Is it that difficult to drink local wines? There are so many wines around the world. So many, that you will never be able to try all the wines from every region in the world. That being said, no matter what part of the world people live in, they drink their local wines. People in Croatia, drink Croatian wine. Brazilians drink Brazilian wine. Virginians drink wines from their state, Virginia. But why isn’t this the case with the wines from San Diego? People in San Diego do not drink local wines.
It seems so strange that the first grapes planted in California were in San Diego. Prior to prohibition San Diego had a booming wine culture. Wineries were sending their juice to England and consumption on a local level was huge. Then the gold rush happened, everyone’s attention turned north and San Diego was left in the dust. Shame on San Diegans who talk about farm to table and local craft beer, but do not drink local wines. Worse, is shame on the retailers and restaurants (myself included) for not featuring San Diego wines.
Temecula has received a lot more attention than San Diego. Heck, Baja California is receiving more attention than San Diego. This kind of hurts us because many of the wines that come from those regions are faulty. Temecula is hot, Baja is hot! San Diego is 10 degrees cooler, which allows the grapes to keep up acidity; the most important structural element in wine. Many of the vineyards in San Diego are of high elevation allowing for UV light to push ripeness, breezy days which help with pest control and cool nights to support acids. Many of these vineyards are old vineyards planted more than 20 years ago, some from the 1800′s. All this being the case, why do we not drink wines from San Diego?
One reason is that production is low and wines are not available to export outside of the county. Another reason might be that there still are some mediocre producers (home winemakers), which give San Diego wines a bad name. But I think the most important reason, is that nobody knows about them. About a year ago, the Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle spoke about Chris Broomell and Alysha Stehly from Vesper Vineyards. This press brought the attention of sommeliers in New York, San Francisco and LA. Today, Vesper sells more wine in New York than in San Diego. That does not make sense! San Diegans should be drinking San Diego wine. I could understand if the wines were bad, who wants to drink bad wine. But today we have a strong base of wineries producing high quality wines that can rival any other region.
This past weekend, I decided to hold a Harvest, Barrel to Bottle Festival with 11 San Diego County wineries at Escondido’s Vintana Restaurant. I held the festival on the same day as the San Diego Food and Wine Festival which is held every year on the harbor. I did it intentionally because I believe the SDF&W Festival does not showcase San Diego wineries. It brings in wineries from around California, and mostly from the large wine conglomerates. How could it be a San Diego Food & Wine Festival if the best San Diego wineries are in North County at my Harvest, Barrel to Bottle Festival? The event went extremely well!
Each winery showed samples from the 2014 harvest, barrel samples from 2013 and their latest releases. The idea was to allow guests to taste wines at different stages of development. The wines featured were:
Milagro Farm showing a bright Barbera from Ramona
Vinavanti, an urban winery from Miramar showing their 2014 Viognier, 2104 Sparkling Viognier and a Viognier port
Vesper’s mouth-watering Rose of Carignan/Grenache
Stehloen’s Sauvignon Blanc, ripe, fresh with razor acidity
Coyote Oaks showed the Mongrel Blend mostly made of Cabernet Sauvignon & Sangiovese along with 4 other grapes
Screaming Chief specializes in Cab Franc and Malbec and they showed their third vintage, the 3rd Alarm Cuvee
Spektrum’s minty Cabernet Sauvignon made by Mick Dragoo of Belle Marie Vineyards
Orfila, the largest winery in San Diego showed their deep dark fruit forward Petit Sirah
Roadrunner Ridge from rainbow showed an earthy and dusty Petit Sirah
Triple B Ranches featured a Merlot which based on sales was the crowd’s favorite
Fallbrook showed their BDX Bordeaux blend which will be bottled in December to celebrate the Centennial Anniversary for Balboa Park,
The festival brought wineries and the people of San Diego together. I hope that we inspired San Diego oenophiles to drink local wines. The door is now open and it is up to us to reach inside and make the wines of San Diego a natural choice for our next dinner. This Thanksgiving everyone in San Diego should have a bottle of San Diego wine on the table! The wines featured at the Harvest Festival are available at Vintana Wine & Dine, stop in and take a look at the retail space and pick up a local wine for Thursday’s feast.