Thursday, August 27, 2009

Adventures in Wine Tasting at Orfila Vineyards and Schwaesdall Winery in San Diego

At the beginning of this Summer I planned to travel around California and visit as many wine regions as possible. Between June and July I went to the Napa Valley, Amador County, Monterey, and Paso Robles. Then from August 13th through 16th I visited San Diego, Temecula and Santa Barbara. On Thursday August 13th I drove from the San Francisco Bay Area down to Escondido which is in the North East side of San Diego County (an 8 hour drive) to where my wine exploration began over ten years ago when I was a student at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Orifla Vineyards - Escondido

Orfila Vineyards & Winery is on the east side of Escondido, tucked into the picturesque San Pasqual Valley, approximately 30 minutes from San Diego and just a stone’s throw from the Wild Animal Park. Orfila specializes Rhone-style from their estate hillside vineyard, which is about approximately 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, as well as from other grape-growing regions along the coast of California. They also produce an awesome Merlot, an intense Pinot Noir and my favorite Sangiovese in the state.

They have an impressive line up of wines and for a nominal fee you can try six of them. I wanted to state all of them so I returned the following day for another lineup.

My first wine on Thursday was the Estate Viognier "Lotus" Lot 67 ($29) which is 76% Viognier with Marsanne and Rousanne, aged the blend in French Oak. This is a rich and floral wine with well balanced plenty of citrus, tropical and vanilla notes.

My second wine was the 2007 Ambassador's Reserve Chardonnay ($25). If you like big buttery oaky Chardonnays then is one is right up your alley. The wine is 100% malolactic and barrel fermented then aged in French Oak to produce a full-bodied Chardonnay with rich flavors of vanilla, oak, butter and apple.

The third pour was the 2007 Gew├╝rztraminer. The grapes are sourced from Monterey County it is a sweeter style of this varietal (4.7% R/S) with flavors of melon, green apples, honey, with a slightly spiced finish. At $16 a bottle it is a great value so I brought ½ case back home with me.

My fourth taste was the Pinot Noir Lot #37. This is not your light and subtle style Pinot. It is very earthy and with flavors of cherries, plums, raspberries, root beer and vanilla on the nose and the palate along with some mild tannins on the back end. A bit pricy at $41 a bottle but I found in to be very complex and intriguing so I bought ½ case.

My final wine for the first day was the 2006 Estate Grown Sangiovese “Di Collina.” This is my favorite Sangiovese in the state of California and I’ve loved it for over ten years. It is produced with grapes from their own hillside vineyards and has aromas of dark plums, raspberries and blackberries with savory spices, salty bacon, bright acidity and hints of vanilla from the soft oak on the finish. It is absolutely awesome with Italian food, especially pesto. At $23 a bottle the price is fair so I brought home 6 bottles.

On Friday August 14th I visited the tasting room again for another line up. My first and second wine was the 2006 and 2007 Estate Ambassador's Reserve Merlot. The Ambassador’s Merlot is a limited bottling produced from only the finest grapes from our hillside vineyards. Both are a full-bodied Merlot but the ’07 was richer with more intense and concentrated fruit, far superior to the ’06. The 2007 is dark, smoky and luscious cherries, a little spice and a bit jammy with a cedar and tobacco finish. At the time they were only selling futures which was unfortunate because I would purchased a few bottles.

My third wine was the 2005 Estate Syrah “Seasons.” This wine wasn’t quite up to snuff; sort of a simple one note wine but they were having a two for one special at about $10 per bottle.

The next taste was the 2006 Estate Syrah. A noticeable improvement over the “Seasons.” It is complex with layers of plum, blackberry, and raspberry followed by a hint of bitter-sweet cocoa with a dash of pepper on the back end. At $32 it is a bit steep, but I brought a couple bottles home.

My final wine was the California Tawny Port. It is medium brown color going to tan on the rim with good viscosity. It is velvety smooth with rich flavors of caramel, raisins, licorice, toasted almonds, cashews, a pinch of Orange zest with a lingering finish. A fair price at $25 a bottle so I picked up three, one for myself and two to give away as gifts.

If you are ever in the San Diego area, especially if you are visiting the Wild Animal Park, you’ve got to stop in for a tasting at Orfila Vineyards & Winery. (

Schwaesdall Winery - Ramona

On my second day of visiting the San Diego area I stayed with some close friends who I met when I lived in Ramona while a student at the seminary. It is at an elevation of about 1,500 feet and as you drive up from Escondido on the long winding Highway 78 you then drop into the Ramona Valley which is known as “The Valley of the Sun.” Back in the 1850’s Ramona was called “Nuevo” and was home to Native American Indians and there are still a couple reservations in the area with accompanying casinos.

Today, Ramona also has a couple wineries one of which is Schwaesdall Winery, owned by vintner John Schwaesdall. A San Diego native, he started making wine from some of the old vineyards in Ramona that were planted in 1950’s. Since then he has planted 4 1/2 acres of various red and white wine grapes among enormous granite boulders that are found predominately in the Ramona and Mt. Woodson area of San Diego. On a covered deck overlooking his vineyards you can sample his wines while enjoying the view of Iron Mountain. I mostly interested in the estate bottled wines so I could get a “taste of Ramona.”

My first wine was the Ramona Red ($15), a red table blend of 36% Syrah, 16% Grenache, 15% Ruby Cabernet, 22% Gamay, 11% Mourvedre. It has subtle berry notes, it is somewhat earthy with a hint of smoke, black pepper followed by an herbal and berry finish.

My next wine was the Zinfandel 2004. An interesting wine with Raspberry jam on the nose and palate and a little oak on the finish. Not bad for $18.

If you are visiting the area, be sure to drop in and tell John that Erik Wait sent you!