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.

Monday, January 9, 2012


There’s now a critical mass of wineries and tasting rooms in historic Julian, about an hour’s drive from central San Diego. In the center of town, start at Blue Door (2608 B Street). You may also want to visit the Witch Creek tasting room (2000 Main Street). After that, take short drive to J. Jenkins (1255 Julian Orchards Drive) and then Menghini (1150 Julian Orchards Drive). If you’ve brought a picnic, Menghini’s patio is the best spot to enjoy it.

Backtrack a bit and turn right onto Highway 78, where you’ll soon encounter Country Cellars (4456 Highway 78) and Orfila (4470 Highway 78). If you're game for more, stop at Milagro (18750-C Littlepage Road, accessible from the 78) or Edwards (26502 Highway 78) and then proceed back to San Diego via Ramona and Poway. You’ll be home before you know it.

Current Julian Tasting Room Hours:
Blue Door: Friday-Saturday 11-6, Sunday-Thursday 12-5
Witch Creek: Daily 11-5
J. Jenkins: Thursday-Sunday 11-5
Menghini: Monday-Friday 10-4, Saturday-Sunday 10-5
Country Cellars: Wednesday-Sunday 11-5, holiday Mondays 11-4
Milagro: Friday-Monday 11-5
Edwards: Saturday-Sunday 11-4


COUNTRY CELLARS tasting room and wine shop

There’s nothing close to Country Cellars in the city of San Diego: it's truly a one-stop shop for San Diego County wine and beer. Located on Highway 78 between Julian and Ramona, this place is a gem that attracts both locals and tourists. Owner Trez Gotfredson changes up the tasting menu every week, so there’s always something new to try, and even more to buy. Her current list includes five whites, sixteen reds, and eight dessert wines (and we didn’t even look at the beer!).  The shop stocks some cheeses and other picnic supplies as well.

Country Cellars has both monthly and quarterly wine clubs, with lots of options. The discount is at least 15%, plus free tasting and invitations to quarterly wine-appetizer pairings and other events.

Country Cellars is open for tasting and sales Wednesday-Sunday 11-5 and holiday Mondays 11-4. 760.765.0089

BLUE DOOR WINERY tasting room

Blue Door Winery in San Marcos recently opened a tasting room in the heart of Julian – a welcome addition to the town’s budding wine landscape. Winemaker Marc Hashagen sources grapes from many parts of California, with a lot (especially white varietals) coming from Santa Barbara County. We loved his 2010 unoaked Chardonnay.

Marc was working in international finance when he had an epiphany of sorts: he wanted to become a boutique winemaker, expressing his passion while keeping things simple and natural. Meanwhile, his old friend Kameron was working in the Santa Barbara wine industry. She moved to San Diego and reconnected with Marc… now they’re engaged. Blue Door’s annual production has grown to approximately 750 cases. Kameron manages the tasting room and vigorously promotes the wines.We tried three outstanding reds: a 2008 Santa Barbara Barbera – soft on the palate but still with plenty of tannins, 2008 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon (our favorite) aged in American oak – fruit and spice on the nose, pepper later on. This wine is light; one could mistake it for a Pinot Noir. The just-released 2008 Santa Barbara Cabernet Franc is, we were told, highly changeable depending on one's mood and food. We enjoyed its pleasant grassiness.

We look forward to tasting Marc’s famous Merlot, with fruit from the Hidden Meadows area of Escondido. The 2010 vintage will be released at the end of this month. There’s also a Zinfandel on the horizon.

Blue Door’s wine club members get two bottles every three months, at $20/bottle or 20% off retail. And free tasting, of course.

The tasting room is open Friday-Saturday 11-6, Sunday-Thursday 12-5. 760.765.0361