By Ed Embly
San Diego County is known for a lot of things — from the beautiful weather and beaches, to its history as a military and technology hub — and if the present is any indication, you can add wine to that list.
Wine in San Diego is a tradition dating back to the founding of the San Diego de Alcala Mission in 1769, and since then the county has grown into a flourishing region that will only continue to expand. With microclimates for every grape varietal, a newfound interest in craft alcohol supported by the craft beer industry, and a San Diego lifestyle that encourages getting out and trying new things, San Diegans and wine lovers around the world are noticing us.
The report 2017 San Diego County Impact of Wineries, written by economic analyst Vince Vasquez in coordination with the San Diego County Vintners Association, confirms San Diego’s position as a top wine region in California.
First, let’s look at the numbers. The report puts the San Diego County wine industry’s economic impact at $30.4 million. Wine stimulates the economy and encourages the founding of new businesses to give members of the wine community, whether growers, makers, sellers or buyers, more ways to enjoy their passion. San Diego wine supports almost 700 jobs, 116 wineries, and nearly $23 million in gross sales last year alone, and sales at wineries increased by 88 percent from 2015 to 2016. The report puts it best: “this is a strong indicator of a vibrant, growing industry.”
Those numbers aren’t the only factors putting San Diego “on the map” for wine lovers. According to the report, San Diego wineries hold 165 Type 2 Alcohol Beverage Control licenses. That leaves San Diego only behind Napa Valley, the Central Coast and Sonoma County in number of licensed San Diego wine distributers.
As a result of the 2010 winery ordinance, wholesale limited, boutique and small wineries can focus more on their product without a major use permit. Urban wineries bring the love of wine to areas where grapes cannot grow. More people are opening wineries and becoming vintners, contributing to San Diego’s craft culture.
But wine in San Diego is more than a business. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a tourist destination like San Diego with a growing wine industry attracts wine tourism. The report states wine tasting is a top activity for San Diego tourists, and wineries attribute around 27 percent of their 2016 revenue to tourist sales.
Beyond that, San Diego is increasingly becoming a hub for viticulture education. San Diego State University grants a professional certificate in the business of wine. Cal State San Marcos hosts a prep course for the Society for Wine Educators’ Certified Specialist of Wine exam. Cuyamaca College offers a viticulture apprenticeship aimed at bringing more people into wineries that need them.
One convenient and enjoyable way to discover what San Diego vintners are producing is to attend the association’s Wine and Food Festival on Sunday, April 29, at the Bernardo Winery. People can sample San Diego wines, meet the vintners in person, and see firsthand why our region is quickly becoming known for more than sun, beaches, tech and tourism. It’s wine now, too.
Ed Embly is vice president of the San Diego County Vintners Association and owner of Hungry Hawk Vineyards and Winery.
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