me,” says Baeza. “It was very shocking in a way to receive this, especially since I’ve been semi-retired for a few years. The fact that they called me now is very touching for me to be recognized by my peers and people I have worked with for so many years.”

Picture of Kathleen Willcox and Robin Shreeves

Kathleen Willcox and Robin Shreeves

Kathleen Willcox and Robin Shreeves' work frequently appears in Wine Enthusiast, Wine Searcher, Wine Industry Advisor, and many other publications. They co-founded Thinking Outside the Bottle, which provides communications services to the drinks industry.