What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of San Diego? I’m pretty sure it’s not grapes. Even Appellation America, a website that covers all North American wine appellations, has a picture of dude with a surf board on the appellation profile page – and not much else.
Up until a few weeks ago, I’ll admit I didn’t consider San Diego a totally legit wine growing region either. That was until I tasted the wines from Vesper Vineyards. Vesper’s very goal is to “show that San Diego County can be included among the great wine regions of California”. The project is the brainchild of Chris Broomell and Alysha Stehly, who are committed to sourcing grapes exclusively from San Diego County and showing the world what this under-valued region can bring to the party — and to your dinner table.
It may be an uphill battle, but the couple’s combined experience (Chris with Jaffurs Wine Cellars in Santa Barbara and harvest in South Australia and Alysha’s UC Davis education) and love of the San Diego area is enough to drive this six year old venture. The good news is that San Diego, as a wine region, is a wide open canvas with no preconceived notions of style or grape varieties, or…well, anything really. The region isn’t exaclty new to wine grapes. Believe it or not, some of the first vineyards in America were planted around the Spanish colony, not-yet-known as San Diego, in the 1700s.
South of Los Angeles, San Diego’s vineyards range from less than 3 miles to up to 24 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The vineyards provide diverse elevations and soil types suited to varieties from Pinot Noir and Syrah to Mourvedre and Carignan. Chris and Alysha get their grapes from their families’ farms as well as other growers’ sites in the area. Vesper currently makes a Rose of Grenache, a Carignan, a few white blends from Roussanne & Marsanne, and a Pinot Noir.
I was lucky enough to taste all but the Pinot Noir when Eric Clemons of Coeur Wine Company, the distributor that represents the wines, brought them by just a few weeks ago. Although I was impressed with all the wines, I found the Carignan the most intriguingly pretty and we have started selling it in our shop. I feel compelled to add that I was excited about the wines because of their individuality and flavors and not because I was judging them on a different “these grapes were grown in San Diego!” scale.
You might think that the wines would be a tough sell at retail but, because our focus at California Wine Merchants is on smaller production California wines, we’re usually chatting with our customers and sharing our enthusiasm about the wines we carry. That said, part of the uphill battle for these small production wines is supply. We are used to dealing with low case counts, but the Carignan currently has the largest production of the Vesper Vineyard’s wines, ringing in at under 100 cases.
I’m excited to see what’s in store for Vesper Vineyards and for the San Diego County wine region as a whole. Only time will tell if the appellation will indeed be included among the best in California. In the meantime, d-u-u-u-d-e, you should try some!