When former San Diego fire chief Jeff Bowman left the political frying pan four years ago, he needed to decompress. He and his wife, Denise, moved from Kensington (where they had lived on the same street as San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders) to rural Escondido. And he planted a small vineyard.

"It’s therapy, and yes, I needed that," says the outspoken Bowman, who sparked a few political fires of his own while fighting for more manpower and funding, before and after devastating wildfires (see Feeling the Heat" in our October issue). "It’s a lot of work. But there are no unions. No politicians. None of that stuff. It’s a labor of love."

On the eve of his third harvest at the 1-acre property, Bowman was gearing up for a party of friends and even some strangers who are neighbors and wanted in on the grape-picking action. He’s got 960 vines — half Malbec grapes, the other half Cabernet Franc, both French varieties out of the Bordeaux region.

Bowman, along with friend and former NBC anchorman Marty Levin and other volunteers, plucked grapes and put them in 5-gallon buckets. They dumped the red grapes into giant bins and trucked them to nearby Belle Marie Winery, where they get crushed, fermented and poured into oak barrels, then sit for up to two years. Then the wine is bottled and sits for another six months to a year. Bowman hopes to get 125 cases of wine (about 1,500 bottles) out of this harvest.

Output in previous years has been smaller in quantity, Bowman says, but a big hit with local restaurateurs. "They said, ‘We’ll take as much as you can give us.’ " But like most vineyards in the first few years of operation, JD Vineyard has yet to produce enough to sell at retail.

The Bowmans named their first wine Caleb’s Cuvée, after their first grandson. Every subsequent wine has been, or will be, named for a grandchild or other family member until the vineyard is ready to market its wares.

"People say it’s the prettiest vineyard they’ve ever seen — there’s not a weed in it," Bowman says. "They comment on how absolutely relaxing it is to be out here. It’s quiet and pretty. Just no stress at all."

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