Although many in Kern County may still think of areas such as Paso Robles as the best option for wining and dining, a similar experience can be found just up the hill in Tehachapi where vineyards are continuing to develop. With the region’s warm days, cool nights and consistent winds, growers are seeking to put Tehachapi on the map by making it a designated wine grape-growing region.
Less than a month ago, an application was submitted to make Tehachapi what is known as an American Viticultural Area, which has to be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
“We would have our own special designation...we wouldn’t just be a California wine,” said Beth Hamilton, who has been in the business since April when she and her husband closed escrow on Souza Vineyard, the area’s first wine producer since 2005.
The application could take a few years to receive approval, but in the meantime, the vineyards are focused on continuing to develop their businesses and are already drawing attention. Hamilton said her clientele are locals from around the area as well as wine lovers from outside of Kern County.
“People are coming to the area and they are actually looking for wineries,” Hamilton said.
Lydia Chaney, president of the Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council, said tourism to Tehachapi has recently been expanding in general. She said receiving the AVA designation could bring up property values and support downtown hotels and restaurants.
She said the council has been working with the growers, who have formed a commission under the council's umbrella, to increase marketing efforts, which include billboards off Highway 58 to Tehachapi.
“A lot of it’s word of mouth...we start telling people, they start telling other people,” Chaney said.
A 2015 study by the Sonoma State University School of Business conducted 520 interviews in five wine-producing counties along the California North Bay and Central Coast regions. It found that residents had an overall positive perception of the wine industry, with 94 percent reporting that wine businesses bring people to their regions, boost the economy and add “beauty and culture” to the region.
Jim Arnold, owner of Triassic Vineyard, said the collaboration of Tehachapi wine growers has the potential to bring value to the Kern County community through consumer dollars, quality of life and even attracting employees.
“We can start going in that direction to become more professional, to be a more successful wine growing region,” Arnold said.
Tehachapi wines are also award-winning, with various growers having won gold, silver and bronze medals in international, American and state competitions.
Julie Bell, a geochemist who owns a small vineyard and wrote the AVA application, said Tehachapi is also unique for growing wines given its elevation, comparable to some higher altitude vineyards in Argentina, Italy and the Spanish Canary Islands.
Hamilton said one goal for the local wine producers is to form a sort of wine trail along which people can visit different tasting rooms. She also mentioned the idea of tour buses coming from Bakersfield or other places to take people through the different locations.
Currently, there are tasting rooms at Souza and Triassic Vineyards. Other options will be available when Rancho de los Viiajeros and Dorner Family Vineyards complete their tasting rooms currently under construction and Stray Leaves finishes remodeling its downtown location.
Beyond their wines, the Tehachapi vineyards are also becoming known for their venues. Places like Souza Vineyard have regular wine nights with music and host weddings and events.
Michelle Dorner said the next step for Dorner Family Vineyard after its tasting room is built is to add rental cottages for wedding groups.
“We are trying to make this a destination, not just a day trip,” Dorner said.
Californian business editor John Cox contributed to this report.