Tehachapi is a really beautiful place! On any given day, the natural beauty of the Tehachapi Mountains is breathtaking in any season. Driving from point to point, dramatic vistas open up at every turn. That rugged beauty is greatly enhanced by the many acres of cultivated soil that are planted with such world-famous wine grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, malbec, primitivo, viognier, zinfandel and tempranillo. The vineyards are nestled amid the sprawling mountains of the Tehachapi range in eastern Kern County.

The AVA

Until recently, Tehachapi might have been thought of as just another sleepy hamlet of a town in the California mountains. Things changed this year. After many years of dedicated effort, Tehachapi wine growers were granted their own AVA (American Viticulture Area) designation. The label Tehachapi Mountains now appears on the bottles of wine produced by local vineyards. An AVA is granted by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a division of the U.S. Treasury Department, to wine grape-growing regions that possess unique characteristics. The Tehachapi Mountains AVA comprises an area of 58,000 acres that stretches from the east end of town to the west end of Cummings Valley.

An AVA designation is quite an important distinction for Tehachapi wine growers. The ability to differentiate wine produced here from wine produced in other areas of California and the country is very important in the wine industry. The special qualities of Tehachapi Mountains wines reflect the unique characteristics of our native soil, climate and altitude. The unique growing conditions present in Tehachapi are what the French call “terroir,” or the local flavor of the land.

Viticulture at 4,000 feet

Mountain grapes are grown under very different climatic conditions than other areas of California. Tehachapi vineyards are growing grapes at 4,000 feet, which is among the highest growing elevations anywhere in the state. Napa is at 20 feet; Sonoma is at 85 feet and Paso Robles is at 732 feet. Grapes grown at high altitude produce remarkable nuances. Temperatures are lower and the higher elevation increases solar radiation, due to the closer proximity to the sun. Ozone levels are higher, as well as decreased oxygen and carbon dioxide, which enable UV rays to more easily penetrate the skins. As a result, grape skins grow thicker to protect the fruit. The intensity of the light increases photosynthesis and creates a greater concentration of phenolics. Phenolics are a group of chemical compounds that include flavonoids such as tannins and nonflavonoids such as resveratrol. The chemical combinations give structure, weight and texture to the wine by concentrating flavors. Consequently, mountain-grown wines are darker in color and possess a strong tannic backbone.

The vineyards and tasting rooms

These are boutique wineries that emphasize artisan craftsmanship. The wines are handcrafted and are as unique as their creators. Nothing mass market here. Tehachapi vineyard owners are a dedicated group of men and women from diverse backgrounds who have established second careers in the viticulture industry. Tenacity is an important attribute for anyone in agriculture. There are so many factors that can affect the success of a growing season and quality of the crop. Farming can be described as intelligent science, experienced technique, exhausting effort, the artistry of the winemaker — and a whole lot of luck against the whims of Mother Nature. Every grower has experienced highs and lows but that is the nature of life, especially in the fields. But despite some trials and tribulations, they are winning big in wine competitions across the state and even internationally. Tehachapi vineyards are producing astonishing wines and gaining recognition in a very competitive arena.

The growers have planted grape varieties that hail from many corners of the Earth. The effect is an international experience all within the confines of our small town. Each winery has its own unique personality and it's fun to globe-trot from vineyard to vineyard.

Many of the wineries host concerts, dinners, food trucks, vendor fairs and other assorted events. Wine clubs bring members discounts and other benefits. There is always something going on, so check their website calendars for scheduled events and information. Additionally, some wineries offer their facilities for event rentals or as wedding venues.

Triassic Vineyards

  • Jim and Sally Arnold
  • 24627 Cummings Valley Road
  • Open from noon to 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • 661-822-5341
  • triassicvineyards.com

Jim and Sally Arnold have owned Triassic Vineyards since 2013. Jim is a retired business executive and had been visiting Tehachapi for years before they purchased the vineyard. Their wines have won numerous awards including Double Gold and Best of Class in the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Jim and Sally are truly gracious hosts and enjoy chatting about wine or anything else with their guests while taking in the expansive views from the patio of the tasting room. Triassic hosts a regular series of wine-and-dine events on Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the year. Dinners are catered by Moessner Farm Cafe. There is also a summer concert series; check the website for details. Triassic grows zinfandel, viognier, syrah, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah on 7 acres.

Tehachapi Winery

  • Mike Chan and Marc Nail, winemaker
  • 22136 Bailey Road
  • Open from noon to 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • 661-821-9587
  • tehachapiwinery.com

Mike Chan, a Hong Kong native, retired from a successful career in the garment business and purchased the land for the vineyard in 2011. Mike came to the wine business with a plan to export his California wine to an eager market in Asia.

Marc Nail grew up in the Salinas Valley and was well steeped in agriculture. He studied winemaking at UC Davis and joined Tehachapi Winery in 2017. The tasting room hosts regular concerts and food truck dining options. Enjoy the wine with an industrial chic vibe. Eighteen acres are planted with the five noble grapes: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and petit verdot, as well as pinot noir and syrah. An additional offering of sauvignon blanc is available as well and will be planted at the vineyard next spring. Tehachapi Winery wines are winners of numerous medals, including gold medals for the 2018 merlot and syrah and a bronze medal for the 2018 malbec.

Dorner Family Vineyard

Mike Dorner retired from a career in the Sheriff’s Office after he and wife, Michele, raised two sons. It was during a trip to Europe that the thought occurred to them to pursue a new avenue in winemaking. Mike became a self-taught winemaker after reading everything he could get his hands on. He consulted experts and decided to move forward. In 2011, the Dorners planted an experimental 100 vines. After much thought and planning, they planted an additional 400 vines. Eventually, they built the tasting room whose design was inspired by the architecture of Tuscany. Mike is involved with every aspect of creating Dorner wines, recently taking his first gold and silver medals in the Orange County Fair International Wine Competition.

As of 2021, Dorner wines will include viognier, albarino, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petite sirah, chardonnay, syrah, tempranillo, pinot noir and white zinfandel. The tasting room has a small boutique with wine and culinary-related merchandise. Personal pizzas, charcuterie boards and other light fare are available on the shaded terrace. Concerts, too.

Tehachapi Wine & Cattle Co.

Mike Van Atta and Beth Hamilton both retired from careers in law enforcement and bought the ranch in 2018. Wine grapes had previously been planted on the property where Mike and Beth decided to continue the tradition. The property has a definite western feel with livestock peering out over the vines and an 1888 Victorian house, referred to as The House that Love Built. Make sure to ask Beth to tell you the story. Five acres of the 60 they own are planted with primitivo grapes. Primitivo is the Italian version of zinfandel. Their primitivo has won many awards in both state and international competitions. The winery also offers other red and white varietals. Beth and Mike are huge music fans themselves and enjoy hosting concerts on the ranch. Guests can enjoy strolling the property, talk to the animals and enjoy the peace in western style.

Rancho de Los Viajeros Vineyard

Ilda Vaja came to this country many years ago from Argentina. She married, raised two daughters and enjoyed a long successful career in business. She had admired the property she now operates as a vineyard for some time when one day in 2007 she noticed a for-sale sign. Ilda has never lost the love for her homeland and honors that heritage by growing the favorite varietal of Argentines, malbec. She planted 1,000 vines and her new career was born. Visiting her tasting room is like visiting your grandmother. It's warm and homey and Ilda cares for her guests like any loving grandmother would. She has not lost her accent and is full of stories that further enchant the experience. Her malbecs have been entered into competitions across the state and brought home medals, much to Ilda’s delight. She says her secret is that her grapes “are planted with love.” Rancho de Los Viajeros, which means Ranch of the Travelers, is a welcome stop along any traveler’s way. The tasting room is open by appointment, please call for reservations.

Stray Leaves Tasting Room

  • Cliff Meridth
  • 123 S. Green St.

Cliff Meridth spent his first career working his way up in the Los Angeles County Fire Department and retired as a battalion chief. He has lived in Tehachapi for 25 years and commuted to work. Cliff has had an interest in horticulture since he was a boy, having been inspired by the grandfather of a childhood friend whose vegetable garden he used to visit. He discovered many delights in that garden and many lessons that he fondly remembers today. His vineyard is located on Highline Road, where he planted 5 acres with riesling, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and primitivo. Cliff has been working on opening his tasting room in downtown Tehachapi that features an outdoor fireplace and cafe-style sidewalk seating. He hopes to be ready to open the doors of Stray Leaves Tasting Room this fall.

Brite Valley Vineyard

  • Keith Campeau
  • 22649 Highway 202

Dr. Keith Campeau is a retired physician who specialized in family medicine. Keith purchased 42 acres on Highway 202, next to Rancho de Los Viajeros. He and his wife, Smriti, traveled to Europe many times and enjoyed spending time with relatives in Italy who grew grapes and made wine. Rootstock was planted in 2019 and it will be some time before the vines will be ready to yield a harvestable crop. Perhaps by 2025? He hopes to create wines in the French style. Keith plans on growing cabernet sauvignon and another red varietal, counoise. In addition to wine grapes, he plans on planting persimmons, both fuyu and hachiya varieties. Future plans include a tasting room on the property.