SDCVA Wine & Food Festival Rocked Bernardo Winery


The mood was light and fun at the 20th Annual San Diego County Vintners Association’s Wine and Food Festival staged at Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo last weekend.  Well-attended, the event showcased 25 local wineries, several exhibitors, a silent auction,  live music, gourmet small bites and food and wine demonstrations.


Both urban and traditional wine makers and winery owners were on hand to greet guests and pour two hand-selected wines crafted with San Diego County grape varietals.


The California wine industry traces its roots back to San Diego in 1779 with the first sustained vineyard planted by Franciscan missionaries at Mission San Diego de Alcala.

It was a fitting tribute to hold the SDCVA Wine & Food Festival at  the Bernardo Winery.

The landmark winery was established in 1889 by the Rizzo family and is the oldest family owned and operated winery in Southern California to this day.


The San Diego County Vintners Association is composed of vintners, growers, trade and wine lover members who strive to promote awareness and appreciation of the locally grown grape varietals.

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Russian River’s Bacigalupi Vineyards Has Deep Family Roots


Having experienced an over-the-top luscious and peppery Pinot Noir several years ago, whose grapes were sourced from Bacigalupi Vineyards, I set out on a mission to find the mother lode.  Winding scenic country roads on the upper westside of the Russian River Valley led me to the homestead-like tasting room.


Nicole Bacigalupi welcomed me into the cozy tasting room and filled my head with family stories that would make a fabulous Lifetime movie.  Bacigalupi Vineyards was founded by her grandparents, Charles and Helen Bacigalupi in 1956. Planted primarily in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the original rootstock was obtained from Russian River Pinot Pioneer, Karl Wente.

ChateauMontelena_weighbill1973Charles Bacigalupi’s earliest claim to fame was selling his Chardonnay grapes to Jim Barrett at Chateau Montelena, who produced the top award-winning 1973 Chardonnay at the historic Paris Tasting in 1976.  While the American win put Napa Valley on the map,  40% of those Chardonnay grapes were actually sourced from Bacigalupi Vineyards in Sonoma County.

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Wine Tasting Along The Chianti Wine Trail ~ Salute!

7c16JPGChianti Classico is an area steeped in rich history, dating back to the Etruscan times. Over the years, the Romans laid claim, followed by the ferocious medieval battles between Siena and Florence. Today, Chianti Classico is tranquil and undisturbed, yet vibrant, and is home to artisans and winemakers alike.


In a region where vineyards are plentiful and cellars are centuries old, one needs a strategy before blazing the wine trail.   Unlike wine tasting in California, which is both casual and unpretentious for the most part, wine tasting in Chianti Classico is a bit more structured.


The key to fun and eventful wine tasting is simple – take the time to plan your itinerary in advance. Care in planning ahead will save time in the long run and will enhance your wine tasting experience overall.

Keep in mind that the most memorable cellar tours encompass wine tasting along with food pairings.

A wine guide or sommelier will often guide the group tasting in the cellar and will offer sumptuous local food pairings such as bread and olive oil, prosciutto or salami and Pecorino Toscana cheese to compliment the featured wines.


In Chianti, wine tastings are never rushed. The pours are more than generous and the conversation with the wine staff flows easily. Wine tasting fees are nominal and a purchase of a bottle of wine is certainly appreciated, but not expected.

To get the most out of your wine tasting experience, if possible, arm yourself before your wine trek with The Black Rooster Map, (Le Strade del Gallo Nero), the official wine road map. Continue reading

Paso Robles’ Niner Wine Estates is Definitely a “Ten-er”!


Driving down Highway 46 West outside of Paso Robles, it’s hard to miss the heart-shaped tree grove in the middle of the vineyard at Niner WIne Estates.  The Tuscan-styled stone building seems a little out of character for the sleepy Paso Robles AVA, but is worthy of a visit.


Niner Wine Estates is the family-owned “dream child” of founder Richard Niner, a farmer from West Virginia.  Niner ventured west in the mid 1990s and followed his passion for wine, acquiring three separate vineyards ~ Bootjack Ranch, east of Paso Robles; Heart Hill Vineyard on the west side of Paso Robles and Jespersen Ranch in nearby Edna Valley.

NWE_tastingroom_interiorAll Niner Estate Wines are crafted from estate grapes from the three vineyards ~ Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Barbara, Carmenere,  Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Franc and smaller blocks of Petite Verdot, Merlot, Mourvedre, Semillion, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc.  Continue reading

Tuscany’s Top 10 Wine Trivia


In many ways, Sangiovese is to Chianti as Cabernet Sauvignon is to Bordeaux. Both form the base of wines that blend beautifully with other varietals, yet alone, they share a distinctive elegance and complexity. To impress your fellow oenophiles at the next dinner party, read on:

  1. Tuscany has 9 DOCG appellations that date back to the Etruscans in the 8th century BC. Sangiovese, Tuscany’s most prominent grape, is derived from the Latin sanguis Jovis, which literally translates to the “blood of Jove”.   Sangiovese is the premier grape varietal in Italy, planted on over 247,000 acres with 14 separate and distinct clones. Sangiovese thrives in direct sunlight at altitudes of 500 to 1600 feet. The higher elevations increase the diurnal temperature variation, helping the grapes maintain their balance of sugars and acidity as well as their aromatic qualities. 3m26JPG
  1. The Chianti zone is the largest classified wine region and produces over eight million cases of wine each year. The region is split into two DOCGs – Chianti and Chianti Classico. The larger Chianti zone is further divided into eight DOC sub-zones and produces white, other Rosso reds and Vin Santo.
  1. To be considered a Chianti Classico, wines must be 75% to 100% Sangiovese and can contain up to 20% of international varietals such as Cabernet and Merlot. Chianti Classico covers approximately 100 square miles between Florence and Siena and includes the communes of Castellina, Gaiole, Greve and Radda and five other neighboring communes.   Chianti Classico is required to be aged for a minimum of three years.5mp30JPG
  1. All but one Tuscany DOCG is comprised of Sangiovese grapes.  Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG produces the only white grape called Vernaccia . Other white grapes planted in Tuscany are Trebbiano, Malvasia, Vermantino and Chardonnay and are frequently used in blending wines.
  1. Vin Santo, also known as “holy wine”, is made of Trebbiano which is harvested in late fall and air-dried on straw mats until the start of Holy Week before bottling. Vin Santo ages for 3 to 10 years in small barrels and is produced in small quantities. Vin Santo makes an excellent Italian dessert wine.

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Sonoma’s Buena Vista Winery Attracts Ghost Hunters

IMG_8371Buena Vista Winery is considered California’s oldest premium winery and was founded in 1857 by the self-proclaimed “Count of Buena Vista”, Agoston Haraszthy.  Situated in the Los Carneros AVA (also known as Carneros AVA), the Buena Vista Winery vineyards are poised atop the hills overlooking San Pablo Bay.

IMG_8355The proximity to the cool fog and breezes from the bay makes the climate cooler and more moderate than the wine regions further north in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, allowing for the cultivation of cooler climate varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Many of the grapes grown in Los Carneros are also used for sparkling wine production.


Rarely does one think of ghost hunting when wine tasting, however, Sonoma’s Buena Vista Winery has a ghostly past and an eerie presence.  In 1862, legend has it that 20 Chinese migrant workers were busy bottling, corking and wiring Champagne magnums in the deep wine caves when a minor earthquake triggered a cave-in.  Racism attitudes at the time, left the men to be buried alive amidst cases of fine champagne.  Continue reading

Oceanside’s Beach House Winery Views Are Astounding…And The Wines Are Even Better!

IMG_0377Looking to avoid the crowds in Temecula Wine Country this weekend, I headed toward the ridge of the Sleeping Indian on the Oceanside/Fallbrook border.  Lo and behold, there lie the Beach House Winery high atop the steep narrow driveway.

caf44750dfabb627b01af32d0f18f006I was warmly greeted by owner and wine maker George Murray, who was doubling as a valet.

Established in 2010, the Beach House Winery has been quietly making a name for itself with the locals.  

fa0d892186d4b53c6ade405520691f77Beach House Winery’s tasting room, albeit cozy, features a spectacular tasting menu with over 12 varietals.  George and his wife, Kim, have been handcrafting wines since 1989, purchasing grapes from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley and Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak, Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe and locally from San Diego County. Continue reading