Tuesday, January 24, 2012


 “On your first visit you are a guest, on your second visit a friend, and on your third visit you are family.” Well… it was only our first visit to Sunshine Mountain Vineyard in San Marcos, but the welcome we received made us feel like old friends. After preliminary hugs, Claire poured us a taste of their 2010 Santa Barbara County Sauvignon Blanc and stayed around to chat while we waited for Ed to warmly bid adieu to previous visitors before taking us on a delightful tour of the winery.

Pretty much the first thing the Krugers did after obtaining their 13-acre property in 2001 was plant grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah. A bit later Ed added some Viogner and Petit Syrah on a hill where the vines can catch an ocean breeze. Now about six acres are planted and Sunshine Mountain has produced some top-notch estate wines. A lot of their fruit still comes from elsewhere (e.g., reputable growers in Santa Barbara, Napa, and Walla Walla, WA). This is necessary to keep up with demand for Ed's wines (around 1100 cases per year, most of which go to wine club members).

In the course of Ed’s “day job” – importing stone for flooring and countertops – Italy practically became his second home. He recognized his passion for surrounding himself with family, food, and friends – all of which the Kruger estate evokes. Fruit trees and vines abound, there’s a big patio where people can congregate and cook, and a formidable koi pond that houses some very lucky carp.

Traveling around Europe and Australia, Ed drank wonderful wines and assimilated a variety of winemaking styles, which he seems to have mentally catalogued as a chef might bank a repertoire of recipes and techniques. When he took up winemaking as a hobby, facilitated by some good mentors in Napa, he had one goal: “To make a wine that I would like.” He’s learned a lot since, but still approaches winemaking as if he were making dinner, experimenting and aiming to create something delicious that can be enjoyed at an early age.

Many of Ed’s blends emerge after barrel aging, when he can test different combinations and pick a favorite or two. He uses only French oak barrels because the taste they impart is more subtle. To avoid transporting truckloads of just-picked grapes for hours, through unpredictable weather, the fruit is crushed at the vineyards and then transferred to portable, dry-ice-cooled tanks that forestall the fermentation process until Ed can give it his full attention.

 Back in the tasting room, our favorite wines were the 2008 Napa Reserve Syrah, rich with tobacco and spice, and 2007 Napa Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from “old plants in the mountains.” Wonderful on the nose and the palate, this wine won a Winemakers’ Challenge gold medal. We bought the Napa Syrah, and – without tasting it – a bottle of 2008 Walla Walla Syrah, and opened the latter to accompany a dinner of cedar-roasted rockfish, fregola, and farmers market vegetables. It was a stunning combination.

Sunshine Mountain Vineyard is open on weekends by appointment. 760.798.1540

Wine club members purchase a case (can be mixed), discounted 20%, to start. After that they receive two bottles of wine once or twice a year, timed with new releases, and a 20% discount on other purchases.

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