By DAVE THOMAS
La Mesa’s San Pasqual Winery recently received five medals at the 2022 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, including: gold for their 2021 Albariño (San Diego County), silver for their 2017 Cabernet Franc (San Diego County), silver for their 2021 Riesling (South Coast AVA), silver for their 2016 Malbec (San Diego County), and bronze for their 2016 Petite Sirah (Clarksburg).
The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, started in 1983 as the Cloverdale Citrus Wine Competition. This year’s event included more th an 5,800 entries, from nearly 1,000 wineries across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
San Pasqual Winery is San Diego’s first urban winery and produces approximately 3,500 cases of wine each year. The winery sources its grapes from a variety of local and renowned vineyards across California, and produces the wine at La Mesa Wine Works, located in the La Mesa commercial district.
The winery boasts four tasting rooms, including La Mesa Wine Works, La Mesa Village Tasting Room & Gallery, Seaport Village Tasting Room and Toast Bubble Bar at Seaport Village. Wine Club membership is also available featuring quarterly wine releases, events and specials.
La Mesa Courier recently caught up with co-owners Linda and Mike McWilliams (pictured above with director of operations/assistant winemaker Sheryl Huffman, center) to talk about their business success and more.
LMC: How is the wine industry in general doing these last few years due to COVID and general financial challenges to so many industries and businesses?
Mike McWilliams: It’s been especially challenging for small wineries like ours that depend mainly on tasting room sales. Although there was an increase in wine consumption during the pandemic, most of that was due to purchases at larger retail stores. We, and other small wineries, are just now seeing sales getting back to pre-pandemic levels.
Linda McWilliams: We’re also still trying to grow staffing back to pre-pandemic levels. We managed to keep most of our core staff, but many wineries, as well as the entire service industry, have had challenges refilling positions.
LMC: What has your winery done to provide excellent customer service to your clientele?
Mike McWilliams: Our focus has always prioritized the customer experience at our tasting rooms. In addition to training our staff to emphasize customer service we ensure that our staff are knowledgeable about the wines that they’re pouring. Additionally, as the owners, Linda and I regularly frequent all of the tasting room locations and engage with the customers, which we feel helps set expectations for our staff.
LMC: What are your goals for the winery over the next year?
Mike McWilliams: We have some exciting things going on at all of our locations, starting next Saturday (July 23) with our grand reopening of the remodeled La Mesa Blvd Tasting Room and return of live music (the Barrel Room Sessions) in our refurbished event room. We’ve also converted office space to an intimate “Vintners Lounge” just off the main tasting room that’s great for small gatherings. At La Mesa Wine Works, we’re partnering with Serpentine Cidery to offer some exciting ciders on tap. And at Seaport Village we’ve opened the Toast Bubble Bar, focusing on sparkling wines, and we’re hosting private events again after being shut down in our first month of operation due to COVID.
Linda McWilliams: While we’re not looking to expand beyond our current tasting room locations or move into large-scale distribution, we’d like to see our wines in more local restaurants. There’s a real interest in supporting local in the dining scene and we’d like to see more representation of local wines, including ours.
LMC: Anything else readers should know about the winery etc.?
Linda McWilliams: Some people may not know that we were San Diego’s first Urban Winery. In fact we were selected by Sunset Magazine as one of the hot 100 trends on the West Coast back in 2009 when we opened in La Mesa. We really enjoy being part of the La Mesa community and appreciate all the support we’ve received here. As a winemaker, it’s always satisfying to hear how much our guests enjoy the wine and to see their surprised faces when I tell them that most of our grapes come from San Diego County – some as close as El Cajon. We do take a lot of pride in the quality of our wines. They’ve been consistent award winners in prominent competitions including recent awards from the San Francisco Chronicle, the Orange County Fair, and the Toast of the Coast wine competitions. Finally, I’d just like to invite people to come in so we can share our love of wine with them. Our Wine Club is also a fun way to get to know our wines and meet some great people. We have quarterly wine club parties where we pair new releases with foods prepared by local chefs and caterers.
— Reach editor Dave Thomas at: Dave@sdnews.com.