Maness at Vineyard Hacienda. He’s responsible for designing around fifty new boutique vineyards.
Greg Maness is throwing down his grape shears and selling his vineyard, just at a time when some are saying San Diego’s wine industry is taking off.
“It’s a wonderful place,” says this owner of Casi Cielo (“Almost Heaven”) Farm and Winery in Jamul, “but I have gotten to the point where I’m in my sixties now. The vineyard tends to consume all of your free time, beside your other professional careers. I’m in sales management, my wife’s a doctor, so any time off, you’re picking grapes, you’re weeding, you’re watering, you’re fixing broken lines, you’re racking wine, you’re bottling... it’s time for us to drink wine at other people’s places, instead of my place.”
We are at his neighbor Joseph Harmes’s place, Hacienda Vineyard. We’re standing under a century-old oak tree. Its horizontal branches radiate out maybe 30 feet. Lights wrapped around them give the whole courtyard a glow.
Maness knows he’s hanging up his spurs just as the local wine scene is showing all the signs of expansion. Even belated recognition, respectability, for the terroir where California wine was born, right? The San Diego Mission padres made wine here in the 1780s.
Entrance to Vineyard Hacienda, of Campo Road in Jamul.
“I moved to California as a chef 40 years ago,” Maness says. “So I’ve been around wine 40-plus years. I started growing vines 20 years ago, and actually making wine about a decade ago. I built [my business] through installing over 50 vineyards in the area. Many of them are boutique, small, 24 to 1000 vines.”
He says one mighty hold-up was that San Diego, incredibly, was relatively dry until 13 years ago. In 2007, East County supervisor Dianne Jacob put a bill on the plate that for the first time since Prohibition made it legal for boutique vineyards to produce and sell alcohol in the county.
How much has the Jacobs bill contributed to this recent explosion of new vineyards? San Diego had 30 before Prohibition. By 1964, the County had just two vineyards still in operation. Today? At least 115.
Of course certain vineyards have been grandfathered in. Bernardo Winery started life in 1889. But Maness says it’s been a liquid gold rush with the new boutique wineries since the Dianne Jacob bill.
So, is San Diego wine getting better?
“I would say progress is splotchy,” says Maness. “In San Diego County, it’s all new vineyards and new vines. It takes decades for your vines to produce a heavy-enough root system to produce the really, really, monster good grapes.”
Truth is, wine stores and restaurants here still diss San Diego wines openly, mainly by not carrying them. And yet San Diego beer has created a worldwide reputation in a few short years. Why can’t our wine?
Maness doesn’t disguise his feelings.
“Breweries around here do not have to grow their own hops, yeast, or barley. They buy everything. A beer maker [just mixes] yeast, sugar, barley, hops, water, heat. Wine is terroir, grapes need fertilization, watering, trimming back, spraying for pests, controlling critters, [caring for] the product all summer long, picking it in the blazing heat. You have to be way more skilled — and patient — than a beer maker.”
He says what we really need is “a Second Wave” of younger vineyard growers. “Today’s wine people are like me. I was well into my fifties before I started this. And now we’re getting into our sixties and seventies. We need the kids to start taking over.”