While the image of rolling hills and winding roads dotted with grape vines and lush greenery come to mind when envisioning the “traditional” winery, more winemakers are bringing their bottles to the streets, so-to-speak, in the form of the urban winery.
From New York City to Santa Barbara to Vista, Calif., wineries are bucking the norm and opening up shop Downtown, giving residents and visitors alike the balance of “countryside” wine with a modern, artisanal feel. One local winemaker tapping into the urban market is Coomber Craft Wines, whose quaint and unique Oceanside tasting room has been such a hit that the winery is expanding into Downtown Vista.
The winery and tasting room in Vista, located at 344 Main Street, is currently under construction, with an expected grand opening by the end of the year. It will also include nightly music on an outdoor covered patio.
Here's the backstory
We caught up with Skip Coomber, the winery’s co-founder, who shared he and his wife’s love of wine, how they built a successful family business, and how North County is ripe for urban wineries.
In 2009, Skip and his wife Maureen began having wine made for their own enjoyment and for friends and family at Terravant, a popular winery in Buellton, Calif. in the famous Santa Ynez Valley. You may have heard of the Central Coast city, which was made famous by the wine movie SIDEWAYS.
Through their endeavor, the couple were able to purchase world-famous grapes and eventually received, for their first rating, a 95-rating from Wine Enthusiast.
The wines were so well-received that various friends and restaurant owners suggested that the couple make them available to the public. So, under the label “Coomber Family Ranch Wines” they distributed their wine to restaurants, bars, liquor stores and grocery stores. The couple eventually had their brand in over 1,200 Publix markets in the southeast.
The Coomber family pets are profiled on the wines’ labels - Murphy, a black lab; Maggie, a skateboard-riding English bulldog; horses Honey and Piper; as well as black and white rescue cats, Cherry, Angel and Lucky. The animal lovers also support animal welfare organizations such as Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas.
From the Vine
The Coombers - who are still part owners of the Buellton winery where they produce their wines - source their grapes from mostly Central and Northern California. “Being able to choose specific grapes means that we can pick and choose and take only top-line grapes,” Coomber explained. “We are not restricted to the farming vagaries that any individual vineyard is subject to - think fires, smoke, bugs, etc….”
The Coombers opened their first tasting room in Downtown Oceanside in 2019, which has been met with much fanfare. The dog-friendly neighborhood haunt - popular among locals and visitors alike - now includes live music on the covered patio seven nights a week. “We enjoy being a part of the fantastic winery scene in San Diego and enjoy supporting and cooperating with other wineries,” Coomber said. “\
After doing research and visiting over 100 different wineries and tasting rooms we confirmed our position that when people go out they want more than just good wine. They want an experience. So, from the beginning we have worked hard to make sure that our guests have a great experience. They are greeted personally when they enter.
Our wine flights (six tastings of either all red, all white or mixed) are prepared so that a guest can take them to their chosen table and enjoy at their own pace, rather than waiting for the person behind the wine bar to come over to pour their next taste. Our employees are all well-trained in wine and the majority are members of the Court of Master Sommeliers. So, when someone wants to talk ‘wine’ we are prepared to engage with them on an educated and friendly level.”
Part of the unique experience at Coomber Craft Wines comes from the way the wineries are built, which Coomber describes as "industrial elegant.” Most everything in the Oceanside tasting room, for example, was built on site using reclaimed wood and steel. As an example, the front of the bar is the red metal from the hull of a decommissioned Naval ship.
“In Oceanside, we uncovered brick walls that had been covered up since it was built in 1944. In Vista, we have uncovered the original tongue-in-groove ceiling, which we will leave exposed,” Coomber said. “We will have most of the back of the building exposed to the patio and a service bar that faces both the interior and the covered patio. Walls on the south and east sides will be opened up with seating to look out of the tasting room.”
“Our Vista location will be built using as much reclaimed material as we can, while working with what is already there,” he added. “We won’t have any fake bricks or anything like that. It will also have an outdoor covered patio that the interior of the building will open up to.”
The Vista location will also have a bank of “Local Lockers,” which will be three-bottle lockers that are only available for local Vista residents to utilize. They will have their own key and their name, the name of their business, or any other information they would like to include, on the nameplate on their locker. “Locals can then avoid any waiting by grabbing one of their three bottles. At the end of the night our staff replenishes the lockers,” Coomber said.
Coomber and his wife are excited about becoming part of Vista’s community. “We love being able to meet the people who enjoy our wine,” he said. “We also enjoy meeting local people and adding to the local flavor of the downtown area.”
Location, Location, Location
Kevin Ham, Vista’s Director of Economic Development, reached out to us personally and suggested that we should open a location in downtown Vista. He told us that our presence would help the other businesses in the Downtown area to bring in out-of-town visitors, but more importantly, to provide an additional upscale venue for Vista residents.
We are all about the local population, so his comments resonated with us,” Coomber said.
Coomber Craft Wines joins a cadre of craft breweries and distilleries that already call Vista home. And, if Vista has anything to do with it, more will come. In fact, attracting craft food and beverage companies is part of the City’s Economic Development Strategy over the next five years.
“The City of Vista is poised to continue its growth trajectory, even in the midst of a pandemic,” Ham said. “We are happy to include Coomber Craft Wines on the list of new businesses opening in our city. The winery and tasting room will not only bring more foot traffic into our thriving Downtown, but will also bring more jobs and quality of life to our community.”