17224 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido, CA 92027

Grapes and citrus and avocados, oh my!  

Visiting Rancho Guejito is a bit like a trip to Oz.  It’s magical, inspiring and fun. Luckily we didn’t have to aimlessly wander a road of precious metal. Our wizard, Al Stehly, was there to guide us. Al comes from a farming family who has long acted as stewards of the land. Al manages the crops at Rancho Guejito, where his knowledge and passion is reflected in the crops that thrive throughout the valley.

Rancho Guejito was part of a Mexican land-grant bestowed in 1845 and comprises 23,000 acres, home to a number of crops and 2,000 head of cattle. Fondly described as “where the asphalt ends and the Old West begins,” it really is a special place. According to sohosandiego.org, the name is said to originate from “aguajito” and refers to pebbles or a small stream. During our visit, it was drizzling and the valley was draped in a wispy fog. The vineyards were immediately to the left, barren of leaves, freshly pruned and waiting for spring to coax out the buds for what will be the 2019 vintage. Over 12 varieties of grapes call this valley home, from Grenache to Syrah. Al and his team are not afraid of a little experimentation and have produced some wonderful wines. I’m especially interested in seeing what comes out of the recent planting of Syrah on a steep hillside overlooking the valley.

Dense plantings of organic citrus line the muddy dirt road as we make our way toward the avocado groves. When Al is asked about the low height of the citrus plantings he replies simply, “it’s easier for the workers to pick the fruit.” The care he cultivates into the land is also one that extends to his staff and others involved in his business. We reach a beautiful overlook, Al hands us a few bags and encourages us deeper into our trek to what must be Basic Bitch Heaven, as we were surrounded by big beautiful avocados (no toast).  With bags laden with fresh-picked fruit, we made our way back to our cars. It was time to leave. If I had my ruby slippers on at this point, I would have thrown them away. I wanted to stay there, in Rancho Guejito Oz, forever.

Just a short drive away is the Sans V Tasting Room. Al’s wife, daughter, and son-in-law make the wines served in the tasting room under the Stehleon and Vesper labels. The tasting room is billed as an urban winery, without the vineyards (hence “Sans V.”) It’s a great place to meet up with friends and “taste San Diego one sip at a time.” Al and his family have taken a thoughtful and holistic approach to making wines from the vine to bottle, and you can taste it. If the vineyard valley was Oz, the tasting room is surely Emerald City.

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