Great grapes: RSF Vintners and Growers put down roots in the community


The Rancho Santa Fe Vintners and Growers held a member event at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe on Aug. 15, inviting the community to come learn more about growing grapes and producing wine in Rancho Santa Fe—as well as taste the fruits of their labor.

There are currently over 25 active vineyards in Rancho Santa Fe with an annual production capability of over 20,000 bottles. The recently formalized Vintners and Growers Association hopes to have the community participate in annual harvest and crush events, educate people about the benefits of having a vineyard and possibly even open a wine-tasting room in downtown Rancho Santa Fe. They would also like the Rancho Santa Fe Association’s assistance in designating Rancho Santa Fe as an official American Viticultural Area.

Jon Williams, one of 25 initial members of the Vintners and Growers Association, spoke to the RSF Association board about the group’s vision and plans for the future at the Aug. 5 board meeting.

“The group plans to add exceptional wine from small family-owned vineyards to the many reasons we live in and love Rancho Santa Fe,” Williams said.

Williams and his wife moved into their property on Rambla De Las Flores in 2005 and planted 1,000 vines on the hill behind their home. Their primary grape varietal is cabernet sauvignon but they have also produced cabernet Franc and merlot.

With encouragement from friends and fans of their wine, their first vintage released was 2012 and came to market in 2015 under the label The Covenant: “We wanted people to know that this was tied to Rancho Santa Fe,” Williams said.

The Covenant wines soon landed at local restaurants such as Mille Fleurs, Pamplemousse Grille and Firenze Trattoria. After a larger Napa vineyard operating under the name The Covenant asked that the small vineyard not use its name, the Williams’ shortened their name to “The Cov.” The Cov now produces about 120 cases a year and, in addition to the local restaurants, has recently started being poured at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club.

“Although we started with modest expectations as to the quality of the wine, over the last several years myself and others have realized that the terroir our community is in produces a wine with unique characteristics,” Williams said of the climate, soil and terrain that impacts the flavor of a wine. Rancho Santa Fe wines have a eucalyptus influence and a “distinctive and desirable” fruit flavor. “Word has spread of the 15,000-plus vines that are planted here in Rancho Santa Fe, 10,000 have been planted in the last four years alone. We expect that number to continue growing rather exponentially.”

According to member David Gamboa, the primary goal for the RSF Vintners and Growers’ Association is for the community to become an official American Viticultural Area (AVA).

An AVA is defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and an applicants’ petition has to prove historical significance, geographic distinction and uniqueness of soil, climate and elevation. Gamboa said the benefits of an AVA distinction would improve wine-growing efforts in the community, increase customer awareness, lead to higher wine and grape prices, and potentially contribute to land value appreciation.

The process can be lengthy and costly as petitions are up to $40,000 and require testimonies from various people including historians, soil experts, engineers and meteorologists. The group is hoping to partner with the Association to form a committee to pursue the AVA designation.

“Winegrowing is beautiful and fun and exciting but there are some real universal community benefits to planting vineyards,” Gamboa said, noting that vineyards enhance landscaping, use less water and, most importantly, create a natural fire break in the event of a wildfire.

Gamboa and the Vintners and Growers Association believe that if they develop an AVA in the Ranch, winegrowing can be so much more than just a hobby: “This is a unique opportunity to grow great grapes and make great wines.”