Category Archive: California Wines

It’s a Family Wine Affair

Posted on May 19, 2015

 family wine affair 2

In the old world, wine is a family affair.  Wineries and vineyards are passed down through the generations from mothers and fathers to their children.  They grow up and pass it on to their children.  They adhere to old family traditions.  Many times the children have to wait years til they are let in on the family secrets.  In all actuality they may be doing the same thing that their neighbors are doing; but regardless, it is their “family secret”.

We see family owned and operated vineyards and wineries in the new world, but the vast majority of them are owned by companies or other entrepreneurs looking for financial gains.  There are still a few new world  family gems out there.  We don’t have to go far, look in our backyard we have a family who bleeds wine.  Meet the Broomells and the Stehleons.  Two farming families united by marriage.

Sounds like the beginning of a story tale.   I think of it as a modern Romeo and Juliet without the Shakespearean tragedy.  It is more like an after school family special.  This tale did not start “…long long ago, in a land far away…” It started less then 10 years ago, just down the street with two families.  The Broomells, who owned ranches in Calistoga and Valley Center and the Stehlys who are in agriculture management with a farm in Valley Center.

The grandparents, Gary and Sheila Broomell had three children, Debbie, Bruce and Don. Gary and Sheila owned a vast amount of land dedicated to ranches. When their children came of age, they too went into the family business.  Debbie had two sons, Chris and Mike Broomell.  Chris decided to go and study horticulture in Santa Barbara. He took interest in wine and spent some time working harvests in Santa Barbara and in Adelaide Australia with his uncle.  When he returned, he convinced his grandparents to go into the wine business.  After all, they were a farming family with plenty of land where they could plant grapes. Hence, the start of Triple B Ranches.  Bruce, Don and Debbie invested in the winery and today Debbie oversees the day-to-day activities.  Chris is the winemaker and his brother Mike helps in the cellar when not teaching at the local high school.

The Stehly family was also a farming family.  Al, the eldest son of seven, bought his father’s land and helped manage other peoples avocado groves and orange groves.  His brothers Jerome and Nohl bought the rest of the property and run Stehly farms.  Al and his wife Lisa had a daughter named Alysha.  Alysha went to school at UC Davis where she studied viticulture. It just turned out that Chris and Alysha knew each other in high school.  One day they met at a Unified Wine Grower Convention. Their mutual interest in wine brought the two families together when they decided to marry. Both studied oenology and when they returned to San Diego convinced their parents to plant grapes.  Al already had some experience managing vineyards, after it was so different from growing other fruits.  While managing a Pinot Noir vineyard in Rancho Santa Fé, Chris convinced Al that they can make their own wine. A short time later, Chris began Vesper Vineyards with Pinot Noir being his first wine. Al and his wife Lisa decide to plant more vineyards on their property and began Stehleon Vineyards.  Stehleon produced their first vintage in 2010 with Alysha has the head winemaker.

Today Chris Broomell and Alysha Stehly share an urban winery and tasting room in Escondido where Chris produces Vesper vineyards, Alysha and Al produce Stehleon Vineyards.  The space is shared with several others such as J Brix and winemaker Duncan Williams.  The best part of the story is that Triple B Ranches, Vesper and Stehleon produce wines from grapes grown in each other’s family’s vineyards, and all of it is San Diego fruit.  There are many SD wineries, but the majority of them buy fruit from places like Sonoma and Santa Barbara.  These family wineries are keeping it real, growing their own fruit and producing wines homegrown in San Diego.   It is unfortunate that we do not see more wineries using local fruit, because growing conditions are excellent for many grape varieties.  Hopefully this family wine affair catches on and other wineries begin to focus on locally grown fruit.

Come and spend a Sunday lunch with Triple B Ranches, Vesper Vineyards and Stehleon at Indigo Grill.  We will be pairing Chef Deborah Scott’s menu with local wines in an intimate setting.  Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to have a family wine affair.  Call 619-234-6802 to make reservations.

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Celebrating 100 Years with Centennial Wine

Posted on March 19, 2015

Centennial red

In 2013 I got together with Bailey Winery in Temecula to make a wine that would commemorate the centennial anniversary of Balboa Park.  Balboa Park is the pride and joy of San Diego.  The park was built in 1915 for the Panama-California Exposition.  Prior to its creation, Balboa Park was known as City Park.  Kate Sessions was instrumental in the planting its many gardens and trees.  When the city decided to host the Panama-California Exposition, they chose a Spanish-colonial design to honor of Vascos Nunez de Balboa, the Spanish explore who first spotted the Pacific Ocean on his way to Panama.  The park now houses the world-famous San Diego Zoo, the Museum of Man, The Natural History Museum, the Reuben H. Fleet Center, the Old Globe Theater and a slew of other fantastic museums and shops.  The main restaurant is the Prado which is part of the House of Hospitality.  The House of Hospitality is well-known for putting on some of the most beautiful weddings in San Diego.

When it came time to bottle another wine to commemorate the 100 year anniversary I decided to reach out to a San Diego vintner.  Bailey is fantastic and has a rich history in Temecula, but it is technically in Riverside county. This time I wanted to keep it local.  San Diego has a long and unfortunately, forgotten history of wine production.  I thought it would only make sense that we honor the prestige of Balboa PArk with a wine from one of the San Diego wineries who produces some of the highest quality wines, Fallbrook Winery.

Many San Diego vintners buy grapes from other parts of California to make their wines.  Many years ago, when Fallbrook Winery’s vines were maturing, they made wine from Sonoma and other regions.  Today they are focusing on estate fruit.  Ira Gourvitz, owner of Fallbrook Winery has been a leader in promoting San Diego wines.  He runs one of the more successful wineries in San Diego.  You can find his wines on restaurant wine lists and in specialty wine shops.  Being that the San Diego wine market is very finicky, this is a true testament to the quality of his wine.

Prado team

When deciding what to do for the Centennial wine round two, I looked for help from the management team at the Prado Restaurant.  I headed up to the winery to meet Ira and winemaker, Vernon Kindred and brought the Prado managers Cynthia Peterson, Mark Robertson, Tyler Chupp, Patty Urtado, Kaylla McAdams and Amanda Boies to make a wine that would be worthy of Centennial stature.  After hours of  tasting barrel samples from the 2012 vintage, we came upon the perfect blend.  We decided to make a Bordeaux style blend made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  The wine turned out great!

Juicy wine with aromas and flavors of blackberry, Cassis and plum.  There are notes of chocolate and toasted oak which give it richness. Like many wines in San Diego, there is mouth-watering acidity that gives if a lift in the finish.

The wine is now available at the Prado.  It is on the wine list for $40/bottle and $10/glass.  If you would like to take it home, they sell it at retail for $20.15.  Stop in and try a bit of history.


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Making People Drink Local, The San Diego Harvest, Barrel to Bottle Festival!

Posted on November 25, 2014

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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.



Centennial Cabernet Sauvignon & Baily Winery

Posted on July 28, 2013

Baily Winery

A few months ago David Cohn, owner of the Cohn Restaurant Group  asked me to meet with Phil Baily of Baily vineyards, one of the first wineries in Temecula.  David had met Phil at the Family Winemakers tasting in Del Mar.  The two were talking about potentially bottling a special wine for the Cohn Restaurant Group, a Centennial Cabernet Sauvignon.   David was interested in creating a wine that would commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Balboa Park in 2015 along with the Cohn Restaurant’s Group 30 year anniversary.  David wanted to create a wine that would stay true to San Diego, so we obviously chose to look for a winery in Temecula.

First I had to meet with Phil and his daughter Kim, to make sure that they had juice that would be worthy of this venture.  There are  many wineries in Temecula, and so few good wineries in Temecula.  I was at first skeptical that the Baily’s would have juice that would be worthy of bottling for such an important wine.  When I sat with Phil and Kim I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of their Cabernet Sauvignon.  Phil explained that when he purchased the 20 acre Berenda vineyard, planted by Joan Handley in 1968 when UC Davis was experimenting in Temecula.  The vineyard’s soil is composed of decomposed granite, clay and sandy top soil.  It is at 1500 ft altitude and yields about 2.75 tons per acre.  Phil believes that the vines were planted with the Wente clone 7.  He says  the wine is a lot darker in color than any other Cabernet Sauvignon in Temecula and expresses a minty character.  It has never been affected by phylloxera, so these old vines produce concentrated fruit.

Berenda Vineyard

The Berenda Vineyard, 50-year-old vines

The 2010 vintage was a perfect vintage for the Bailys.  It did not rain, which allowed for longer hang times.  The vineyard is located in an area where the Rainbow Gap brings a steady breeze in from Camp Pendleton on the coast.  This ocean breeze contributes to the longer growing season for the 50-year-old vines.

I was impressed when I tasted the wines.  Phil asked me to come to the winery and help  him blend the wine.  Phil also uses Cabernet from his estate vineyard, La Sirena.  The La Sirena bears fruit which is more typical of Temecula, lighter colored and fruity.  I was pleased with the wines and decided to move forward and create the Centennial Cabernet Sauvignon.

I took my General Manager, Jon Boyle with me to aid in the blending.  Together we met Phil and Kim at their medieval inspired winery off Rancho California road.  We took a tour through the vineyards to see the thick “tree trunk” vines of the Berenda vineyard.  We later drove to the wine making facility on Pauba Road where we had barrel samples waiting for us.  Our task was to come up with a wine for the Centennial Cabernet Sauvignon that would be worthy of commemorating two San Diego institutions.

The blending of the Centennial Cabernet SauvignonCentennial Cabernet Notes

We had barrel samples of Cabernet from the Berenda vineyard and La Sirena vineyard, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.  As we started the blending, we quickly realized that the slightest adjustment of any of the four wines really affected the wine.  We immediately decided not to use Malbec.  The Malbec dulled the wine.  The Cabernet Franc on its own was delicious.  In the blend is was important because it contributed in lifting the aroma and giving the wine a floral character.

The two Cabernet Sauvignons were miles apart.  At first I thought if I used more Berenda Cabernet I would have a better wine.  The Berenda Cabernet had the structure, the tannin and acidity.  However, too much left an unbalanced wine.  The La Sirena Cabernet added the red fruitiness the juiciness to an already structured base, the Berenda.  The final blend consisted of 50% Berenda Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% La Sirena and 10% Cabernet Franc.  We all felt that we made a great wine.

Centennial Cabernet Sauvignon

The wine has a minty aroma with other aromas of violets, blackberry and raspberry.  On the palate, it is full-bodied, with a heavy mid palate of more blackberry fruit, plum skins and black cherry.  The tannins are firm and the acidity is lively.  The alcohol came in at 14.2%, however it is not burning and is well-integrated.

We are excited to share this wine with all of San Diego.  The wine will be available at the Cohn Restaurant Group restaurants for $10 by the glass and $40 a bottle.  We will also be offering it retail for $20.15 (the anniversary year for Balboa Park).  If you want to know when this special bottling will be released, sign up for PRIME CRU WINE CLUB and get the newsletter for its release.

Below is a short video about the making and bottling of the Centennial Cabernet Sauvignon at the Baily Winery


Best Kept Secret… Amapola Creek

Posted on February 19, 2013

prime cru

Amapola Creek  Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley ‘07

amapola creek

The title says it all, this is the best kept secret in California. Are you still in search of the most prized vintage of the decade, 2007?  If so, then Amapola Creek is the wine for you.  If you are a Cabernet lover, then I presume you love wines with lush fruits, a generous mouth-feel and a full body. It would also be safe to say that you are still in search of the most prized vintage of the decade, 2007.  If all of this is true, then Amapola Creek is the wine for you.

This luscious Cabernet is a product of one of California’s greatest wine makers, Richard Arrowood.  The vineyard sits on the border of the famous Monte Rosso vineyard, along the steep slopes of the Macayamus range reaching a 600 ft elevation. (more…)

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