While a winery may be "local", a winery can get their grapes from just about anywhere. Wineries in the San Diego area make wine from grapes grown all the way from Napa to the Mexican Baja, and everywhere in between.
So the first, and most important, choice for a winemaker is... do I choose my grape varietals regardless of where I am located, or do I go with only the best varietals grown locally?
I'm going for the latter, and here's why...
If we go for the former, and pick the varietals we want regardless of where we are located, there's always a tendency for winemakers to produce the SAME wines. Take Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a well known grape varietal to consumers and winemakers alike. Most wineries make a Cab Sauv - just pick some wineries off the top of your head, and check out their wine list. The vast majority, if not all, will have a Cab Sauv, almost no matter where they are in the world.
What's really the point of making all that Cab Sauv?
It's one thing if your winery is in the heart of an area that grows outstanding Cab Sauv - then it just makes sense to make it. But once I start making Cab Sauv outside of those areas - either with those outstanding grapes shipped in, or with inferior grapes grown locally - then what am I really adding to the wine world? What benefit am I really bringing to the consumer? I'm just making more wine that other people can make... people who can possibly make it cheaper (and better).
This practice also tends to drive up price (due to the higher demand for specific varietals, and increased shipping costs in moving grapes), and to drive out options - a small group of grape varietals are grown everywhere, rather than a wide range of varietals that are each grown in a different area.
It just makes sense to pick your geography first - specifically, your local area - and then choose your varietals based on what grows well around you. When we do so, diversity in grape varietals flourishes. And with each winery making wine from the best grapes, the quality of wine improves.
So, now that I'm going local... what is "local"?
That's really a point of view, and there's no universally accepted standard, but the most common definition used for locally grown produce is a 100 mile radius.
If we draw a 100 mile radius around my winery in San Marcos, we see it covers quite a lot of ground. In the map below, each circle is an increase of 20 miles in radius - the first circle is at 20 miles and the last at 100 miles. On a gut level, this just feels like too big of an area to be "local". Also, a locally focused wine consumer (a "locavore") wanting to purchase within a 100 mile radius might accidentally choose that based on the location of my winery, rather than the actual location of where the grapes are grown, and buy something made from grapes 200 miles away.
If we switch to a 50 mile radius, I think it works better (in the map below, each circle is now 10 miles in radius). A locavore living on one end of the radius could buy a wine from me made from grapes on the other end of the radius, and still fall within 100 miles.
I'll take it even a little closer, just based on a gut feeling. I'd say a radius of 30 miles is about right. That just feels "local" to me.
Within this small area, there are actually three recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) - Temecula Valley, Ramona Valley, and San Pasqual Valley - so even in this small of a space, we have a wealth of grape growing!
So, now that I've decided to stay local (and on what "local" is), what grapes grow best here? I'll explore that in the next post.