RSF Association board supports efforts to establish Rancho Santa Fe as an American Viticultural Area

A grape haul from Jon Williams' vineyard in Rancho Santa Fe, which produces The Cov wine.
(The Cov Wine)

On Feb. 2, the Rancho Santa Fe Association board agreed to contribute $5,000 toward the Rancho Santa Fe Vintners and Growers’ efforts to make Rancho Santa Fe an American Viticultural Area.

David Gamboa, a founding member of the Vintners and Growers, said an AVA distinction would put Rancho Santa Fe on the map as a world-class wine-growing region. The benefits of becoming an AVA would improve wine-growing efforts in the community, lead to higher wine and grape prices, and potentially contribute to land value appreciation.

“This is an economic impact that will last for generations. (Vineyards) are beautiful and they support the most important thing for the Association: our agricultural heritage,” Gamboa said.

Currently, there are 31 active vineyards in Rancho Santa Fe. The Vintners and Growers group formed in 2021 with the goals of being a source of education for local growers, hosting community events and establishing the AVA. They have talked about one day opening a wine-tasting room in the village.

The AVA application is already in play as the Vintners and Growers submitted their 150-page petition to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in December. Gamboa said that AVA applications are a detailed and lengthy process—the petition has to prove historical significance, geographic distinction and uniqueness of soil, climate and elevation, also known as the terroir.

“It profiles the community scientifically as a proper and excellent grape-growing neighborhood,” Gamboa said.

The Vintners and Growers heard in January that the petition has been “perfected”, meaning it met all regulatory requirements. The next process is longer, including a review by the national register for the next 14-18 months—the soonest it could receive approval is 2024.

The process is expensive and costs about $85,000—the group has raised about $70,000 so far.

With his support of the AVA application, Director Rick Sapp acknowledged that agriculture is an important part of Rancho Santa Fe’s heritage and that the Association should encourage grape growing as one way to replace declining citrus in the community. He said vineyards have the added benefits of using less water and they are less likely to burn in a fire, creating a natural fire break.

Director Scott Thurman was encouraged by the Vintners’ efforts to enhance the village experience with a potential tasting room, adding more activity to the village: “With everything we do, we try to add value to our community,” he said.

In his comments, President Dan Comstock noted that the board has heard some concerns from residents about insecticides used in vineyards and the impact on neighboring properties.

Going forward, Gamboa said the Association will need to work through the management of local vineyards, get community input and determine best practices. Jon Williams, who has been growing grapes on his property since 2005, said he lives right next to his vineyards and keeps horses so they are very careful with how they treat their grapes.

There are also some considerations for the board regarding the production of wine with the Protective Covenant, which prohibits Association property from being used for the sale or manufacture for the sale of “malt, vinous or spirituous liquors”. Director Greg Gruzdowich said that the Covenant does give the board some discretion but it will need to be looked into. Currently, local vineyards, like Williams’ The Cov, grow grapes in Rancho Santa Fe which are then outsourced to Fallbrook for the production of wine.

Learn more about the RSF Vintners and Growers at