Alysha Stehly is one of the Stehlys of San Diego County, a large family of growers with deep roots in farming and diversified interests. She is the winemaker for her family’s vineyards.
She is the only child of the oldest Stehly brother, Al Stehly, who with his wife, Lisa, grows citrus fruits, avocados and wine grapes. She works at Stehleon Vineyards and a second operation, Vesper Vineyards, that she began with her husband, Chris Broomell.
“In college I discovered wine making, which is part farming, part art, part science,” Stehly said.
Her father grows the grapes, and Stehly makes the wine and manages the tasting room and marketing.
While San Diego is known for its craft breweries, it is also a growing hub for vineyards and wineries, with more than 120 of them in the county. Many are small boutique operations.
Rising water costs have pushed many farmers to switch from thirsty crops like avocados and citrus to wine grapes. A county ordinance that makes it easier for wineries to start up has also attracted many newbies to farming and wine making.
Stehly studied viticulture at the University of California-Davis, worked outside the family farm for one harvest then returned home to San Diego to join her family business.
“Our wines are made from 100% San Diego-grown grapes. You can make wine anywhere, so why import fruit from outside?” Stehly asked.
“We like to showcase local grapes. We practice natural wine making, so we don’t use yeast, we don’t add anything except for minimal amounts of sulfur dioxide. We don’t like to mess with Mother Nature too much.”
This does make the process more challenging, but starting with good grapes is the key to making good wines, she said. Syrahs and white wines are among their more popular wines, but her family grows several varietals.
“I think I’m very fortunate to be a woman in ag in San Diego County, because we have one of the highest counts of women in farming in the U.S,” Stehly said.
Despite that trend, there are times when delivery trucks pull up with wine bottle shipments and mistake her for one of the employees, or assume that she cannot help them with unloading because she is a woman.
At ag fairs, people assume she does not have the authority to place big orders because she looks young. She has fond memories of proving them wrong.
Stehly is active in the farming community, and sits on the Young Farmers and Ranchers board for the Farm Bureau, where she gets to meet other entrepreneurial women in ag.
She also teaches viticulture and wine making at a local community college, Mira Costa College, where many of her students tend to be older adults nearing retirement or who are already retired, and going into wine making as a second career.