Thursday, August 2, 2012


Tim and Mona Petersons' Alpine-area estate encompasses – besides the vineyard and winery – stalls and corrals for their Andalusian horses, an art studio, a chicken house, and limited guest accommodations. They started with 75 plants in 2000 and currently have about 1500 Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Syrah vines strategically positioned across their property.  Winemaker Tim augments his estate vines with grapes from other San Diego County vineyards. The first thing he poured for us in his underground, rock-framed barrel room was a pleasantly buttery Viognier that originated in San Marcos.

New Grapes
Then... some reds.  We first enjoyed a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon aged in American oak, then tried two 2009 Zinfandels: one in American oak (lots of plum!), the other in Hungarian oak (less fruit, more spice, well developed tannins).  We moved on to some barrel tasting including a 2010 Syrah (American oak), which is coming along very nicely;  people are already reserving bottles. Next we hopped into Tim's small and efficient ATV to tour the property. We admired the horses, got a first-hand look at (and delicious taste of) the grapes and petted resident burros Roxy, Bonnie, and Clyde. Mona’s beautiful drawings of the burros distinguish Rock Canyon’s wine labels.

The Burros
Rock Canyon wholesales to supermarkets (e.g., Albertson’s, Costco, Whole Foods) and local restaurants, and offers a memorable on-site experience to visitors who are willing to drive a couple miles up a winding dirt road.  Besides tasting wine one can arrange to hike and/or ride horses on the many trails that surround the property and even end the day in the Jacuzzi. Bottles in the barrel room are available at (very reasonable) retail prices and Tim can arrange shipping.

Rock Canyon is open by appointment. 619.445.4763

Monday, July 9, 2012


Mike Kohill loves wine. He got serious about winemaking shortly after he met Johnny Schwaesdall (one of the Grand Daddies of the Ramona winemaking scene).  Mike’s vocation is engineering, making him part of a significant subset of San Diego County winemakers.  A UC-Davis distance-learning course helped him launch what is still a “weekend winery” as he still holds a fulltime job away from the estate. Kohill Winery released its first vintage in 2006 and is now producing 250-300 cases per year, made exclusively from Ramona Valley grapes. We especially like Mike's reds, including the 2008 "Aurora's Blend" (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Viognier), and the bright and pleasantly tannic 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Barbera Grapes Fermenting 
The 2008 vintage will be released this year.

The wine club here is pretty casual - an email list that affords members the first opportunity to puchase new wines.

Kohill Winery is a great place to taste. Open weekends 12:00-5:00. 760.787.1042

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Wine tasting in Temecula is a lot like listening to smooth jazz; it’s easy and fairly predictable. The most recent Temecula Wine Country brochure lists 35 tasting rooms, most of which are open daily, within about a ten-mile range. Weekend crowds are dominated by buses and limos full of partiers from all over Southern California, and the wineries do a great job of accommodating them. Winery restaurants are proliferating; so are after-closing parties with live music – popular with locals and accessible to visitors who opt to spend the night at one of the area’s numerous hotels.

The tasting route we propose encapsulates the diversity that one can still find among Temecula wineries that are doing interesting things. Start at Mount Palomar (A on map), a giant winery with local roots. Everyone can find something to like here, in terms of food as well as wine. About a mile up the road from Palomar is Van Roekel (B), which will seem small and homey and is a nice place to picnic. Continue to Doffo Winery (C), situated just off Rancho California Road in what looks like a residential neighborhood. You’re likely to meet the Doffo family, especially on a weekday. (Note that they’re closed on Wednesdays.) Right across the street from Doffo is Chapin Family Vineyards, where Steve Chapin pours some excellent reds and there's a comfortable picnic patio with vineyard views. Next, head back west about a mile and take a left on Glenoaks Road to find Foot Path (D) – the proudly funkiest winery of the lot. Leaving Foot Path, go left onto Glenoaks Road and then make a right on De Portola, where you will encounter at least eight more wineries.  We recommend a stop at Frangipani (E) or Robert Renzoni (F) – or both if you have time. Frangipani has indoor picnic tables, which are rare in these parts and proved invaluable when we hosted guests on a rainy November day. Renzoni also has a very nice picnic area perched atop a little hill that overlooks his vineyard.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Friday touring requires a bit of preparation as some tasting rooms are only open on weekends. Here's a lineup we put together to introduce our friend Edgar,  visiting from Seattle, to San Diego County wines and some memorable scenery.

We started the day at the Blue Door Winery tasting room in Julian. After six years, winemaker Marc Hashagan is in the business full time, and the wines reflect his skill and attention. We loved the newly released Press Cuvée, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Barbera. And on its own, the 2009 Barbera is a winner. Kameron is a wonderful tasting room host - knowledgeable and welcoming. We always have a good time here.

Next we drove up the road to see Mel at  J. Jenkins Winery. She was pouring a new Vin Gris de Syrah - perfect for a hot day, and a nice 2009 Sauvignon Blanc with notes of grapefruit and melon. Moving on to reds, the current standouts are a smoky 2005 Syrah and the newly released 2010 Merlot - dry and full bodied, with a complex spectrum of flavors.

Outside the J. Jenkins tasting room
Heading towards Ramona, we spread our picnic on the patio at Milagro Farms Vineyard and Winery, where tasting room manager Kyle and marketing manager Audrey kindly served us each a flight. We can't seem to leave this place without (at least) a bottle of Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Vines at Milagro

We'd made an appointment to visit Marilyn and Steve Kahle's Woof 'n Rose Winery, tucked away on a hillside overlooking the Ramona Valley. A lot is new since the last time we stopped by, including a delicious 2009 Highland Valley Merlot, 2009 Eglantine (Cab. Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon), and 2009 Estate Cabernet Franc. Steve and Marilyn were the first to grow Cabernet Franc in Ramona; their award-winning wines are clear evidence that this was a good idea!

Modest about their success, the Kahles told us they never stop learning about viticulture and wine making, stressing the importance of belonging to other wine clubs (to avoid "cellar mouth" - developing a narrow palate for one's own wines) and a spirit of cooperation among the region's grape growers and winemakers.

To end the day we stopped in to see Rose and Herman Salerno at their winery. In contrast to the bustling weekend scene, late on a Friday afternoon it was quiet enough to visit with the Salernos while we tasted Herman's excellent red wines, all made without added sulfites. Our favorite is (still) the 2007 Lagrein. We left with a bottle, plus two giant zucchinis from the garden. 

Blue Door Winery Tasting Room
2608 B Street, Julian
Open Thursday - Monday noon-5

J. Jenkins Winery
1255 Julian Orchards Drive, Julian
Open Thursday - Sunday 11-5

Milagro Farms Vineyard and Winery
18750 Littlepage Road, Ramona
Open Friday - Sunday 11-5

Woof 'n Rose Winery
17073 Garjan Lane, Ramona
Open by appointment

Salerno Winery
17948 Highway 67, Ramona
Open Wednesday-Sunday 11-6 (or later)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

GRAPE CONNECTIONS tasting room & wine shop

Bob Gelman has been in the wine business for 30 years. He etablished this cozy wine shop on Scott Street in Point Loma in 2000, stocking a sophisticated and well priced collection of wines from around the world, including San Deigo County. There are always some nice bottles open for tasting between noon and 6pm daily. On a recent visit we especially enjoyed a 2006 Diamond Terrace Napa Cab.

The tasting bar

Bob has recently become the exclusive U.S. importer and distributor of Domaine du Grand Crès estate wines from the Languedoc region of France. There's a steel tank-fermented Roussane/Viognier blend, a soft, delicate "Cuvee Classique" (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault), a spicy, full-bodied "Cuvee Majeure" (Syrah, Grenache), and an easy drinking Cabernet Sauvignon. As is true of the other wines at Grape Connections, the Domaine du Grand Crès line offers excellent value for the price.

Loyal customer patiently await "Bob's Big Blowout Sale," with deeply discounted wines from about forty different producers, all available to taste before you buy.

Grape Connections is open Monday-Saturday 10am - 7pm.
1130 Scott Street, San Diego


Thursday, May 31, 2012


A lot is new since the last time we stopped by Carruth Cellars, an impressive urban winery on Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach. They've enlarged their space , there's lots more wine now, and they're offering several new releases to taste.

Barrels galore

Carruth's 2011 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc is pear essence in a glass from nose to finish. Of the five reds we tasted our favorites were the 2009 South Coast Barbera - medium-bodied with lots of dark cherry, and 2008 Paso Robles Petit Syrah - full-bodied with a nice, dry finish.

The tasting bar
This fall Carruth Cellars will open a second larger location next to the new Stone Brewery in Point Loma's Liberty Station. Most of the winemaking will take place there, leaving more space for tasting and relaxing around tables in the Solana Beach space.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Last weekend Mahogany Mountain Vineyards and Winery invited wine club members and friends to try five new releases - all 100% varietals from the Ramona AVA, vintage 2009. A nice dry Barbera has the tannin structure to compliment red meats or rich pasta dishes. The Mourvedre, light and fruit forward, moved our palates in a different but also pleasant direction that led to a Merlot that is slightly sweeter, with fruit lingering on the finish. Our two favorites were the Zinfandel - dry and spicy, with a hint of black cherry, and a well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Michael Hargett has a strong hunch that this wine will be even better in three or four years.

Kim Hargett described each wine.
All of the wines in this release are estate grown except the Barbera, which was made with grapes from nearby Highland Hills Vineyard. The new wines are already available to wine club members and will be offered in the tasting room over the summer.

If you like red wines, this is a great place to taste.
Mahogany Mountain wines showcase the characteristics of each grape and vintage. It's always fun to see what's new! And lately it's been easier to do so; flags and signs now point the way to the tasting room, open 1-5 on weekends.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


We hadn't stopped by the Hacienda de las Rosas tasting room for six months or so, and found lots new when we did. For starters there's a clean, bright 2009 Santa Barbara Chardonnay. Next we tried the very unique estate-grown Mission-Grenache blend; these grape varietals go back to the earliest days of winemaking in San Diego County. The wine is light and dry with citrus notes.

Winemaker William Rimes with newly bottled Mission Grenache

We liked the 2009 'Rey de Rosa' Syrah and the 2010 Merlot - both fruit-forward with a dry finish. But our favorite was definitely the 2008 'Corazon' Cabernet Sauvignon. It's earthy and smooth with an interesting finish - a really fun wine to drink.

There are at least ten wines to taste
Inside the tasting room
Soon Hacienda de las Rosas will open a tasting room at their vineyard in Ramona. There'll be a hitching post for visiting horses too. Meanwhile, the tasting room in Fiesta de Reyes Plaza, Old Town San Diego is open daily from 11:30am - 9pm. 619.840.5557

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Since 2004 Teri Kerns and Micole Moore have been transforming their property to incorporate a vineyard; a winery; a garden; a well tended menagerie of barn animals, working dogs, and housepets; and a comfortable home. They make it look easy. Soon their new tasting patio will be open and we'll all be able to sample and take home Micole's delicious wines.
Tickled Pink Sangiovese Rosé - from foot-stomped Ramona grapes!

Joined on the patio by Ramona Valley Wine Region Magazine publisher and designer Dave Billick, we sipped Rosé and talked about what's to come. Dave firmly believes that making wine in Ramona is "a collective and better learning environment." In the vast pool of California... wine, it makes sense for these winemakers to share their knowledge rather than compete with one another.

Test rows of different grape varietals

Next we tasted Ramona Ranch's 2009 Zinfandel made with grapes from Hatfield Creek Vineyards, about half a mile away. It was easy to see why this wine was awarded "Best in Show Red" by Amateur Winemaker magazine. After a fun visit with the outdoor animals: two horses, a pet steer, three goats, and a small flock of heirloom hens we moved inside to do some barrel tasting.


These wines are good! Our favorites: 2010 Petit Syrah (Hatfield Creek grapes) and a slightly grassy Cabernet Sauvignon (Adobe Vineyards grapes) that's fruit forward at first but shows nice tannins on the finish. We also liked the Super Tuscan blend, but after so much wine all we managed to write about it was "yum." 
Medals already!

Stay tuned for more news from Ramona Ranch, a welcome addition to the Ramona winery community. 760.769.1622

Thursday, May 10, 2012


461 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133

We sought out Barrique because we're interested in the ecological and cost-saving potential of serving wines straight from the barrels. But we didn't realize that Cellar Master Matt Weese has a hand in production too; all of the barrel wine is private labelled. With six reds and three whites on tap, ordering two flights was the perfect way to get a sense of what Barrique has to offer.

The 2010 Russian River Chardonnay tastes of oak but not butter and fruit but not sweetness. According to Matt, "This is what Chardonnay tastes like. It's all about the grape." Who would argue? Another Chardonnay from Yorkville Highlands was mildly spicy, with a tantalizing nose. We moved on to a toasty 2010 Russian River Pinot Noir - mid-range in weight and a bit sweet at first, with tannins that emerge slowly, and a 2009 Arroyo Seco Syrah - bursting with black cherry and peppery on the finish, and a special treat: 2003 Bordeaux style Merlot. There's an element of surprise in these wines. The first burst of flavor doen't tell what's coming next, yet in every case we noted an exceptional finish.

Matt studied winemaking in college and is clearly following his passion to offer high-quality wines at reasonable prices via a business that's sustainable for people and the planet. Barrique is a wonderful venue for tasting and learning, or just relaxing after work or on weekends. In addition to the barrel selections there's a nice list of Northern California and French wines by the glass or bottle and a well curated snack menu.

Barrique is open Tuesday-Saturday 10am - 12am, Sunday & Monday 3pm - 10pm


On a recent visit to San Francisco we were delighted to discover a cluster of wineries right across the bay, housed in buildings that were part of the now-decommissioned Treasure Island Naval Base. We spent a memorable afternoon at Fat Grape Winery, Bodega Wine Estates, and Treasure Island Wines.


Treasure Island Wines, established in 2007, is a spacious urban winery that houses four winemakers producing under their own labels: Treasure Island, Eristavi, Bravium, and Heartfelt. Hosted by expert pourer Deneane and master vintner Victor Eristavi, we started with a crisp, mineral-tinged Treasure Island Sauvignon Blanc. Next we tried Eristavi's Symphony - a lesser-know grape varietal that's a hybrid of Muscat and Grenache. The wine is dry, with a delightfully intense floral bouquet. A pleasant taste of Rkatsiteli was another first for us.

Moving on to the reds, we enjoyed the 2010 Bravium Carneros Pinot Noir and 2009 Eristavi Zinfandel, which is lighter and drier than most. Even more impressive: Eristavi's 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and award-winning Syrah.

Lots of space, lots of wine!
Victor, who hails from the Republic of Georgia, is a chemist who has revived his family's winemaking tradition in a new setting, melding old-world techniques with modern technology. He enthusiastically sources unique grape varietals from Sonoma, Lodi, and Amador County where "the grapes are so good, it's hard to make bad wine." To be sure, we only encountered good wine, including some barrel tastes of what is to come.

Heartfelt will be bottling in July, which means that soon there will be even more to experience at Treasure Island Wines. The tasting room is open most Saturdays from 1:00-5:00 and sometimes on Sunday.

995 9th Street Building 201,
(Corner of 9th Street and Avenue I)
Treasure Island
San Francisco, Ca. 94130

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Bodega Wine estates is "a collaborative artists' colony" where Northern California winemakers showcase their offerings. Warmly welcomed by the colony's president Robert Amox and his friendly Basset Hound Bentley, we tasted wines from his own Knightwood Winery (Morningwood label) as well as Stein Family Wines and Curveball Winery.

Standouts include Stein's 2010 "Vaquero" Chardonnay and 2007 Tempranillo, and Morningwood's 2005 Merlot (plum and spice!) and 2005 Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon (our favorite).

With Robert in the tasting room
Bodega Wine Estates' wine club offers several membership options. Members are invited to special events and receive a special holiday shipment.

The tasting room is open Friday-Sunday 1:00-6:30.
751 13th Street at Avenue I
San Francisco, CA 94130


Since 2007, Patrick Bowen has been making his all-natural wines in a former Navy brig on Treasure Island, just minutes from downtown San Francisco. The wines, some of which are sold straight from the cask, are 100% varietals and contain no added sulfites. Patrick started making wine in the 1990s. When he retired from his job as a contractor he thought about going to the mountains to look for gold, but instead started a winery. He sources grapes from Amador County and Lodi and ages in French, American, and Hungarian oak.

Tasting room in what was the brig's men's dormitory

We tasted nine delicious wines - all red - plus a few more from the barrels. Our favorites: 2008 Patrick Bowen Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 Fat Grape Sangiovese, and award-winning 2008 Fat Grape Merlot.

Patrick telling us about his wines
Fat Grape Winery's tasting room is open Thursday-Sunday from noon-5:30. Tasting is complimentary.
1080 Ave M San Francisco, CA 94130