The state of San Diego wineries

Vesper, Triple B, Ramona, Shadow Mountain, Orrin, Hart

1. Beginnings

When Miles the wannabe novelist sets out for his winey holiday in Sideways — the film that did for California Pinot Noir what E.T. did for Reese’s Pieces (kids, ask your parents) — he sets out from right here in San Diego. Why? Well, Rex Pickett (the guy who wrote the novel that inspired the film) might tell you that it’s because the book is based on a true story, and the true story is that he did a lot of wine-drinking while house-sitting in Ocean Beach. But who you gonna believe? I’ll tell you the real reason why: the story started here because it all started here. The wine thing.

I don’t mean just some interesting aspect of it, something like San Diegan Bob Morrissey’s decision in 1976 to launch Wine Spectator, now a glossy luxury mag and one of the two most influential sources for wine ratings in the country. I mean fiddling with those numbers in the date and winding up way back in 1769, when Fray Junípero Serra founded Mission San Diego and put in grapes so that he’d have wine for Mass (plus a bit extra for entertainment and delight). The birth of an industry.

Or at least, that’s how California told it when it celebrated the bicentennial of its wine industry in 1969. There is evidence to suggest that the first grapes were harvested in 1782, way up in San Juan Capistrano, but, hey — who you gonna believe, some dusty old historian or a state government eager to gussy up its most glamorous agricultural product? It started here. Sit down and stop interrupting.

While they were at it, the Golden State also bestowed the title “Father of California Viticulture” on Count Agoston Haraszthy, the Hungarian who developed Sonoma’s famed Buena Vista vineyard in the early 1850s. And where and when did Haraszthy plant his first California vines? That’s right: Mission Valley, 1850. He started here.

What’s that? Again with the historians? Fine: Thomas Pinney, in his book A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition, does a pretty thorough job of dismantling the Haraszthy myth, concluding, “He may claim to be the author of California’s first treatise on grapes and wine…but the three main claims in the Haraszthy legend are all false.” Well, then, Mr. Buzzkill, if all that “Father of California Viticulture” stuff is false, then what’s true? “He certainly was an energetic and flamboyant promoter, combining the idealist and the self-regarding opportunist in proportions that we can now only guess at.”

Okay, okay — we’ll stick to the truth. Haraszthy is still useful, still a fine figurehead. (Let’s just ignore those rumors that he was eventually eaten by an alligator in Nicaragua, shall we?) I’ve been writing about wine in San Diego for around 12 years now. It’s one of those occupations that draws a polite, confused nod when mentioned in conversation: Wine? In San Diego? “But that’s just why it’s great to write about,” I usually reply. “Who wants to spend all their time reporting on yet another millionaire building yet another monument to himself in Napa?”

Even Santa Barbara, once the realm of oddballs bent on tinkering with difficult varietals, is beginning to harden into a fixed public image. Just listen to Chris Broomell of Valley Center’s Vesper Vineyards, who worked up north at Jaffurs Winery from ’06 to ’08: “I was there before Sideways, and I went through Sideways.” Before Miles made his little trip, “The region had an established but often overlooked wine industry.” People made what they wanted and let Napa worry about finding new ways to market Cabernet. “But by the time I left, I was glad to be going. There were expectations of what kind of grapes you were going to plant and what kind of wine you were going to make. If I’m halfway smart and I’m buying property in Santa Barbara, I’m planting three particular grapes and maybe one or two other oddball ones. Whereas in San Diego, I can plant almost anything I think will work, and nobody’s going to call me crazy.”

As if to prove the point, he’s just put in a new block of Vermantino. I’ve never heard of it either, and I’m supposed to know a little about wine. “I’m looking at different climates around the world,” says Broomell, “trying to figure out which region’s grapes would make interesting wines for San Diego — wines that would go with the culinary scheme down here. Heavy influence of Mexican foods, plus lots of coastal foods. So I’m looking for white wines and reds that will stand up to spices.” And nobody’s calling him crazy — except maybe for leaving Santa Barbara and setting up shop in Valley Center. “Yeah, there’s that whole thing,” he grants. “But we’ll see.”

See what I mean? Down here, it’s pioneer days. It’s dreamers and farmers and hardscrabble do-it-yourselfers. It’s a wine region that is forever on the verge of making it. If nothing else, it makes for good stories. And of course, it’s not nothing else. Nowadays, it might even be called something else, especially when compared to the state of the local wine biz ten years ago. Then, there were maybe ten wineries operating in the county. Now, according to industry veteran Alex McGeary, who owns Shadow Mountain Vineyards (way out there and up high in sun-blanched Sunshine Summit), the number is closer to 60. (The greatest concentration of growth has been in Ramona, which was awarded its own viticultural appellation back in 2006, but there are new operations as far north as Fallbrook and as far east as Campo.) Haraszthy — the idealist and promoter, the mascot for San Diego wine — might have something to shout about.

Ten Years After

While we’re on the subject of McGeary: ten years ago, I liked his Viognier enough to name Shadow Mountain Vineyards the best winery in the county for that year’s “Reader’s Best” issue. Last year, the winery’s 2005 Variation 3 meritage blend won Double Gold Medals and Best of Show at the California State Fair. File under: stepping things up. “I had these grapes that I had planted at La Serenissima” — a 17-acre vineyard project just a stone’s throw to the northeast. “I knew the history of those plants from ground zero, and 20 years here has given us an understanding of where we are and the grapes we grow. After the fire in 1995, I watched the regrowth of the chaparral, and I was able to dial in the regional similarities: we are not more than five degrees away — high and low, all four seasons — from Santa Rosa in Sonoma. We can grow cold-climate varietals like Cabernet and Cabernet Franc; these rich reds do really well.”

So: La Serenissima. “The owner wanted to oak age all these big reds for two years — the first year in big tanks, the second in French oak. And then a year in bottle before we put a label on it. I acquired some of those grapes, and I thought, ‘If two years are good, what would three years do?’ I started putting it into competitions, letting my peers take a look at it. It hangs in with the big guys.” The wine retails for $38. “It’s high for the county, but there are a few others out there,” says McGeary’s wife Pam. “We’ve never priced a bottle of wine that high. But people are buying it because they love it.”

People are buying it. People are driving ridiculous distances to buy it (or at least driving out of their way as they head off to Anza-Borrego). Back in 2000, McGeary had 14 acres bearing fruit, and production was anywhere between 850 and 1300 cases. Now, it’s 28 acres and 2000 cases, with roughly 10 percent growth in production per annum. And he sells what he makes.

While we chat on the covered patio outside the tasting room, two newish SUVs rumble across the gravel in the parking lot and disgorge a couple of couples. One couple takes a moment to point out to the other the two tiny cabins off to the left. “They’re kits,” McGeary tells me. “There’s a company out of Lake Tahoe that puts them out, and they cost $5000 each. We bought them for family and friends, but a customer from Arizona asked, ‘Do you rent those out?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’ So we rent them for $110 a night.

“We put them on the website, and we get requests from all over the United States and Europe. They’re booked an average of seven or eight days a month. People just want to be out here.” It’s quiet and it’s bucolic, and besides, “They want to see vineyards. They’re curious about how the grapes are grown, how the wine is made.”

Meanwhile, in the tasting room, the couples are making their way through the lineup of reds and whites, sipping as they listen to the spiel — the Merlot won six awards at various competitions, the ’06 Cab smells like smoke because of fires in the area that year. (“You have to have a diverse product line for walk-in customers; you can’t do it with just two wines,” says McGeary.) They’re gathering bottles onto the counter by the register: one, two, three, and oh, how about some of that Variation 3, and maybe some Port? Pam mentions the wine club — a case a year, mailed to your doorstep. One of the guys starts filling out an application.

“We must be doing something right,” marvels McGeary. “Pamela puts it very well: ‘You make it; I’ve got to sell it. If it doesn’t taste good, then I can’t sell it, and the dogs and cats don’t eat.’ But really,” he adds, “for 85 percent of the California wine industry, it’s consumer direct.” This is how you survive — not through the grocery stores or bottle shops, not through the restaurants. “It’s 100 wineries — out of 1685 in the state of California — that are really movers and shakers. And then there’s the rest of us. I’m resigned, satisfied with being part of ‘the rest of us.’” He points to a sign over his desk, a quotation from Teddy Roosevelt: “Do the best you can with what you have.” “That’s the motto around here.”

Case in point: “I’m taking every roofed structure on the property and converting it to winery use — retail sales, manufacturing, warehousing.” The tour of the grounds takes me into warehouse-garages, through a lab built from rock dug out of the ground during an irrigation project, and near to a rusting shed undergoing conversion into a home office. “These are the growing pains of a small winery — you push things around and massage them and keep things going.”

And things are going and growing. “Something is beginning to happen,” muses McGeary. A couple of doctors with lots of money and no time bought 17 acres in Oak Grove, and they called on him to oversee the property’s vineyard development. On the winemaking end, “There’s a couple of guys who have been gauging the industry. They’re coming in and looking to develop a niche like the one that was developed in Napa years ago. One where they don’t grow grapes and they don’t make the wine; they just get the fruit custom-crushed to their specifications, get it bottled and labeled, and then market it. They want to do it here in San Diego — not someplace else. There are some things that are starting to drive the industry that are brand new, and I still haven’t got my finger on quite why.”


La Serenissima isn’t McGeary’s only neighbor up on the slopes of Mount Palomar. There’s Orrin Vineyards & Winery, and there’s Hawk Watch, and there are the vineyards that McGeary helped Steve Hagata plant for his Las Piedras wines. Hagata, whose day job is at Temecula’s Falkner Winery, was one of the first people I ever interviewed for “Crush.” (What I wrote way back when: “His Las Piedras Syrah has been well received — a clean, varietally correct effort — and his Sangiovese is one of my favorite such wines from California.” And both were available at the WineSellar & Brasserie — a rare thing, then as now, to find local wines in a high-end bottle shop.) What I didn’t know was that, back then at least, a healthy bunch of his fruit was coming from a youngish vineyard planted on Valley Center’s Triple B Ranch.

Remember Chris Broomell, the Vesper Vineyards winemaker who fled Santa Barbara for Valley Center? Turns out he was coming home, and the family vineyard was part of the reason why. “I’m fifth-generation; my family’s been here since the early ’50s — citrus, mainly. Then we got into hay farming — it’s farming, you know? You can never put all your eggs in one basket. And about 14 years ago, we said, ‘Okay, there’s a water shortage,’ and so we decided to do a test block of vineyards. Citrus takes about three to four acre-feet of water per year. Avocados are anywhere from three to six. With vineyards, you’re looking at .2 acre-feet a year. I have an old block of Merlot that’s at .01 or .02 because it’s got an established root system. We put in ten acres; I remember planting over Easter break when I was about 12.”

College took Broomell to Santa Barbara to study horticulture. From there, he started in at Jaffurs, working every aspect of the business at the tiny operation — even tasting samples with the owner when it came time to do the final blends. Then, early in 2008, he headed south to work the harvest in Australia. “One of my jobs was to go around to vineyards and pull samples. I’d spend 12 hours a day driving around and pulling grapes — 100-year-old Shiraz, all that kind of stuff. We had our basic instruments — refractometers, pH meters — and we were collecting samples to send off to a lab for complete spectrum analysis.

“But when you’re spending 12 hours a day in the vineyard, you start playing games with the guy next to you. Tasting grapes, guessing the brix” — a measure of sugar concentration — “the acid, all that. Your palate gets educated; you run the tests and see where you were off. You learn to evaluate quality. As soon as I came back, I went around San Diego as much as possible, tasting grapes. And I was tasting some really good things. I knew there was potential here for really good wines” — including wines from Triple B. Hagata’s Las Piedras Syrah served to confirm his suspicions: “About two years ago, I opened a bottle of the 2000” — made in part from Triple B fruit. “It was eight years old, and it was showing really well.”

The family had long considered putting in a winery on the property, and in spring of ’08, they accepted the returning son’s proposal to convert one of the barns and start things fermenting. “This last year we did 1600 cases. By the end, the winery’s capacity is going to be 2500–3000 cases. All estate wines, made from grapes we’ve planted.” They’ll be ready for sale in 2011; in the meantime, “We’re still selling grapes.”

Triple B is the family business; Broomell works as the winemaker. Vesper Vineyards, on the other hand, “is the label I have with my fiancé, Alysha Stehle. She graduated from UC Davis with a degree in viticulture and enology two years ago. She went to Sonoma and worked the harvest there, and now we’re both down here. We make San Diego vineyard-designate wines, but we don’t own any vineyards. I go around and taste grapes, and if I really like the vineyard, I try to get some fruit and make wine from it. I should have some wines on the market in May — I’m trying to get them ready for that wine competition Ramona does each year. This year, I’ve got grapes in from Potrero, from Warner Springs, from Rancho Santa Fe, Ramona, Pamo Valley…It gets me off the property, gets me out and about.”

And what does Broomell see on his travels? More than a few admirable wines and lots of good grapes. But his overall impression is that “San Diego is kind of like an industry in its infancy. You have a lot of homeowners putting in one- or two-acre vineyards in their backyards. But they don’t have a farming background, and they aren’t even aware of FDA regulations. When their fruit becomes an agricultural product, they can’t go to Home Depot and buy Roundup for their vineyards. We have to keep records of everything we put in a wine. If something happens in a winery’s fermenter, it all gets traced back to the vineyard. We’ll go back to them and ask, ‘Okay, where’s your pest report?’ So in certain things, you have to start with step one. But the Ramona group is really good about that — they want to make high-quality stuff, which is good. I got some grapes this year from their president, Richard McClellan. Marsanne and Roussane. He’s doing a really nice job.”

The Garagistes of Ramona, California

“The Ramona group” is the Ramona Valley Vineyard Association. According to president McClellan, it exists to “promote the Ramona Valley wine and grape business — I think nearly every winery in Ramona Valley is also a member of our organization. Also, to educate people about growing good grapes. Right now, in the Ramona American Viticultural Area, we have 42 vineyards, and as best as we can tell, that’s 50–60 acres under vine. Five have just been planted, and two more have been planted but are too young for harvesting. And one is established but had no harvest because the goats ate the production.”

Unlike some of his fellows, McClellan did come from a farming background. Also, from Yuma. “I used to come to San Diego in the summertime, trying to find someplace that wasn’t 115 degrees.” Between Yuma and Ramona was a 25-year detour in Sonoma, where he saw “what viticulture did for some of the more rural areas of the county. They were just little farm towns, and now they’re destinations.” And Ramona could stand to become a destination. “We were struggling even before the recession hit. If you drive down Main Street, good Lord — every other building is for rent.”

He arrived in town “about five years ago, wanting to grow something. I started off looking at avocados.” But grapes looked like a better bet, in part because of water issues. “Particularly in the Highland Valley area, there are quite a few avocados, and I know some of the growers are considering a switch to grapes. I’ve had a lot of them talk to me about it, and I know one vineyard that was an avocado orchard around ten years ago.” So, in 2007, he put in almost 2000 vines on a three-acre parcel, “divided up between eight or nine varietals.” As Broomell noted earlier, “We don’t have an established varietal in this area” — the field is still wide open. “So I wanted to find out what does well here and what I like. Personally, I think Ramona Valley is kind of a warmish climate, conducive to Rhone varietals” — hence the Marsanne, the Roussane, and the Grenache, which he likes as a rosé. “And Petite Sirah is doing well here. Victor Edwards at Edwards Vineyards & Winery makes a superb wine.”

Three acres is not a big vineyard, except up here, it is. “The average size is an acre to an acre and a half.” Still, says McClellan, the scale fits with the county’s agricultural profile. “I think the average farm in the county is something like five and a half acres. We’re never going to be Napa Valley. Your typical winery is going to be really small, the sort of place you could visit and think, ‘I could do that someday.’ As opposed to visiting someplace like Mondavi, which is like the Ford Motor Company. Here, you’re visiting some guy who makes three barrels a year in a converted garage. He makes good wine, but it’s what he does instead of playing golf. We have, I believe, 16 bonded wineries in the Ramona Valley, and you’ve probably never heard of most of them.”

(In France, they call them garagistes, and their wines become cult collectibles. But then, Ramona is not France. “It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing,” says McClellan. To really attract interest, the industry needs to grow. “You know, if you have one winery, it can starve to death. But if you have 15, they can all get rich” — provided the region becomes a destination. But to grow the industry, the region needs an attractive reputation. But to gain a reputation, the region needs good wine. And before that, good grapes. Which means that someone has to invest in a product for which there is, as yet, no substantial demand. “It requires that some of us be foolish enough to just go ahead,” says McClellan, chuckling. It requires pioneers.)

Small vineyards will mean small wineries, because at least 25 percent of every wine they make will be produced from fruit grown onsite. And no matter what, they will not be allowed to exceed a total production of 5000 cases. At least, if they want to get in on the proposed boutique winery ordinance that is currently under review by the County Board of Supervisors and the Department of Land Planning and Use. “Under the ordinance currently in place,” explains McClellan, “it’s virtually impossible to have a tasting room” to facilitate onsite retail sales. (By “virtually impossible,” he means that it requires a major-use permit, which has on more than one occasion meant years of bureaucratic niggling and hundreds of thousands of dollars.) And, he says, a garagiste definitely needs a tasting room. “I think it’s the key to the whole thing.”

The argument runs like this: if you’re a garagiste, you’re not producing enough product to make it worthwhile for a grocery chain or large restaurant to take you on. If it sells well, they’ll run out. Because you’re so small, you won’t have any more wine to give them, and so they’ll have to bring in new product. For them, it’s easier not to bother. Fine wine shops are friendlier to small-production wines but often loath to take on local offerings, given the region’s as-yet-unmade reputation. There are exceptions — McClellan tells me that the Albertson’s in Ramona carries some local wines, as does Alternative Wines in Carlsbad. On the restaurant side, you have the Barona steakhouse. But those are the exceptions, and even in those cases, you have to sell your stuff wholesale. If your production is small enough, your profits from such sales can result in a net loss. Even if you sell everything you make, you might still end up paying to make it.

Places such as Shadow Mountain Vineyards have shown the way out of these commercial straits: consumer-direct retail sales. But then, Shadow Mountain Vineyards has a major-use permit and a tasting room. Someplace where a customer can stop in and sample the wares before putting cash on the barrelhead. “The idea behind the ordinance,” says McClellan, “is that a winery is an auxiliary use to the vineyard” — the place where an agricultural product gets processed. “It’s like selling peach jam at a fruit stand beside your peach orchard.” (Hence the requirement that the grapes in the wine be grown onsite.) “I don’t think there are going to be a lot of formal tasting rooms — places that are open from 10 a.m. until sundown. The volume just isn’t there. But maybe being open on Saturdays or being able to put on some kind of open house — something like that.

“We actually had the ordinance passed for a few weeks back in April of ’08,” he continues. “But the opposition threatened to sue, and the County rescinded the ordinance. Now we’re waiting to hear back on an environmental impact report.” Because, of course, this particular process doesn’t produce jam; it produces alcohol — and it’s designed to draw in tourists. McClellan grants the point but is unmoved. “I lived in Sonoma for quite a while, and the only time I ever went wine tasting was when I had visitors. But,” he argues, “Sonoma doesn’t have any more DUI problems than anybody else. If you look at the number of DUI arrests per population, it’s not materially different. And if you look at how many DUI arrests are of residents, as opposed to visitors, you find the percentages are the same as anywhere else. The problem is with your local drunks, and they’re not getting drunk at wine tastings. Alcohol abuse is not an availability problem. It’s a responsibility problem. The opposition has some legitimate points to make. But we’re not irresponsible people.”

For now, the wineries wait and try to hang on. Meanwhile, the vineyards keep going in. “We’re still planting,” affirms McClellan, “and I don’t know of anybody that’s quit. We harvested approximately 77 tons from 30 vineyards in the valley last year, and my guess is that the average price for Ramona fruit is $1500 a ton.” Not every grower may be able to sell to the garagistes or to Vesper Vineyards, but there’s always the home winemaker market. “A lot of it goes to them,” says McClellan. “I sold about half of my fruit this year to people from the San Diego Amateur Winemaking Society.”

Society president Joey Hollacher talks in terms of pounds instead of tons — 50–75 cents per, depending on vineyards and varietal. But he’s right with McClellan on the symbiosis of Ramona and the amateur market. “We could be in the neighborhood of 140 memberships by March 2010. We’ve been running at 130, and we’ve been increasing our numbers every year. And there’s such a critical mass of growers and new wineries in Ramona. I keep in touch with the guys in the Ramona Valley Vineyard Association, and they allow me to be an honorary member while I’m president. Quite a few new vineyards have gone in during the last five years, and I encourage people to use San Diego County fruit. I like for them to be in touch with the growers throughout the season and maybe even help work in the vineyards. The winemakers get a better idea of what it takes to get the best-quality fruit. And we have several members a year who plant vineyards of their own.”

The pros, for their part, are happy to lend their expertise. “We had John York at a meeting — he’s one of the Ramona winemakers. He and other winemakers have commented that there’s no reason for our wines to have basic flaws, and so he gave a class that was just focused on cleanliness and the winemaking process. Sanitizing and cleaning — the basic steps. I’m also trying to get in touch with Jim Hart and see if we can hold a meeting at Milagro Farms sometime.”


Joe Hart of Temecula’s Hart Winery was the first person I interviewed for my wine column, way back in the middle of 1998. Not quite a local, situated as he was just over the Riverside County line, but his was the name I heard most often when I started asking around about vineyard practices. And to hear his son Jim Hart tell it, he shoulda been a San Diegan. “My dad’s been up here a lot,” he says as we head toward the Tuscan-style winery building at Ramona’s Milagro Farms. “He says that in hindsight he wishes he’d built his winery here instead.” Why? “I make wine in Temecula with my dad,” says Jim. “And I make wine here. The fruit up here is better balanced. The brix, the pH, the acid. The pH is low, and you don’t have to add as much acid.” (I haven’t yet sat down for a side-by-side comparison, but I did sit down with a Milagro 2007 Cabernet and was very pleasantly surprised at the way it improved over the course of about five hours. Genuine structure there.)

If you didn’t know about the fruit, you might wonder if Hart the elder hadn’t been seduced by the setting. There are over 10,000 vines planted in blocks of varying sizes on this 100-acre property belonging to La Jollans Kit and Karen Sickles; the rest is all smooth outcroppings and live oaks and canyon views down into the Ramona Valley. (And oh, yeah — the stone-lined wine cellar built into the hill isn’t such a bad spot to store your barrels. You know, the one with the antique doors from somewhere in Mexico. And the vaulted ceilings. Yeah, that one.) “It doesn’t look like Temecula,” observes Hart the Younger. “It’s more like North Coast. I’m kind of forced to plant where sites are available.” He points out a patch of Cabernet here, some Sangiovese and Barbera over there, a bit of Aleatico up on the hillside. Like McClellan, he’s experimenting, seeing what does best. “I wouldn’t have planted Chardonnay, but it was already here, and the wines have turned out pretty good.” (He makes most of it in stainless to keep up the crispness, then adds a couple of barrels’ worth of barrel-aged stuff for background. A smart call when your fruit is less pronounced than a Chardonnay from, say, Santa Barbara.)

“This isn’t going to be an amateur operation,” says Hart, needlessly. “It’s not even a mom-and-pop operation. We’ve got plans for a 6000-square-foot winery building over on Littlepage Road — if the county lets us.” Milagro hopes to make use of a second winery type allowed in the proposed ordinance, one that permits larger capacities without quite demanding a major-use permit.) “The owner lets me make all the decisions — what to plant, what we’re going to make.”

No, definitely not an amateur operation — though it sort of started out as one. Hart began working here in 2006 after seeing a Reader ad asking for a part-time winemaker. “I was going to Cal State San Marcos at the time,” he recalls, “and this worked out perfectly. I had been teaching for two years and gotten a pink slip, and I thought, ‘I think I’ll stick with the wine business.’ It was just kind of a hobby winery; he hired me to make wine for his personal use. But he already had three acres planted, and he could produce more than he could legally consume, so I talked him into bonding it. It grew from there. Next week, I’m going to buy a new press. It’s fun.”

It is fun. The pioneers are putting up stakes. And it makes sense. “It’s all ag land out here, and you can’t grow anything,” says Hart. “There’s no water. And vineyards are clean farming — you don’t use a lot of serious chemicals. Small wineries seem like a perfect fit.” All he needs is a place to sell his wares — and customers to buy them. “It’s really tough to sell local wines, especially Ramona wines. The connoisseurs tend to look down their noses. I don’t know why it is. You’d think, with the slow food and the ‘buy local’ and the craft beers that have just gone crazy…but for some reason, it just doesn’t transition into wine.” He still has hope. “The Ramona group is really cognizant of the need for quality. We’re going to have to make good wine to draw people out here. It’s possible — Pam and Alex McGeary work really hard, and he has a loyal following and a successful wine club.”

Broomell at Vesper Vineyards agrees, and agrees bluntly: “Plant the right grapes; make a flawless, high-quality wine that pairs with what people eat in San Diego; and the wine will speak for itself. Marketing’s a big thing, but you have to have a wine for people to taste and say, ‘Wow, I want to drink this.’ With hundreds of thousands of other wines out there, it always boils down to taste.”

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Nice article. As a retailer of fine wines, here's my reality about 99% of local wines (South Coast AVA & Guadalupe Valley): When they're good, they're too expensive. When they're cheap, they're awful. Stick to building your wine clubs for your revenue until your costs, and eventually your pricing, get in line with the rest of the world. Cheers!

Hey wineguy,

I basically agree with you; when the local wines are cheap they are awful. Sometimes they are awful even when they aren't cheap. However, they good ones are only "too expensive" because of market conditions. I have never seen a San Diego wine retailing for more than $35/bottle. But I have tasted some that are better than $100 bottles of Napa. In other words, some of our wines have the quality and rarity to command high prices. The difference is that they don't have the reputation or the marketing to support those prices. That is going to change.

wineguy and himichael,

I love a good, (sadly, always expensive) Cabernet. My latest taste is for Silver Oak Cab...can you recommend something in San Diego County or even Ramona that is really THAT good? I'd love to have a new, local favorite and price is not an issue, just quality. I'd like to keep my dollars up here in Ramona, local purchasing - or at least in the county. Love to hear some responses! What is your favorite, local, Cabernet? =)

My husband and I love sangiovese; and feel like the Ramona area should be producing a good sangiovese, as the terrain resembles the Chianti area in Italy (to our untrained eyes). Our budget is between $ 13 and $ 21 and sadly as soon as we find one we really love; it quickly passes the $ 25 per bottle that makes it out of reach for our everyday table. We have always been more frugal; preferring to splurge only on special occasions with a $ 50 or above red or other varietal; but we like to have wine at every meal; and the California pinot grigio or chianti, merlot or syrah that hits around the $ 13 mark is eluding us. We have a cellar full of special occasion wine and want to find a local everyday wine to buy cases of. We want to support local growers, but find that the good wines are too expensive though really good, and like mentioned above, the cheap wines are awful. There must be some way to hit that midpoint? Most Bevmo specials are awful; as is 2buck, but somehow they keep long lines. Get behind this trend of more wine- more often- more affordable and you will have a huge local audience; even door to door. The internet will grow a business like crazy; using people like us who find it, enjoy it, serve it, write about it and talk about it. Most people do not have the elevated palate or even want to be wine snobs; most just want a great mouthfeel and flavor to pair with take-out pizza; or 30-minute grill meals.

crush articles are so great is matthew still writing them

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