Friends of Farming
San Diego County
“I just knew I wanted to be in Julian. That was my whole idea. My whole business idea was to be in Julian. I told myself if I could make one fourth of the business that Dudley’s Bakery does, being a tourist bakery, then I’d be okay. And that was 34 years ago.” So says Mike Menghini, owner of Menghini Winery and President of the Chamber of Commerce in Julian.
Menghini Winery sits on 30 acres of rolling hills east of Wynola and a just a few miles from Julian’s Main Street. Weathered wood buildings house stainless steel tanks and fermenters, and the tasting room was built in 1940 as an apple packing shed. It was the first commercial winery established in Julian, opening its doors in 1983, and over the years has become the de-facto location for town events. Recently, Menghini hosted the San Diego Astronomy Association for their Julian Starfest. The event drew hundreds of professional and amateur astronomers pointing telescopes up at the clear night sky. “We’re the only piece of property in all of Julian big enough for events. So, for anything like this, we just let them use the property,” Mike explains. “I get things out of it too though, I figure if 1,500 people show up, somebody’s going to buy a glass or a bottle of wine.”
As a winery owner and President of the Chamber of Commerce, Mike Menghini looks for win-win solutions. “Our job as a chamber, hosting events out here, is to introduce people to Julian. When they come out here for the Grapestomp or the Starfest, they don’t stay here at the winery all day; a lot of them get rooms. During any of our big events many of the hotels are booked solid, and they gotta eat so all the restaurants get taken care of.”
Regarding the county’s adoption of the Boutique Winery Ordinance which allows vineyard owners to include tasting rooms by right on their property under certain conditions, Mike exclaims, “It’s a wonderful thing, and I think it’s the only brilliant thing this county has ever done is to make this ordinance. It does everything they want; it keeps open space, its keeping land in agriculture, and it gives people a chance to build their dream but also move up when they want to.” He is quick to note though that some wineries in the county have taken unfair advantage, and are taking a larger slice of pie than the ordinance allows. “These guys just want something for nothing. They want what we’ve got; they want more than we’ve got. Anything we do out here I still have to be under the umbrella of a non-profit; I can’t just throw events. And they’re trying to do that. They’ve already got food, I can’t do food. They’ve got music, I can’t do music without an umbrella. These people that are fighting it, they’re fight should be to make it easier to get a major use permit.”
Mike grew up in Wyoming and in his formative years fostered a love of fermentation brewing beer and dandelion wine at home. Mike moved west to attend college and after a few stops and starts took a degree in biology from the University of San Diego. Upon graduation he and his wife, Toni, immediately began looking for a home in North County. They were looking for a house in Escondido and the real estate agent asked Mike, what he would do now that he was out of school. “I said well, I would have liked to make wine, but I’m not going back to school, and she said, well, they’re starting a new winery right here in Escondido.” The original San Pasqual Winery, now known as Orfila Winery, gave Mike his first job tending grape vines for three years before the winery was built. “I spent three years in the vineyard, which is the best thing that ever happened to me because that’s where good wines are made, not in the winery,” he says.
He worked another year in the winery for San Pasqual before starting work at Callaway Winery, “I went to Callaway because they were bigger and they knew more about everything there is to do with wine. I really lucked out. When I got started, I got to work with two of the biggest wineries in San Diego County, and they sent me to every class that UC Davis had - both viticulturally and enologically – on their dime. Then working with Callaway was neat because they wanted to make the same wines every year. They taught me every way to fine a wine in the world – which you don’t need – those are the tools you need if you get bad grapes.”
At his own winery, he walks a line between making his own unique styles of wines and maintaining consistency. “Without saying I’m trying to be a tourist winery, I’m trying to make something that absolutely everybody will like. They might not like my red or my white, but maybe they’ll like my sweet wine.”
Mike’s neighbors are one of the last remaining u-pick apple orchards, and Vulcan Mountain Winery. “We’re happier ‘n punch that they moved in,” says Mike. “We’ve got another good winery as a neighbor. My wife, she looked at me right after they moved in and said, well I guess we’re going to have to up our game! These guys make good wine and they’re going to be a really good neighbor. We’re tickled to death. ”
Mike isn’t concerned about competition, he sees it all as just good for the town and the industry. “Orfila, Bernardo, and Ferrara wineries were the only ones around when I started this. So, I’m an old timer. I’ve been around for a really long time. And I’m glad to see San Diego becoming more winery oriented; it’s going to help me. The more wineries you have…I just think that’s great.”
Mike and Toni still own the house they bought in Escondido in 1975, and split their time between there and the winery, which suits Mike just fine. “Julian, as far as I’m concerned, is in the country but we’re not isolated. We’re an hour and a half away from the second largest city in California, which I love. I think San Diego is the prettiest town in the world. My wife used to be a flight attendant, so we’d travel a lot. And wherever we’d go I’d say to myself would I rather be there than here? No place even comes close. We got the best of both worlds.”
Friends of Farming San Diego County 420 South Broadway, Suite 200, Escondido, CA 92025 760-745-3023 firstname.lastname@example.org