Local vintners seek Association’s help to make Rancho Santa Fe an American Viticultural Area

Rancho Santa Fe wines on display at a RSF Vintners and Growers tasting event last year.
(Jon Clark)

The terroir of Rancho Santa Fe, its climate, soil and terrain, produces a wine with unique characteristics. Wines grown here have a eucalyptus influence and a distinctive fruit flavor.

There are now 27 active vineyards in Rancho Santa Fe and a group of passionate and enthusiastic grape growers came together last year to form The Rancho Santa Fe Vinters and Growers’ Association. The group hopes to be a source of education for local growers, to host community events and, most importantly, to make Rancho Santa Fe an official American Viticultural Area (AVA). Since last year they have been developing and refining their application to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

“Our common goal is putting Rancho Santa Fe on the map,” said founding member David Gamboa. “We think we have something special.”

AVA applications are a detailed, expensive and lengthy process—an applicants’ petition has to prove historical significance, geographic distinction and uniqueness of soil, climate and elevation. The petition costs $85,000 and the Vintners estimate it will take two or three years for approval. With a submission by the end of the year, the hope is for Rancho Santa Fe to become an AVA by 2023-25.

Gamboa said the benefits of an AVA distinction would improve wine-growing efforts in the community, increase awareness, lead to higher wine and grape prices and potentially contribute to land value appreciation. He is excited by the potential for Rancho Santa Fe’s future—Napa Valley was named California’s first AVA in 1981 and it is now considered one of the world’s most prestigious wine-growing region.

The Vintners and Growers have so far raised about $60,000 but are looking for a $10,000 contribution from the Rancho Santa Fe Association to support their cause, making the request at the board’s Nov. 3 meeting.

The board was supportive of the group’s efforts but the contribution was not an action item that day— RSF Association President Dan Comstock said both the board and staff will take time to review the application and consider it at a future meeting.

“I think this is a great idea,” said RSF Association Director Phil Trubey. “The wine is good…and it’s yet another marketing avenue for Rancho Santa Fe…it would be a feather in the cap of Rancho Santa Fe to say we’re an AVA as well as everything else, it’s something we can hang our hat on.”

Members of the RSF Vintners and Growers are an eclectic blend of people. Among them is Jon Williams, the group’s president, who started out by planting 1,000 vines on the hill behind his new home back in 2006. With encouragement from friends and fans of his wine, he and his wife’s first vintage release was 2012 and came to market in 2015 under the label The Covenant. Now known as The Cov, the wines are featured at local restaurants such as Mille Fleurs and tastings are sometimes poured at the RSF Golf Club.

With some 15,000 vines now planted in the Rancho Santa Fe area, many grapes are sold and a handful of wines may be able to sell commercially but Williams said for many members, simply growing the grapes and tending to their vineyards is a labor of love.

In addition to their efforts in becoming an AVA, Gamboa said the group hopes to raise awareness about the benefits of vineyards in the community. He said vineyards are a nod to Rancho Santa Fe’s agricultural roots that use a lot less water than other crops, they enhance landscaping and create a natural fire break in the event of a wildfire.

“We believe that vineyards are romantic and bucolic,” Gamboa said. “If you see the vineyards that are privately behind houses, you would see the same effect as Napa Valley or anywhere else in the world, they’re really fine, magnificent landscaping. The Vintners and Growers think this will raise our community prestige and land values.”

To learn more about the group, visit