SAN DIEGO — Making wine is an art and Eric Van Drunen never tires of creating with the vibrant grapes he gets from around San Diego County.
“The color on Syrah is just insane,” he said, stirring a vat of fermenting grapes. “You just want to dive in.”
Van Drunen is a former physicist turned winemaker now running Charlie and Echo, a winery making a name for itself in the middle of craft beer country.
“To a degree, that’s why I got drawn to winemaking,” he said. “The why of how does winemaking occur? How does this beautiful bin of grapes actually turn into big gigantic vats of wine and deliciousness?”
Charlie and Echo, which stands for Van Drunen and his wife Clara’s initials, is in a neighborhood known as the Miralani Makers’ District. Within just a few hundred feet of each other, there’s a unique collection of craft beverage producers — everything from cider and mead, to beer, sake and coffee.
Van Drunen is one of the first and few wineries in San Diego to focus on natural wines: producing very pure and clean flavors, with as little processing as possible to preserve the wine’s authentic character, with no chemical corrections. He loves to help people experience what he calls the “hidden craft crown jewel of San Diego.”
“A lot of people still discover it all the time,” Van Drunen said. “Very common. We’ll get people to walk in and just be like I didn’t know all this was here.”
The Makers will put the district against anywhere else in the country for having as many craft beverage tasting rooms within such a small radius.
Council member Chris Cate remembers when the area was just empty store fronts. He says if Miramar is the beer belt of San Diego, the Miralani Makers’ District is the buckle.
“Each owner has their own specific story, their journey of how they got here and I think combining all that is really a positive force that makes this area very attractive,” Cate said.
Now he enjoys drinking at Protector Brewery, San Diego’s first fully organic beer company. The craft beverage industry has blossomed into a billion-dollar industry in San Diego, and Cate believes it benefits everyone who lives here; from creating more jobs, more choices and more tastiness.
“You want great coffee, wine, sake, beer. I mean, this area really provides everything you could ever ask for and it’s great to spend a night here, that’s for sure,” he said.
Van Drunen said all the Makers in the district believe in collaboration over competition, making sure they all grow and thrive together.
“You know, the neighbor borrowing the cup of sugar,” he laughed. “The number of times like somebody’s had to borrow a cylinder of CO2 or something from each other and be able to do that by walking over, and having people there to support you like that is amazing.”
The Miralani Makers’ District is also home to unique food, like Filipino desserts, cake pops and even a chips and salsa bar.