Monday, July 25, 2011


Finding Woof'n Rose Winery is a bit of a challenge; owners Steve and Marilyn Kahle wisely ask visitors to call or email in advance so they can provide expert directions. Marilyn was waiting for us when we arrived at their hillside spot overlooking the Ramona Valley, where the Kahles have been growing grapes since 1995. Five years ago they started making handcrafted, unfiltered wines and selling them via retailers and caterers, augmenting their own grapes with others purchased almost exclusively from within the Ramona AVA. They opened their tasting room earlier this year. We liked the un-oaked 2008 Chardonnay (from Mendocino grapes) with just a few drops of Muscat and Gewurztraminer adding refreshing pineapple notes. Next we tried a 2008 Estate Grenache Noir, served chilled – a perfect summer sipper. Three award-winning reds followed; for us the 2008 Estate Cab. Franc won the day.

Woof'n Rose is open by appointment. 760.788.4818


Eagles Nest Winery is practically next door to Woof ‘n Rose, but equally if not more obscure.  The entrance is gated because vineyard-weeding sheep roam the premises, but the gate opened promptly when we phoned to announce our presence. Ascending, we entered an impressively perched 10-acre estate with views on all sides. Owners Dennis and Julie Grimes grow Rhone varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Tempranillo. They purchase other grapes from various California growers.

Dennis, an engineer and “accidental winemaker,” thinks of his craft as “an uncomfortable blend of science and art.” He and Julie once considered starting a native plant nursery on their land, but leaned towards vines because people in the area were already agitating for a Ramona AVA, and grapes are very water-wise. Their first vintage was 2003. Tasting at a leisurely pace, we loved the 2007 San Diego Syrah, which won a gold medal in Temecula, and the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s also an outstanding Cabernet Port.  

Eagles Nest's wine club is currently closed to new members.

A View From Eagles Nest

The Sheep


At around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday we pulled into Cordiano's driveway and were lucky to find a place to park. It’s been a while since we've stopped by, but Jerry, smiling from ear to ear, welcomed us as always. The patio tables were packed with small groups or couples who’d made this their evening destination for good wine and pizza with built-in conviviality and an amazing sunset. There’s a whole new structure at the winery: a barrel room topped with a wedding/party platform. We settled at the bar to taste the current lineup with Jerry's wine-savvy friend Tony, a born conversationalist who helps out when things get busy. The 2010 white Grenache was a pleasant surprise – refreshing and dry. Moving on to the reds - all of which are big and almost demand to be consumed with Italian food -  we quite liked the 2007 Cabernet Franc but on second tasting shifted toward the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon as our favorite, for now.

Cordiano's patio is open Wednesday-Sunday 11:00-dusk. 760.480.6673

The Patio at Cordiano

Monday, July 18, 2011


The Ramona AVA
In 2006 Ramona vintners succeeded in getting their own appellation; Ramona is now an American Vinticultural Area (AVA). An AVA designates a wine-growing region geographically, historically, and for its climate and soil. Presently the Ramona Vineyard Association lists 55 members within the AVA, including 15 licensed and bonded wineries. Prior to this year there were very few tasting rooms in the area because small wineries had to obtain a Major Use Permit, which currently costs $250,000, in order to open their doors to the public. Ramona winemakers organized and worked with the county’s Board of Supervisors to pass, in August 2010, a tiered ordinance under which wine tasting rooms are permitted by right of agricultural zoning, just as farm stands are.  The ordinance has since been challenged in court by claimants who argue that wine tasting is a “new agricultural use” of the land. But as the appeal process drags on, the tasting rooms are popping up. Seven currently keep established business hours and several more are open by appointment.

Our Ramona Wines, July 16
More from Ramona

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Edwards Vineyard and Cellars has been growing Syrah, Petit Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes since 2000. Their lovely tasting patio has been open on weekends since March 2011. The place is classy but unpretentions with smooth-rimmed glasses, freshly baked rolls from a local bakery, and a view of the valley. From Beth Edwards we learned not only about the delicious, full-bodied wines we were sipping, but also something of the local winemakers’ steadfast efforts to literally put themselves on the map, and to be able to pour and sell from their tasting rooms. The thread that binds this rather long story is cooperation. These folks recognized their common interests and stuck together. Now they promote each other; there's an amiable sense of inclusion that’s not lost on visitors. Leaving with a bottle of 2004 Syrah, we felt like we’d made a friend.
The Edwards tasting patio is open weekends 11:00-5:00, with additional hours by appointment. 760.788.6800


Walking into Pamo Valley Vineyards and Winery’s newly opened tasting room in Old Town Ramona, we felt heartily welcomed into a once-secret club. The vineyard, described by owner and winemaker Jennifer Jenkin as a miniature Balboa Park setting “with thousands of red geraniums and hundreds of eucalyptus trees,” was established in 2000.  Jenkin started making wine in 2004, selling it via restaurants, retailers, and a wine club. The journey that led her to become proprietor of the only woman-owned winery in San Diego County included a stint in the wine country around Melbourne, Australia. Jenkin uses only local grapes and specializes almost exclusively in food-friendly reds. With production at only 400 cases per year, impeccable attention to quality, and affordable prices, it’s no wonder she has trouble holding onto older vintages. We scored one of the last bottles of 2006 Reserve Syrah.

The blends here deserve special attention. They’re products of a careful, collaborative, two-day tasting-and-winnowing process. We loved the 2008 “Indian Princess” and 2007 “Seduction.”

Pamo's wine clubs offers quarterly 2-bottle shipments of hand-picked wines for $30-$45, complementary tastings, a 30% discount on case orders, and opportunities to help out in the vineyard.

Pamo Tasting Room Door


In 1988 Calabria-born opera singer Herman Salerno started making wine in a Long Island, NY basement. He and his wife Rose, together with her parents, followed their California dream and ten years later planted their Ramona estate with cuttings from older vines. In 2002 they bottled their first Petit Syrah. Today they have the only listed acre of Pinot Noir in San Diego County. Pinot is a difficult grape to cultivate in warm climates, but we loved the result and bought a 2008 bottle. Also noteworthy: 2007 Lagrein and the 2006 “Elegante” Bordeaux-style blend. Barmaster Ben graciously and knowledgeably hosted us in the cordial, Mediterranean-style tasting area, not failing to point out that Herman once won an award at the Orange County Fair for a wine he’d made in his garage. On the patio next to the bar guests can sit at tables and order handmade, wood-fired pizzas. The Salernos are very happy to finally be open to the public, and we’re very happy to have found them.

Joining Salerno's wine club requires a 6-month commitment at two bottles per month. Members get free tastings but are not allowed to open club wines on the premises.


The urban winery Fifty Barrels has been tucked away in an Oceanside industrial park since 2000. The winemakers - who met in college and have grown their business from a garage -  now sources grapes from Lodi, Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles. Their two-year-old tasting room is a place to socialize where everyone will find at least one likeable wine. Thanks to a generous fellow visitor, we enjoyed a bit of the last bottle of 2007 “Mellow Apathy” – a 50-50 Syrah-Merlot blend from Los Olivos grapes. Since we were headed towards a casual seafood dinner at Pelly’s in Carlsbad, the perfect wine to take along was a standout Viognier, pre-chilled.

The Fifty Barrels wine club supplies members with two bottles quarterly, including limited releases. There are also free tastings and members-only parties.

Fifty Barrels's tasting room is open Friday 5:00-9:00 and Saturday 11:00-4:00. 760.550.9463

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Witch Creek, established in 1993, is the oldest urban winery in San Diego County. They've won 27 medals in the San Francisco Chronicle’s competitions. The main tasting room is a couple blocks off the beach in Carlsbad, but the tasting room selections don't represent this winery's range. We bought a 2007 Chateau Neuf Du Cat at Whole Foods ($27). It's 50% Grenache, 25% Morvedre, and 25% Syrah. It certainly went well with the barely grilled clams we swirled in a garlic-and-chili-laden mixture of olive oil, lemon, and their own juices before popping them into our mouths.

Gotta Love the Cat

Members of Witch Creek's Winery Cellar Club definitely get the best bottles. They commit to two bottles per month for at least three months. In return the winery offers 20% off other purchases, free tasting, and invitations to private events.

Witch Creek's Carsbad and Julian tasting rooms are open daily 11:00-5:00. Carlsbad: 760.720.7499 Julian: 760.765.2023


Belle Marie has recently started sourcing grapes from northern Santa Barbara County.  There’s a delicious 2009 Pinot Noir in pre-release; it’s a little darker and heavier than most – definitely reminds us of pre-Sideways days. Also stay tuned for a Chenin Blanc.

Go to first Belle Marie post...


Bernardo Winery on the 4th of July. Would the place be mobbed like the last time we stopped by, a few years ago on a Sunday?  Or might we start to appreciate why this winery has survived since 1889?  To our pleasant surprise, the scene was mellow.  Not dead, but more like a weekday.  Two shared tastings overseen by Linda allowed us to cover nearly the entire menu.  We liked the 2008 Chardonnay –citrusy with just a hint of oak, but the reds – all quite respectable – vastly overshadow the whites.  Our favorites: 2008 Meritage Private Reserve (fantastic nose, complex flavors, nice body), and 2006 Estate Syrah (luxury in a glass). Both grapes are grown on the adjacent Bernardo Estate, which the Rizzo family has owned since 1927. Originally they had 350 acres, i.e., a large chunk of Rancho Bernardo! Over time the family sold off some land but retained and continued to manage the core properties, including the vineyards and winery. The funky Bernardo complex of shops, a restaurant, and a plethora of interesting old tools and machines is a welcome respite from the suburban sameness that surrounds it.

Bernardo's tasting room and patio are open Monday-Friday 9:00-5:00, weekends 9:00-6:00. 858.487.1866