Although Californians 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 and the wines are winning awards. 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.
For the past six years, Jim and Sally Arnold of Triassic Vineyards have brought home medals for every wine they have submitted to the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest annual contest for North American wines.
However, the 2020 competition realized two outstanding achievements for the owners of Triassic Vineyards located in Cummings Valley — they took home their first Best of Class medal, which led to Tehachapi being recognized for its skilled vintners.
“The recognition we got this year with Best of Class was really special because it is the top award that’s given out,” Jim Arnold said of the vineyard’s red blend, which retails for $48 a bottle.
Even more exciting was the plaque the Arnolds received this year detailing medals won.
“Every year, up until now, all of our plaques said ‘California’ as our AVA (American Viticultural Area),” said Jim.
This year, however, the Arnolds’ plaque reads, “Tehachapi-Cummings Valley,” which in essence, puts Tehachapi on the map as a wine growing destination.
“More people were talking about Tehachapi and where we are located than anytime before. I think that is a result of the five years we previously entered this contest, and this was the third year we participated in the pouring,” Jim said of the highly anticipated public tasting, which showcased the contest winners. It was held Feb. 15 at Fort Mason, San Francisco.
During the public tasting, one Napa couple, Bob and Joann Brandt, who have attended the annual pouring for the past several years, told the Arnolds their red wines “were the best in the house.”
“This helps us to be ambassadors to Tehachapi,” said Jim. “Getting positive feedback like that is everything. It helps me to realize that what we are doing is working and it’s worthwhile.”
In addition to their 2016 Big Bang, which won Best of Class, the Arnolds were awarded one double gold medal for their 2016 Triassic Rocks and two silver medals for their 2016 Zinfandel and 2018 Viognier.
Producing award-winning wine has not always been easy, but it has been very rewarding for the Arnolds.
“What it takes to get there is not easy. I liken it to a marathon runner. Months, days, hours of training, sacrificing time for other things. Hard work dedicated to the end goal — to not only run a marathon, but to also finish the race,” said Sally Arnold.
24627 Cummings Valley Road
Wine tasting, event venue
Open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays noon to 6 p.m.
Every Friday from 5 to 7 p.m., Triassic Vineyards features its Wine and Dine catered dinner featuring live music. Reservations are required.
Tehachapi Wine and Cattle Co.
26877 Cummings Valley Road
Vineyard and tasting room
Open Fridays 1 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays, Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Formerly known as Souza Family Vineyards, Mike Van Atta and his wife, Beth Hamilton, took over the landmark in 2018 and renamed the vineyard the Tehachapi Wine and Cattle Company. With the new name came new wine varieties as the vineyard now offers 23 wine varieties. In addition to grapes grown in Tehachapi, growers in Northern California are producing grapes for the vineyard’s use.
The vineyard is likened to the Tuscany growing area as both regions sit at a 4,000-foot to 5,000-foot elevation, and produce rich wines, including a unique Primitivo with Zinfandel award-winning estate wine.
“We source approximately 20 different wines from various regions, primarily Northern California,” said Hamilton. “We have singer-songwriting, live music on Sunday afternoon, and do many special dinners and events, Mother’s and Father’s Day and murder mystery.”
Dorner Family Vineyard
18274 Old River Road
Vineyard and tasting room
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.
Rancho de los Viajeros
22701 Highway 202
Tastings by appointment
Born in Hurlingham, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ilda Calfa Vaja and her husband, Emilio, immigrated to the United States in 1964 and settled in North Hollywood. After becoming U.S. citizens in the 1970s, the couple discovered Tehachapi in 1974 and built their house in Stallion Springs in 1990-91. In 2007, they bought Rancho de los Viajeros property.
“I always had a dream about having a vineyard and together with Mary Sigler, a friend who shared my dream, we established Rancho de los Viajeros Vineyard. Argentina is well known for Malbec wines, thus honoring my birth country, we chose Malbec,” said Ilda Calfa Vaja.
They planted in 2011 and had their first harvest in 2014, bottling a Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles grapes}. A few bottles are still available for purchase. In 2015, they harvested 1,200 bottles of award-winning wines, available for purchase by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
22136 Bailey Road
Veritas Tapas & Wine Bar
695 Tucker Rd., Suite C
Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays Thursdays 4 to 10 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays 3 to 9 p.m.
Wine bar and lounge