Starting a vineyard from scratch — doing what hadn’t been done before — wasn’t the hardest thing, Bob Souza recalls. It was doing it all alone.
But over the nearly 30 years that followed, the Souza Family Vineyard’s success — which includes winning awards at international wine competitions and earning the loyalty of customers — has resulted in other wineries sprouting up in the Tehachapi Valley.
“The best thing that can happen to you is to have another winery open up across the street,” said Souza, who with his wife, Patty, has been making and selling wine from their vineyard on Cummings Valley Road in Tehachapi. “Look at Paso Robles. The more wineries, the more people visit.”
The Souzas recently sold their operation to Mike Van Atta and his wife, Beth Hamilton, who will continue with the Souza name.
While the other wineries haven’t exactly opened up “across the street” from the pioneering Souza Family Vineyard, they are clustered in an easy drive that makes enjoying the rich Tehachapi wines an easy, enjoyable experience.
Tehachapi grape grower Julie Bell and Jim Arnold, the owner of Triassic Vineyards, are spearheading the effort to have Tehachapi recognized as an American Viticulture Area — a designated U.S. wine-grape growing region, with distinctive geographic features and boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Arnold explained that Tehachapi will be the highest-elevation AVA in the United States at 4,000 feet. The AVA labeling defines a region and helps buyers and wine enthusiasts understand such things as growing conditions and their influences on the quality and character of wines.
Noting that wines produced from grapes grown in Tehachapi already are proving to be award-winners, Arnold said, “When we officially get our AVA, and it becomes public, I think that it’s going to generate a lot of interest. It’s a really big deal. It will create a lot of value.”
“Normally, at 4,000 feet, you can’t grow wine grapes because of the frost,” he said. But Tehachapi is blessed with a flow of warm air from both the Antelope Valley and the San Joaquin Valley, which extends the region’s growing season. The higher elevation also exposes the grapes to higher ultra-violet rays, thickening the fruit’s skin and providing in the crushing process deeper colors and flavors for such varieties as the region’s distinctive red wines. With an AVA designation, wines produced from the region will be labeled “Tehachapi.”
Souza Family Vineyard
26877 Cummings Valley Road
Wine tasting, sales and gift shop
Open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Souza Family Vineyard offers 12 wine varieties — six reds and six whites, which are bottled under the Souza label. In addition to grapes grown in Tehachapi, growers in Northern California are producing grapes for the vineyard’s use.
Before planting their vineyard in 2003, Bob and Patty Souza spent more than a decade restoring the turn-of-the-century Elijah Stowell Estate — a 1888 Victorian home and barns that sits on 60 acres overlooking the Cummings Valley. The property now is home to the Souza Family Vineyard and wine tasting.
Bob Souza likens the Tehachapi Valley to the Tuscany growing area. Both regions sit at a 4,000-foot to 5,000-foot elevation, and produce rich wines, including a unique Zinfandel. Beginning about three years ago, Souza opened his winery to mid-week tours organized by a company catering to visitors from France. The winery schedules other exclusive tastings for groups on request.
24627 Cummings Valley Road
Wine tasting, event venue
Open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays noon to 6 p.m.
With its first harvest in 2012, Triassic Vineyards was founded by retired geologist Chuck McCollough. The vineyard has more than seven acres planted in Zinfandel, Syrah and Viognier grapes. Triassic features a 1,380-square-foot tasting room that commands an impressive view of the Cummings Valley and surrounding mountains.
Triassic and its estate-grown, award-winning wines was purchased in 2013 by Jim and Sally Arnold, who added Tempranillo to the vineyard. Under the Arnolds’ ownership, Triassic has enclosed an outdoor patio to accommodate year-round tasting and dining. Friday nights, Triassic features “Wine and Dines,” a combination of wine tasting and catered dinners. On the fourth Saturday of the month, check out the Zin of Painting — an afternoon of wine tasting and art lesson. Special events also are announced on Triassic’s website and Facebook.
Dorner Family Vineyard
18274 Old River Road
Wedding and event venue
Tasting room under construction
Voted “Tehachapi’s Best Place to get Married,” Dorner Family Vineyard was established by Mike and Michele Dorner on 20 acres of oak and pine covered land. The location features an exquisitely landscaped garden and event amenities. The vineyard is planted in 500 Zinfandel and Riesling grapevines. To show off their award-winning wines, the Dorner family is constructing a wine tasting room, which is expected to be completed in late 2018.
21300 Highline Road
Downtown Tehachapi tasting room planned
Clifford Meridth, a retired Los Angeles County fire battalion chief and long-time Tehachapi property owner, planted Stray Leaves Vineyards at 2130 Highline Road in 2009. Five acres are planted in Riesling, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Primitivo vines. Already, Stray Leaves grapes have produced award-winning wines.
Although the vineyard does not have a tasting room, work is expected to begin on Meridth’s renovation of a former bank building at 123 S. Green St. in downtown Tehachapi, which will serve as a tasting room. Construction is expected to be completed in late 2018. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
de los Viajeros
22701 Highway 202
Tasting room expected to open summer 2018
Partners Ilda Vaja and Mary Sigler have started a small winery along Highway 202. Nephew Rolando Calfa explained Cabernet, Reisling and Merlot grapes have been planted. In a nod to the partners’ Argentina heritage, Malbec grapes also have been planted. The new enterprise now is purchasing grapes from Tehachapi-area growers to produce de los Viajeros wines that are bottled in Santa Clarita.
de los Viajeros wines are being featured during area community festivals and can be purchased at the Highway 202 vineyard. Calfa said plans are underway to open a tasting room sometime in 2018.