Developers were showing interest and the residents of Fallbrook's Gird Valley were scared.
The 56-year-old Fallbrook Golf Club closed for good in early 2016, another North County golf course that had been struggling financially for years due to high water costs and a diminishing pool of golfers.
A Beverly Hills speculator with ties to companies that specialize in buying distressed golf courses and then building houses on them had purchased the liens on the land.
"Then Jade and Julie stepped forward," said Teresa Platt, whose home overlooks what was at the time the second and third fairways of the course which, by the end of that year, had gone brown and overgrown.
"This is in the heart of Gird Valley," Platt said. "It's what makes it incredibly special and Jade and Julie have committed to saving and preserving this open space forever."
John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune
Where once stood a golf course, the Monserate winery vineyards now grow off Gird Valley Road in Fallbrook.
Where once stood a golf course, the Monserate winery vineyards now grow off Gird Valley Road in Fallbrook. (John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)
Julie and Jade Work bought the golf course at the end of 2016 for $4.1 million. A former professional golfer who made his fortune building golf courses across the United States, Jade Work knew that golf would not return to the valley.
Instead, Platt's home and many others now overlook vineyards filled with varying types of Italian grape vines.
Jade Work's vision was, and still is, to create a top-line winery operation.
Already more than a dozen variety of grapes are growing on 15 of the former courses 18 holes, plus the driving range - 90 acres of wine grapes in all.
During the planting, tens of thousands of old golf balls were found in the dirt. "How many golf balls can fit into a gunny sack?" Work asked. "We had 40 or 50 gunny sacks of balls."
But not any longer. About nine months ago, three youthful thieves were caught on video one night stealing all the old balls.
"They took them out by wheelbarrows," Work said. He didn't report the crime.
"I was glad they took them."
Next week, Work said, after more than 50 meetings with county planners and various county departments, he will be submitting an application for a major use permit that seeks permission to build a 56,000-square-foot facility that will house a restaurant, a commercial kitchen, a wine-making operation, a barrel room and two event centers for weddings and other gatherings.
It's quite a change from the dilapidated, 10,000-square-foot clubhouse on the land off Gird Valley Road that was razed in 2017.
The business is called Monserate Winery, named after a nearby mountain.
John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune
Monserate winery employee Roberto Sanchez tightens up the wiring holding up the drip irrigation on the part of the old golf course planted two years ago.
Monserate winery employee Roberto Sanchez tightens up the wiring holding up the drip irrigation on the part of the old golf course planted two years ago. (John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)
Once built, hopefully by the end of 2020, the Works have committed to seeking conservation easements on the property, which will give them a tax break and guarantee the land will never be developed.
At a recent gathering of hundreds in Fallbrook who were there mainly to heatedly discuss some upcoming election issues, Jade Work gave a short presentation about his plans. He was applauded like a hero.
"It wasn't my goal to be a hero, but I'm super happy that the neighborhood is excited and that their values are being preserved," he said.
It's been a long haul, requiring costly study after study, getting to the point of submitting the application. Work has been told it could take anywhere from four months to two years to win approval.
"I'm very optimistic," he said. "I believe the county wants this to go forward and I believe we've cleared all the high hurdles to make sure it will.
"Ultimately I hope it's profitable, but this is far and away the slowest way to get to profitability."
The front nine of the golf course was the first to be planted.
It takes new vines three years to mature to a point where their fruit can be turned into wine. Because he won't apply to get an alcohol license from the state until after the county issues a permit, the first harvest of usable grapes next year from the 45 acres growing on what once was the front nine holes will be sold to a different winery.
"We'll then contract with them to make the wine in the style that we want. Then we're hoping to buy the wine back under our issued license and sell it."
Teresa Platt is happy to look at a vineyard from her back patio rather than new homes.
Teresa Platt is happy to look at a vineyard from her back patio rather than new homes. (J. Harry Jones / U-T)
Platt said the Gird Valley community, located a couple miles north of state Route 76, has been very supportive.
"It's a big undertaking and a huge risk for them," she said. Work has estimated the project will cost about $12 million.
"This is a big deal to them," she said. "Getting through the county process is daunting. We're really happy to support them. It's the right thing for the neighborhood. We will never fight that development battle again."
"What is that worth to the community? What is the value of that? When George Jetson is flying around in the sky, this place will be preserved."[email protected]; 760/529-4931; Twitter: @jharryjones