Tuesday, September 27, 2011


In the 1990s Mario Bergeron was a wine broker in San Diego. Then he and his wife Diana started a successful custom bottle etching business in Napa. Mario learned winemaking to complement what they were doing, so they could fill the bottles themselves. In time the Bergerons migrated back to San Diego County and became the proprietors of an overgrown eight-acre citrus farm in Ramona. “We were so busy we didn’t even meet our neighbors for two years!” Mario told us. They’ve maintained their etching business and slowly transformed their land into a lush and beautiful estate, planting two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes in the process. La Finquita’s first estate-grown “Vista Ramona” wine will come next year.

Mario poured us a “Blanc du Champ” Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Chenin Blanc blend. Next we tried a 2005 Merlot from Napa grapes: spicy nose, dry finish. The 2006 Napa Cabernet has nice tannins; 2008 Suisun Valley Zinfandel is fruity and sweet-spicy, but with a dry finish. Also in the winery’s current collection are a 2008 Napa Syrah and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Valley Center fruit.

La Finquita’s tasting room has a beautiful patio suitable for group tastings or enjoying a bottle or two with friends. Downhill from the patio Mario’s built a serious wine cave which will soon be climate controlled for barrel aging. Right now it’s an amazing setting for serious dinner parties.

La Finquita is open by appointment. 800.411.3732

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Eagles Nest was bustling with activity on Saturday! The harvest is in high gear and tasting traffic is up. probably due to some new signage on the main road. Proprietress Julie welcomed us warmly; tasting room helper Victoria was generous and fun as always. Our favorite wine is still the 2007 Private Reserve Merlot, but we’re excited about the 2008 “Sheba” Cab Franc. It’s got lots of grassiness on the nose and flavors that develop as the wine opens. The name honors a local big cat rescue organization.

Eagles Nest is open Friday-Sunday (daily in the summer) 11:00 - dusk. 760.505.8229

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


The San Pasqual winery has been bustling lately; this weekend the owners harvested and pressed San Diego County Syrah and Sangiovese. But on a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of football season, the La Mesa outpost was serene. Tasting room manager Brenda first poured a fruity 2010 Albariño grown on former San Diego Padre Steve Finley’s land in Rancho Santa Fe. We sampled 2008 and 2009 Sauvignon Blancs, but the standout white was a 2010 Lake County Fumé Blanc cured in Hungarian oak – slightly toasty with a lemony finish. Why does the winery use the names Sauvignon Blanc and Fumé Blanc since both wines come from the same grape? The term "Fumé Blanc" was coined by Robert Mondavi because, once upon a time, California Sauvignon Blancs had a bad reputation. Since then it’s become traditional to age Fumé Blanc in oak while Sauvignon Blanc is aged in stainless steel.
A newly released 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend was light bodied and fruit forward but pleasantly dry.  Also new: a silky 2007 Merlot with grapes from Dry Creek in the Sonoma Valley.
San Pasqual's tasting room has a separate space suitable for private events or group tastings. It's open Monday-Thursday 11:00-8:00, Friday-Saturday 11:00-10:00, Sunday 11:00-5:00. 619.462.1797

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Among wines we brought home from wineries or tasting rooms over the summer, these were the standouts:

Belle Marie (Chateau Dragoo) 2003 Barolo $32
Bernardo 2008 Meritage Private Reserve $30
Bernardo 2006 Estate Syrah $42
Eagles Nest 2007 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $24 
Edwards Vineyard and Cellars 2004 Syrah $20
La Serenissima 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (around $28)
Orrin 2007 Syrah $18
San Pasqual 2001 “Ranchero” (Cab./Nebbiolo blend) $25
Shadow Mountain 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon $28

Monday, September 5, 2011


La Serenissima Vineyard and Winery does not have a tasting room but winemaker Tony Tiso gladly hosts visitors. We made an appointment with no idea what a treat was in store: a personal tour of nearly the entire winemaking process, with tastes straight from the barrels. Tony and his father John learned winemaking in the Piedmont region of Italy, the land of their roots. They started planting in 1998; once the vines were producing Tony left his high-pressure Silicon Valley job and moved his family southward. He describes La Serenissima’s style as “100-percent old school, like Italy in the 1920s.” All of the wines come from the estate’s 20 acres of grapes. They’re vertically fermented and aged, unfiltered, in French, American, or Hungarian oak. It was amazing to taste how three different barrels impacted the taste of a 2008 Cab-Merlot blend! When the wine is ready to bottle Tony will mix the contents of all three to balance the tannins, bouquet, and aromatics. 

Tony believes that a good wine should be “the sherpa” of food, adding to its enjoyment but not overpowering it. He makes a couple of blends: a popular “entry level” Claret and the Cab-Merlot. With varietals he aims for “true representation” of the grapes, well reflected in his 2007 Cabernet Franc, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 Merlot and a citrusy, unfiltered Arneis white – a Piedmont grape we’d never encountered. The first Tempranillo harvest is on the horizon and Tony plans to plant Albariño next year.

La Serenissima's Underground Barrel Room
Visiting La Serenissima is a distinctive learning and tasting experience. The winery does not charge for tasting or sell individual bottles; its business model is wholesale only, with many San Diego County retail and restaurant clients. Visitors may purchase mixed cases of wine at the wholesale price.

La Serenissima is open by appointment. 951.326.0205


Mike with the Press
 Mike and Lisa Schnell began planting their Warner Springs vineyard in 2001; in 2008 they opened Hawk Watch Winery to the public. We’ve always liked their wines, but were especially impressed on our visit over Labor Day weekend. Mike started us off with a crisp 2010 “Vortex” blend (90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Semillon, 5% Viognier) from the estate’s grapes. Next we tried a 2010 dry Muscat that would perfectly complement a fruit tart; the wine’s fruit is all in the nose. Before moving on to the reds we happily tasted the 2010 “Sequoia” dry Zinfandel rosé – a perfect picnic wine named after the Schnells’ oldest cat. They donate $2 from every bottle to a local animal shelter. Now for the reds… The 2008 Cabernet Franc is redolent with cocoa and spices. There’s a 2008 Estate Syrah made in Côte Roti style with a little bit of Viognier and a delicious 2008 Signature Reserve Cabernet with grapes from Rolling Hills Vineyard in Temecula.  But the day was won by a fabulous earthy, spicy 2006 Signature Reserve Syrah. 

Alpha-Cat Zena
  The Schnells dabbled in winemaking at home before it became their vocation.  Eventually Mike quit his day job and started pouring at a winery in Temecula, where in time he became assistant winemaker and cultivated valuable connections with the best vineyards in the area, which now supply some of Hawk Watch’s grapes. Mike’s winemaking philosophy is that wines need to stand on their own, and his certainly do.

Hawk Watch’s wine club is currently closed to new members; interested parties can join a waiting list.

Hawk Watch is open Friday 12-5, weekends 10-5. 951.326.4692