If you have read any of my previous articles, you would have noticed that I am taking an interest in San Diego local wines. I have written and taught classes about our long history of winemaking pre-prohibition. Each year I am seeing more and more small wineries pop up around the county. Many of these wineries are urban wineries, meaning they rent out warehouse spaces and make wines from grapes bought from around San Diego and other regions in California. In Ocean Beach, a winery and tasting room featuring wines made from Washington State grapes is opening. In Hillcrest, my good friends at Vinavanti are opening their winery and tasting room with locally grown grapes made with a natural approach. Everywhere I turn there is a new urban winery.
I am also seeing the more estate wineries opening as well. Estate wineries are wineries that have vineyards, cellars and tasting rooms on site. In Ramona, Milagro Farm is an estate winery going through some ownership changes and getting a facelift. I heard that they are bringing in Hugo Acosta, the grandfather of Baja wine to Ramona to oversee their winemaking. This is still hearsay, and not 100% confirmed, but if it is true definitely keep an eye out! It would bring us back to the early 19th century when the borders were open and Mexico and San Diego shared grapes, wines and winemakers.
If you are a fan of the old Milagro Farm where Jim Hart made delicious Sangiovese and Barbera, don’t fret. Jim has now bought the Jenkins Ranch Winery in Julian. Jim is Joe and Nancy Hart’s son, Joe being one of the first “real” winemakers in Temecula. Jim has an incredible understanding of our region and what should and should not grow here. I trust that Jim’s new winery will give us unique and interesting wines.
So what is this wicked thing that is coming? I use the word in the best sense, the way that Ali G or UK b-boys would use it. In the most positive way. Rancho Guejito is wicked! Rancho Guejito should put San Diego back on the California wine map. What is Rancho Guejito, you ask? Rancho Guejito is a vineyard and winery. This year will be the first wine labeled Rancho Guejito Vineyards, so that means at this point it is an Urban winery produced at Vesper Vineyards. In a few years it will be a full-blown estate winery with event centers and extraordinary vineyards.
Let’s go back in time so you can have an idea why this is so wicked. In the late 1830′s there was only 1 winery in California, the Alisio winery run by the godfather of California wine, Jean Louis Vigne. The Frenchman’s winery was in Los Angeles. A few years later, Asher Maxcy started the 2nd winery in California in Valley Center called the Vineyard Ranch. Asher was a rancher, with a reputation for being cruel to the native Americans. That being said, he built a winery, post office and school on his 4500 acre property. Next door was another massive land grant named Rancho Guejito. This Spanish land grant passed through several private ownerships and since the 1840′s has grown to 20,000 acres encompassing the Vineyard Ranch. One of the first owners of Rancho Guejito was Jose Maria Orozco, a peace and customs agent who fought in the biggest battle in California to keep California independent. In fact, I have a drink named after him at our new restaurant, Coasterra.
Today the 20,000 acres belong to Theo Coates who inherited it from her father in 2004. Theo is a wine lover and has big dreams for the last intact Spanish land grant of California. She has planted vineyards on the Rancho Guejito property along highway 78 on the way to the Wild Animal Park. Overseeing the vineyards and fruit groves is Al Stehly, owner of Stehleon Vineyards. The vineyards on the lower property near the highway have produced fruit for a few years now. I feature a Stehleon Grenache Rose at Coasterra which has received rave reviews. Al’s son-in-law, Chris Broomell also makes a Grenache Rose from this vineyard for his Vesper Vineyards label. The Sangiovese coming from here has also been well received.
But what I am most excited about are the vineyards that Al planted at the top of Rancho Guejito, some 2,000 feet in elevation. Carignan, Grenache Blanc, Vermentino and other Southern Rhone and Italian varieties live down the road from California’s 2nd winery. Fruit from the “Vineyard Ranch Vineyard” was harvested this year and I can’t wait to see the juice they produce. Even more exciting, Al has received the okay to go higher and plant along the hillsides of the Rancho Guejito, we’re talking 2500 ft. I suspect these vines will produce small concentrated berries driven by acid and will be the talk of California. Wait till the Randall Graham or Joel Peterson hear of this, they are going to go gaga goo goo. Wicked!
Being that I am in the restaurant business, I am excited to see wines grown in San Diego that match with food. But what really excites me is history and eating in history. What do I mean by that? Well when they build the winery, on the lower part of Rancho Guejito people are going to want to see the vineyards planted on the Vineyard Ranch. If you leave the tasting room, it will take 40 minutes to drive to the vineyards. What Al has proposed is having helicopter rides from the winery to the Vineyard Ranch. Imagine arriving at the tasting room and booking a helicopter ride to see the vineyards. You will hover over the adobe ruins of the old winery, land in a field with lights stringed among the vines, illuminating long tables set for an eight course meal. The greatest wine dinner ever! I can’t wait.
In the meantime, check out the wines being produced from those vineyards. San Diego has a rich unknown wine history and I am excited to see it return. Something wicked this way comes so get ready San Diego, we are about to redraw the California wine map.