When you pour a glass and taste one of Vesper Vineyards' wines, Alysha Stehly wants you to taste San Diego.
A fourth-generation farmer, Alysha and her husband Chris Broomell is the duo behind the Escondido business.
From the Pinot Noir sourced from the loamy sands of the El Nido Vineyard in Rancho Santa Fe to the 2011 Syrah hailing from the slopes of the Orfila Vineyard in San Pasqual Valley, each bottle and each glass of Vesper's 24 wines has a flavor and story unique to the region.
And after 11 years, the local vintners are reaping the fruits of their labor - recently Vesper was named the "Best Local Winery" by FOX 5 Morning News viewers in the 2019 Winey Awards, the network's annual viewers-choice awards that recognize the region's best wines, wineries, and breweries.
Stehly and Broomell have frequently made listings of "winemakers to watch" and Stehly was named one of San Diego's "People of the Year" by San Diego CityBeat in 2018.
"It's always an honor to be recognized by our own customers as one of their favorite winemakers," Stehly said. "We don't enter winemaking contests just because they are so subjective, but to know that we have the support of our customers is a great thing."
Stehly and Broomell got their start in winemaking in 2008, shortly after Stehly - a Valley Center native and resident - graduated from UC Davis with a bachelor's degree in viticulture and enology.
Their first wine? A 2008 Pinot Noir from the El Nido Vineyard.
Since then, they've built a loyal following and opened their cellar and winery in Escondido's Enterprise Heights Industrial Center, as well as the companion Sans V Tasting Room, which features the wines of both Vesper and Stehleon Vineyards, a venture owned by members of her own family, of which she is the winemaker.
The tasting room stands out as an oasis in the sea of offices and industrial spaces that surround it.
Visitors are greeted with the fragrant aroma of the latest rosé or pinot being stored in barrels in the tasting room's companion winery as they walk into the tasting room, with its wine-colored walls and its inviting decor.
The tasting room is welcoming and family friendly, with games and coloring books at the small kids table area, while parents can enjoy the serene atmosphere, complete with flights of wine that can be mixed or match, or maybe a glass of Vesper or Stehleon's latest and greatest.
The wineries are part of a renaissance of sorts of winemaking in Escondido, which was the historic epicenter of the industry in the pre-Prohibition era. Blessed with ideal soil and the perfect climate, vintners flocked to Escondido and the surrounding valleys in the late 1800s, and the region produced more wine than any area in San Diego County, which was home to nearly 100 wineries before alcohol was banned in the United States in 1919. Grape Day Park and the city's Grape Day Festival are vestiges of the city's winemaking roots.
By the 2000s, the industry had all but disappeared from Escondido. Since 2013, however, vintners began to return to the city and the industry appears to be on the rise once more. As of January, there are 18 wineries operating in Escondido proper, up from five in 2013.
For Stehly, winemaking was a way to continue her family's agricultural tradition. Her brothers run an organic citrus, avocado, berry, and vegetable operation in Valley Center, while her parents comprise two-thirds of Stehleon Vineyard's team.
"It was something that weaved together farming, and science and art, so I thought, 'This sounds pretty cool,'" Stehly said. "And I stuck with it."
Sticking with any agricultural venture can be a challenge in the current environment, as regulatory hurdles, drought, residential and commercial development, and rising costs have driven many farmers out of business.
Atop those factors, Stehly said, the success of San Diego's winemaking industry has also squeezed their small operation. In 2018, the San Diego County Vintners Association reported seven years of record growth in the number of active winegrower licenses, as well as a 9.4-percent increase in gross sales at local wineries from 2016 to 2017.
More winegrowers and more wineries mean more demand for local grapes, which means that Vesper, which doesn't have its own vineyard, is competing with more outfits for the finite grape supply, Stehly said.
Vesper sources its grapes from vineyards in Rancho Santa Fe, Pauma Valley, and San Pasqual Valley and Ramona Valley, the region's two recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
"The industry has nearly tripled since 2008, which is great, but it's also very challenging," she said. "It's great because we have more customers, but a challenge because they've got five favorite wineries instead of one."
Stehly said that the couple remains competitive by trying to stay ahead of the curve with new wines that will win over the taste buds of loyal and new customers alike.
They do that by producing natural, or "low-intervention" wines: these are wines without added yeast and minimal sulfites so that the grape is the champion.
"We try to stick to the principles of featuring the vineyard, so we're not buying grapes from other regions, or using yeast to make the wine spicier or more fruity" Stehly said. "We're making them true to the region and the climate, and we have customers that appreciate that."
In addition to the business, Stehly is teaching (hopefully, she says) the next generation of vintners, teaching viticulture and enology at MiraCosta College in Oceanside since 2010. In her capacity as a professor, she says she is able to help foster the same passion for winemaking in her students, in hopes that they will spread it across the region in their future endeavors.
"I love seeing others learn and discover the beauty of vineyards and winemaking," Stehly said. "Helping them start off with their new business venture or hobby with a good base of knowledge."
She also hopes that one day - if he so chooses - she and Broomell will be able to leave a legacy that their son, 20-month-old Cole, will be able to follow.
The couple remains active with the San Diego County Farm Bureau, recently going to Washington D.C. to lobby on behalf of local farmers and growers.
Hopefully, she said, those efforts will keep farming going long enough for Cole.
"We hope we're creating a future for our son," Stehly said. "Our goal is that he has the option if he wants to be involved with agriculture in California, he can. There are some days where we feel like it's not going to be an option, but that is why we continue to stand up for what we love to do."
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Escondido Companies Practice Sustainability, Clean Technology
Environmental stewardship is top-of-mind during April as Americans celebrated Earth Day on Monday, April 22.
In Escondido, a number of businesses are doing their part to forge a legacy of sustainability, leaving the world in a better position environmentally than they inherited it.
Some of these are among the city's most prominent and largest employers, setting the tone for the rest of the city's business community to do their part to promote environmental stewardship as part of the city's business culture.
Three companies, in particular, have embraced environmental stewardship, clean technology, and sustainability, earning accolades and praise in the process - TransPower, Baker Electric Home Energy, and Bimbo Bakeries USA's Escondido bakery.
For nearly 20 years, TransPower has been on the cutting edge of zero-emission, clean-tech heavy-duty powertrain technology - in short, creating electric-powered big rigs.
Earlier in April, the company announced a major breakthrough - the completion of two multi-year projects in which they and one of the company's major investors successfully developed, tested, and evaluated advanced zero-emission electric yard tractors and Class 8 trucks.
The success of the demonstration project puts TransPower one step closer towards the commercialization of cost-effective, environmentally friendly powertrain technology, said Joshua Goldman, TransPower's vice president of sales and marketing.
"It's an honor after many years, many of us having worked for 20 years on zero-emission power train technologies, to be on the cusp of the commercialization of environmentally friendly drivetrain technology," Goldman said. "The biggest advantage of the technology is zero tailpipe emissions and the affordability of that homegrown electric fuel, and by going to zero emissions, our fleet partners are able to fuel their vehicles on site, operate vehicles in a clean and quiet environment, and help the branding of their company, given the strong sustainable message that zero-emission trucks provide."
TransPower's projects were funded in part by a $6 million grant from the California Energy Commission under its Alternative and Renewable Fuels and Vehicle Technologies Program, as well as investment from Meritor, Inc. (NYSE: MTOR), a leading manufacturer of axles and brake systems.
Yard tractors, commonly referred to as yard dogs, are semi-tractors that are used at locations such as cargo yards and warehouses to haul semi-trailers short distances.
The electric yard tractors built under the recently concluded demonstration projects are operating at Dole Fresh Fruit's terminal at the Port of San Diego; the IKEA Distribution Center in Tejon; Grimmway Farms and Harris Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley; and Blue Diamond Almonds and Raley's in Sacramento. They have already accumulated more than 15,000 drive hours, a huge step towards validating that the electric drive trains can handle the workload of their gas-powered counterparts.
The project's success has brought TransPower major interest from some of the world's biggest players in the commercial truck manufacturers and parts suppliers, including Kalmar Ottawa, Peterbilt, O.E.M. Company, and Meritor, which increased its strategic investment in the company to accelerate the production of the trucks and yard tractors.
TransPower has received grants and contracts to convert 100 additional yard tractors and trucks to electric drive for use in California. They've operated in Escondido since 2016, after moving from Poway, and Goldman said the company has really enjoyed its new home.
"It's been a great place to integrate technology, the permitting and politics have been favorable, and we were able to find great facilities and get them for a reasonable price," Goldman said. "And it's close to the boss's house," referring to founder and CEO Mike Simon, who actually started TransPower in his Escondido garage.
With year-round sunshine and an environmentally conscious population, California has been at the forefront of the residential solar industry.
Originally, solar-powered homes were on the fringe of the mainstream, considered financially out of reach for most homeowners.
But over the years, falling prices of electrical solar power, financial incentives for homeowners and developers to install them, and government requirements to include them on new development (California is the first state to require solar power for all new homes beginning this year) spurred an explosion in the residential solar industry over the past 15 years.
In Escondido, longtime electrical contractor Baker Electric seized the opportunity, starting Baker Electric Solar in 2007. Today Baker Electric Home Energy has become one of Southern California's largest installers of residential solar panel systems and home batteries.
"When you look back to some of the first residential solar customers, the early days, a lot of reasons people did it were environmentally driven, it was a very green movement," said Keith Randhahn, Baker Electric's Director of Engineering. "And that is still a motivation for a lot of the movement towards renewables. But beyond that, the financial return has helped the growth of the industry."
Randhahn said that the lower cost of solar energy and the ability now to capture energy in home batteries makes it a financially viable alternative to fossil fuel energy from the power grid.
"People are able to consume power and live the lifestyle they like, run the air conditioning in their home when they want and not feel guilty about it," Randhahn said.
For Baker, a fourth-generation family-owned company that has been in business since 1938, the move into residential solar has proven to be a boon: the company's solar division has grown from a dozen employees in 2007 to more than 200 currently, and all of the electricians are union-trained, setting them apart from many of their competitors, Randhahn said.
And the company practices what it preaches: in 2009, Baker installed an 85,000-watt rooftop installation that reduces the company's carbon dioxide emissions by 106 tons annually. Over 25 years, that's roughly the equivalent of planting 2,275 trees or taking 507 cars off the road.
The company, which ranks No. 1 in market share in the Southern California service area, has installed over 10,000 residential solar systems. Recently, Baker Electric Home Energy hosted State Sen. Brian Jones, who learned about their growth, diversification, and the recent move into their new 50,000-square-foot division headquarters.
Escondido has been a perfect location, Randhahn said.
"It's perfectly situated and central, which allows us to reach south Orange County, southwest Riverside County, and the Inland Empire and cover a pretty broad geographic territory," Randhahn said. "And it has a very business-friendly environment, sufficient workforce, and a well-educated population."
Bimbo Bakeries USA
When Lorenzo Servitje founded Mexican bakery Grupo Bimbo in 1945, he did it with an eye towards sustainability.
"It was his purpose to build a sustainable, highly productive, and deeply humane company," said Leslie Adebayo, the corporate sustainability manager for Grupo Bimbo's US company, Bimbo Bakeries USA. "The company still lives by that motto, our current CEO, Lorenzo's son, believes it is imperative that we focus on sustainability."
That commitment to environmental sustainability trickles down to each of the company's bakeries, including its Escondido location near Palomar Medical Center. On March 28, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presented the company with a certificate from its Energy Star Program after earning Energy Star certification at 14 of its facilities in 2018, including the Escondido bakery.
This marks a record for the most facilities receiving Energy Star certification in one year across all industries. The certification signifies that the industrial plant performs in the top 25% of similar facilities nationwide for energy efficiency and meets strict energy efficiency performance levels set by Energy Star.
The Escondido bakery will also likely receive recognition of its own in the next few months for completing the Energy Star Challenge for Industry, which calls on industrial sites to reduce their energy intensity by 10 percent within 5 years.
As one can expect, baking bread is an energy consuming task, using large amounts of natural gas and electricity in the baking process, Adebayo said.
At the Escondido bakery and other locations, Bimbo has cut down on electrical usage by installing a system that shuts down the plant's system of conveyor belts - which are operated by 150 motors at any given time - when nothing is on the bakery line.
"In a 24/7 operation, that adds up significantly," Adebayo said. "They have it at Escondido and are implementing it at every bakery. It's not always the easiest thing to implement, but Escondido was perfect, and the system has worked great."
The other big energy-saving addition at the Escondido plant came in 2017 by the way of a one-megawatt solar array. Covering the full roof area and some of the plant's covered parking, the system produces one-third of the power needed to operate the plant.
"It has been a tremendous boon," Adebayo said. "The solar array helped us drop the energy by 10 percent, meeting the Energy Star Challenge."
Bimbo's sustainability mantra extends to its commitment to being good neighbors in the city in which they operate.
In Escondido, Adebayo said, they produce a relatively low amount of waste and use a catalytic oxidizer that eliminates the "bread smell" - and associated carbon dioxide emissions - from escaping the plant.
"We've been good partners with the city," Adebayo said.
The three businesses represent just a microcosm of the environmentally conscious firms and companies throughout the city - including the city itself. With the combined efforts, Escondido continues to do its part to leave the earth a little greener and a little better.
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