A Brief History About Wine in San Diego

Posted on February 27, 2014

A view from newly planted mountain vineyards in San Diego

Thank you to the fabulous wine makers that attend the first San Diego County wine forum for Prime Cru.  Chris Broomell of Vesper Vineyards, Jeff Bowman of the screaming Chief, Mick Dragoo of Belle Marie and Justin Mund from Orfila Vineyards contributed their insights into the history of wine in San Diego and its future.  These brave men were bombarded with questions from yours truly, and not one of them caved. All men were confident to answer questions that might have put other wine makers in compromising situations. Not one of them plead the 5th.

Prime Cru hosted two events, one on Saturday afternoon at Island Prime restaurant and last night at Vintana Wine & Dine which sold out to about 100 interested San Diegans. Mostly everyone was surprised to hear about the rich wine history of our little beach city. Many people know that the Wine Spectator started on the streets of OB, but most never knew that San Diego was producing wine well before Sonoma and Napa. So what happened? Why did we get left behind? Is our climate not conducive to growing grapes for wine? Did we have a lack of talented wine makers? I addressed a lot of these questions during the forum, however I think I should touch on a few now that the video does not.

First of all, our climate is perfect for grape growing. The thing is that we have to grow the right grapes. The biggest misconception is that Temecula and San Diego are one in the same, and that is not the case. San Diego has more varying climate, soil and altitude than Temecula.  It is 10 degrees cooler. So no, we are not one in the same. The reason that San Diego got left behind is a complex answer.  I will try to explain it as simple as possible.  First of all, San Diego County is so spread out.  Temecula, Sonoma, Napa all have wine trails where the wineries are lined up along a road.  In San Diego we have wineries in Ramona, Escondido, Jamul and Julian.  We are talking about areas that are 40-50 miles apart from each other.

Secondly, wine in San Diego was a thriving business prior to prohibition.  However, we did not have a gold rush which dumped money into our industry.  Our wineries sold in bulk to retailers downtown who would bottle the wines for patrons.  The majority of their business was selling barrels to the public.  Those wineries that lasted through prohibition had a hard time succeeding afterwards because there were laws passed which did not allow the selling of bulk wine to consumers.  Wines had to be bottled, something our wineries did not have the infrastructure to do.  Also, during prohibition we lost serious wine drinkers.  The age of coca cola and cocktails created a wine drinker looking for sweet sugary wines.  Wine makers did not have a public that was looking for dry serious wines.

As history wrote itself, San Diego got left behind.  I believe that we have promise here.  All it takes is more investment in vineyards, wine makers that want to make clean wines and a public that is willing to try something new. For those that could not attend and did not read my earlier post, I made a video which briefly gives you an insight into wine in San Diego.  If you would like to attend one of the seminars in the future, sign up for Prime Cru and be the first to receive an invite. Cheers!

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