Vesper Vineyards is well on its way towards placing San Diego County on the map as a premiere wine region.
Husband and wife team Chris Broomell and Alysha Stehly, both San Diego natives from farming backgrounds, began Vesper Vineyards in 2008. Having traveled extensively throughout the winemaking regions of the world, the couple soon realized that they had everything they needed to produce great wine in their own backyard.
Begun with the simple goal of showcasing the great fruit of San Diego, Vesper Vineyards is producing wines that can stand up to the very best produced in California’s better known wine regions.
And the wine world is taking note.
Just this past year, wine editor Jon Bonne featured Vesper in his epic The New California Wine, a book that examines the growing movement amongst many of California’s smaller wineries towards making wines with lower alcohol, less extraction and most importantly, balance. The same year, Vesper’s 2011 Alcalá Highland Hills Vineyard Ramona Valley White was included in SF Gate’s Top 100 Wines of 2013.
San Diego may seem to many a surprising choice for such quality wine production, as while the region’s breweries have received much praise, the wineries are often overlooked or grouped under the dreaded “Temecula” umbrella of neighboring Riverside County.
Yet San Diego is quickly becoming a wine region to be reckoned with and Vesper Vineyards has tapped into the area’s immense potential. Many critics fail to realize that San Diego’s high temperatures are no warmer than parts of Napa and Paso Robles and with numerous and diverse microclimates and soil types, the region is suited for growing a number of varietals. The fact that the region has yet to establish itself with a chosen varietal or winemaking style also allows for a greater flexibility for winemakers and a freedom of expression not afforded elsewhere.
This past week I had the pleasure of touring Vesper’s new facilities in Escondido which include the winery, barrel room, and a tasting room. Just opened in January, the facility runs as somewhat of a co-op featuring several local labels, including Vesper’s sister label Stehleon. The tasting room has proven to be a great hit amongst the locals, with many coming by to enjoy a glass of wine while waiting for growler refills of their favorite wine on tap.
While there, I was able to taste through the winery’s impressive lineup which included a dry Grenache Rosé and two vintages of a 100% Carignan from McCormick Ranch, the Steele Canyon Alcalá white blend as well as the famed 2011 Vesper Alcalá Highland Hills Vineyard in the Ramona Valley which is a delightful blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. With only 46 cases produced of the award winner, the wine has long since sold out however growler pours are still available for purchase at the tasting room.
Chris’ choice of which varietals to produce is another example of the freedom the region affords to winemakers. One would be hard pressed to find numerous vineyards of Carignan, Counoise and Vermentino in Napa Valley. Chris also experiments with different styles of aging, incorporating oak, acacia wood, and stainless steel into his wines and soon, even clay amphorae.
Despite San Diego’s high temperatures, Vesper’s wines are extremely elegant with restrained fruit and lower alcohol levels than one might expect. Chris explained that while he makes wines with lower alcohol percentages than most, it is not alcohol that he looks for in determining when to harvest the grapes but acids. Ensuring that the wines retain their structure in the warmer climate, he explained, can be a major concern for many winemakers in the region.
In the barrel room, Chris also tasted me through some barrel samples of wines that were in various stages of development. A fan of field blending, keep your eyes open for some intriguing blends that will soon be making their way into bottle.
Producing a mere 900 cases in 2012, Vesper began working with more vineyards in 2013, upping their case production to a still small 2800 cases. Selling to mostly local stores and restaurants, Vesper wines are beginning to make their way to LA. Already being featured in one of Jonathan Gold’s Top 101 restaurants, the Hungry Cat in Hollywood, with the start of Revel acting as their new distributor, expect to start seeing Vesper wines being sold at high quality boutique wine shops throughout LA.
A worthy addition to San Diego County, a visit to Vesper Vineyards tasting room while in the area is a must!
298 Enterprise Street, Escondido CA
Open Friday-Sunday, or weekdays by appointment