After a humiliating physical at the stadium and a subsequent chest X-ray, Rodriguez was accepted into the program. He boarded a train bound for El Paso and eventually arrived in Watsonville in March 1943.
Rodriguez got a job picking lettuce, which he thought was hard work until he experienced his second job: harvesting prunes on Charles Wagner’s Napa Valley ranch. Much too slightly built to wield the long poles used to knock fruit off trees, Rodriguez was fired after only a month.
His next job was for Rutherford grapegrower Salvatore Emmolo. An immigrant himself from Sicily, Emmolo saw something in Rodriguez and quickly gave him responsibilities surpassing those of more senior workers. That created some resentment, but it also taught Rodriguez valuable vineyard skills, such as how to drive a tractor.
When Rodriguez got married, living in shared quarters with a bunch of single men was no longer an option, so Emmolo let him go. However, Emmolo drove him to a neighboring winery and introduced him to its property manager, Joe Souza, who offered Rodriguez a job.
Most of the world calls the winery Inglenook. Rodriguez, who was to spend most of his career there, calls it “heaven.”
There, for the first time in his life, Rodriguez lived in a house, which seemed unimaginably spacious. Souza became “my second father,” he said.