San Diego vineyards grow 45 grape varietals
  • San Diego vineyards grow 45 grape varietals
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A new study commissioned by the San Diego County Vintners Association reports the economic impact of the San Diego wine industry reached $30.4 million in 2016.

Written by economic analyst Vince Vasquez, The Economic Impact of Wineries shows the number of licensed wineries in the county reached 116 last year. That number is up from 60 in 2012, and an increase of more than a hundred since 2009, when San Diego wineries numbered only 15. The 116 licenses represent the 5th highest number among California counties, behind only noted wine-producing regions of Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties; and just ahead of Riverside County, where most of the wineries reside in the Temecula Valley region, just north of San Diego.

"There’s a sense there’s something really special going on in our wine community," said Vintners Association president Linda McWilliams. "San Diego County is rapidly expanding in terms of acres planted, gross sales, and varietals produced."

The report attributes most of San Diego county's growth to a change in county regulations in 2010, when the Tiered Winery Ordinance made it easier for wineries in county agricultural zones to open tasting rooms without having to apply for a major use permit. Since 2010, the total county acreage dedicated to harvesting grapes has more than doubled, rising from 447 acres to 945 acres, while the total value of these crops has increased more than 400 percent, from $785,000 to $4.2 million.

But the study shows a marked increase in local winery revenue has taken place more recently. From 2015 to 2016, sales at wineries increased by 88 percent, on average, resulting in more than $23 million in gross sales last year. Last year's sales generated $1.1 million in local sales tax revenue, plus an additional $965,429 in property taxes.

By conservative estimate, the report determines the local wine industry supports 519 jobs — 37 percent of them full time — and creates another 178 local jobs indirectly. Most of San Diego's wineries (57 percent) operate on a very small scale, producing fewer than 1000 cases per year; by comparison, only 8 percent of Temecula's wineries produce that small an amount.

The study shows 45 varietals are now cultivated locally, with most vineyards growing 8 or more. While Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grape varietals were the most common — each grown by 59 percent of local growers — followed by Sangiovese (46 percent) and Merlot (38 percent).

However, McWilliams notes that, as the number of grape varietals grown in San Diego has increased, no single varietal defines the diverse region. "It is difficult to call out any particular wine varietal as doing especially well," she said. " As we have more varied growing zones or micro climates here in the county, we can grow just about any varietal. It just depends on where the vineyard is located."

She added that as local winemakers continue to win awards with local wine and wine tourists increasingly seek out San Diego product, the Vintners Association is optimistic of even higher numbers in the future. “We feel like pioneers, seeing just the tip of growth ahead for the region’s wine industry.”

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