Yucaipa hits the road for a Temecula field trip

Yucaipa Mayor Pro Tem David Avila, Chairs and Open Space Chair Kristine Mohler, Councilwoman Denise Allen and Mayor Bobby Duncan enjoy the views.

The city of Yucaipa took another step forward in its quest to become a wine destination area. Yucaipa City Councilmembers and city staff attended a special study session and traveled to Temecula on Sept. 12, to visit several wineries and meet with expert viticulturists and tourism experts. Both Riverside and San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors members, city planning commissioners, committee members, and two members from Yucaipa Valley Wine Alliance were also in attendance.

YVWA  and the city of Yucaipa are currently awaiting an approval from the government to become an American Viticultural Area (AVA), a designated wine-grape growing region.

City council recently approved a resolution for the submittal of a grant application requesting $250,000 from the State of California, Department of Conservation Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation program. If successful, the grant would be used, in part, for Yucaipa’s completion of a vinification overlay district plan.

The wine idea isn’t a new concept. Yucaipa’s first bonded winery, Suveg Cellars, opened in 2010. Since then, the creation of Yucaipa Valley Wine Alliance and the addition of 14 known vineyards in Yucaipa, have made an impact on what may come next in Yucaipa’s future wine industry.

The city’s rented bus last Thursday, transported the group to three Temecula wineries - Palumbo Family Vineyards, a 13-acre small boutique winery, Avensole Winery and Leoness Cellars.

At each winery, guests were given a tour and a brief presentation by winery owners.

The field trip culminated with an informative roundtable discussion at Temecula Conference Center. Yucaipa City Manager Ray Casey thanked the city of Temecula, where he worked prior to coming to Yucaipa, for agreeing to meet with the group. Aaron Adams, city manager of Temecula, welcomed guests in attendance.

“We hope you enjoyed today,” said Adams. He talked about the past three decades of developing “the heart of Southern California wine country” and the struggles and successes the city has experienced.

Adams said the city of Temecula has truly embraced the economic business of tourism.

Christine Damko, economic development manager for the city of Temecula, said Temecula retail sales are in the top 10 percent in the entire state of California.

She said the tourism industry is a strong economic engine in the city of Temecula and it continues to grow.

But it certainly didn’t happen overnight.

The increases in tourism created challenges for infrastructure.

Olivia Balderrama, legislative assistant for Riverside County Third District Supervisor Chuck Washington, said many of Temecula’s wineries end on two-lane country roads, “because that’s what the community supported ... maintaining the rural lifestyle.” There were subsequent traffic analysis and adjusting the county plan accordingly.

In terms of moving forward, Adams suggested that the city of Yucaipa identify what it wants to be known for, to have a clear vision on a “brand” and to tell that story.

Temecula Chamber CEO Alice Sullivan stressed the importance of working with partners. “We have always supported each other,” she said. “For the past 18 years, we have worked hard on tourism. Partnerships are so critical. Tourism was going to be the economic force for our community.”

In a 2017 Wine Country Impact Report, the total annual revenue in Temecula was $64.5 million. Temecula Valley wine country continues to bring jobs, business and benefits to the community. Over 1,300 employees work in the wine industry, which brings in more than 1.5 million winery visitors per year.

Nicholas Palumbo, owner of Palumbo, said the city of Temecula started with “very few wineries in 1988” but now there are 45-50 wineries and 75 wine brands.

“It’s really about wine quality and recognition,” said Palumbo. “If you don’t have authenticity, they’re not coming back. It took Temecula 50 years and we are finally getting it right.”

Trails and Open Space Chairwoman Kristine Mohler attended the field trip.

“I was just blown away with the prospect of Yucaipa becoming a wine destination,” said Mohler.

Longtime Yucaipa City Councilwoman Denise Allen concurred.

“The visit to Temecula Valley wine country was very informative,” said Allen. “I really appreciated the thoughtful and detailed suggestions and comments as articulated by the winery owners and city staff from the city of Temecula. The tour provided a great deal of insight in terms of how we can grow a quality wine industry in the Yucaipa Valley.”

Yucaipa Mayor Bobby Duncan also agreed and talked specifically about planting vineyards in the North Bench area of Yucaipa.

“North bench residents don’t want half acre lots, so any opportunity to create some type of other activity would be exciting,” said Duncan. “The whole AVA thing, the Yucaipa Valley Wine Alliance and the field trip are all exciting opportunities. It seems perfect for Yucaipa.”

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