Russian River Vineyards Has A Storied Past & Noteworthy Wines!


Nestled in the heart of the renowned Russian River Valley is the picturesque and historic Russian River Vineyards.  Historically speaking, this iconic vineyard is one of the oldest vineyards in the northern Sonoma County wine growing region.  The first vines were planted with Merlot in 1963, a time when the surrounding farm plots were planted with  apples and prunes.


Surrounded by towering Redwood trees, this eclectic winery was modeled after the many stockades built by Russian settlers in the early 1800’s and the hop kilns that dotted the Sonoma County.  Russian River Vineyards was named long before the Russian River Valley was designated as an AVA in 1983.

IMG_6109Award-winning Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel are poured in the outside tasting room overlooking the rolling vineyards, weather permitting.

The newly released 2012 Pinot Noir Estate Grown is a single vineyard Pinot Noir.  Delicately balanced, yet concentrated with bright red fruit, this wine has been aged for 16 months in French Oak and cellared for an additional 10 months.

Another new release is the 2013 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast.  This wine is intensely lush, showing rich tropical fruits of mango and pineapple with expressive notes of honeysuckle and pear, and white peach.

For Zin Lovers, the 2010 Sack Vineyard Zinfandel displays aromas of spicy, ripe dark fruit with hints of smoke, tobacco with a touch of pepper.

Russian River Vineyards was one of the first certified organic vineyards in Sonoma County.  Years ago, a colony of bats took up residence in the towers of the winery.  The bats inhabit the winery roofs by day and devour pests in the vineyards by night.  Known as “the bat launch”, guests are treated to nightly displays from the outside dining patio in the warmer months. Today, sustainable farming practices and minimal intervention in the vineyards are credited to the award-winning wines produced at the historic Russian River Vineyards.  


Corks Restaurant is housed inside the rustic farmhouse and is the only winery-based restaurant in the Russian River Valley.  Wine and food pairings, lunch and dinner are available upon reservation.

SD Vintners Debut 2014 Barrel Samples At Fall Harvest Event


San Diego wine aficionados were invited to the 2014 Fall Harvest Wine Symposium & Wine Tasting held at the prestigious rooftop Vintana Wine + Dine restaurant  in Escondido last weekend.


IMG_8024The symposium, hosted by Cohn Restaurant Group Beverage Director Maurice DiMarino, featured a panel of seven San Diego County Winemakers and their 2014 barrel samples.

Each winemaker presented a barrel sample and discussed the particular wine presented for tasting with the specific challenges that were encountered in the 2014 growing and harvest season.

In addition to the 2014 barrel samples, the San Diego winemakers showcased previous vintages which were available for tasting and purchase.



Stehleon Vineyards‘  Winemaker Lisa Stehly’s biggest challenge was overcoming the devastation of the vines by hungry deer due to the severe drought conditions.  Although the vineyards were destroyed,  Stehleon Vineyards were able to harvest 1/2 ton of Sauvignon Blanc from the Valley Center vineyards.

The Stehleon Vineyards 2014 Sauvignon Blanc already exhibits white peach stone fruit, great acidity and luscious fruitiness across the palate. No doubt, this Sauvignon Blanc will continue to evolve before bottling early next year.


Husband and fellow family winemaker, Chris, hand-crafts wines at Vespar Vineyards from the historic McCormick Ranch in Valley Center where Carignan vines have thrived for decades.

Vespar Vineyard’s  2014 Rose, is an unctuous  blend of Grenache and Carignan that is cold-fermented with no filter or fining.

The Rose dances with notes of cherry and rose petals, and is aromatic and brimming with fresh acidity from the granitic soil.



Unbeknownst to many, San Diego also boasts a number of “urban wineries” such as Vinavanti Urban Winery in Mira Mesa.

Simply known as Eric, Vinavanti‘s winemaker, delighted the eager crowd with his 2014 Viognier.   Displaying a bright citrus nose, with lemongrass, pear skin, and elements of honey and lime pith on the palate.  A fun sparkling Viognier was available for tasting too.

Vinavanti Urban Winery uses minimal winemaking principles which embrace using the local fruit, spontaneous fermentation, carbonic maceration, no fining or filtering, no oak and the use of screw tops instead of cork.


San Diego’s Ex-Fire Chief, Jeff Bowman, of Screaming Chief is now the chief in his own vineyard, growing Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  The name, “Screaming Chief,” is a tribute to firefighting in the 19th century where the commands were fired through the air by none other than the fire chief.   

Jeff lamented that the 2014 Grand Cuvee took four separate harvests, several weeks apart,  in order to achieve the ripening and quality he desired. His 2014 vintage is marked with lots of red fruit and vegetal green-stemmy flavors and juicy acids.


Justin Mund, winemaker at Orfila Vineyards & Winery in Escondido poured a vertical tasting of the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Orfila Petite Sirah.  Hailing from the Central Coast, Justin cited unusually warm conditions prompted earlier than normal harvest at the end of July.  While the crop yielded 10% less this year, the small berry clusters were good with concentrated juice.  When asked about the future of Syrah in San Diego County, he replied that, “Syrah was making a comeback”.  The old Chardonnay rootstock at Orfila is now grafted with Syrah.  Kind of a “Que Sera, Syrah” moment! 

IMG_8026Tom Hart of Milagro Farms in Ramona Valley AVA offered a vertical tasting of his 2012, 2013 and 2014 Barbera.   Barbera is well-suited to the warm climate of San Diego county, however, is often under-appreciated.  The 2014 Milagro Farms Barbera was ultra rich in color with an exceptional floral nose, bursting with acidity.  This food-friendly wine is sure to age well.  Milagro Farms also makes a Cabernet Sauvignon, which is somewhat rare in San Diego County.


New friends of Coyote Oaks Vineyards winemaker, Karen Sherman raised a glass of the 2011 Mongrel Magic, a Super Tuscan inspired blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Montepulciano, Nebbiolo, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  All the grapes were sourced from San Diego County.  Coyote Oaks Vineyards is considered a “micro-boutique” winery in Escondido, and has a tasting room inside the Mediterranean-style chateau castle on the Escondido Wine & Culinary Campus.

IMG_8038Fallbrook Winery‘s Ira Gourvitz and winemaker Vernon Kindred featured the  33° N Estate 2014 Bdx,  a complex red blend of the five traditional Bordeaux grapes ~ Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

In addition, Syrah, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc and Sangiovese are all estate grown on Fallbrook Winery‘s 36 acres which interestingly enough, sits at the 33° N parallel, which is the same parallel as France’s Bordeaux region.

IMG_8009Rounding out the San Diego Fall Harvest Winemaker event were Winemakers Jim and Judi Brady of the Roadrunner Ridge Winery.  They poured an estate Petite Sirah which was surprisingly very fruit forward.   The inky-black Petite Sirah was super aromatic with mint and black pepper meeting the nose.

Roadrunner Ridge WInery sits at 1500 feet elevation with a microclimate zone that emulates the Mediterranean.    With only 400 cases of annual production, Roadrunner Ridge Winery’s  main focus is on crafting small lots of Rhone and other warm weather varietals. An impressive array of estate grapes include Mouvedre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Petite Verdot, Tempranillo, Malbec, Viognier, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc, and Grenache Blanc.


Many thanks to Maurice DiMarino for hosting the symposium and wine tasting event on the beautiful rooftop at Vintana Wine + Dine.
















Winemaking 101 At Temecula’s Wilson Creek Winery

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It was a picture-perfect October Saturday morning at the Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula.

Due to the drought conditions and warmer weather conditions, the grapes ripened quickly and the 2014 Harvest came earlier than in previous years.

Night-time picking had just been completed and the grapes lay in various stages of fermentation in the steel tanks and oak barrels. The cool air in the cellar was pungent with the smell of the ripening red grapes in the open bins. 

Wilson Creek Winery‘s winemaker Kestutis “Gus” Vizgirda’s hands, legs and clothes were stained a deep red hue from vigilantly tending to the grape juices and skins non-stop in the first crucial days after the harvest.


Over two dozen students from San Diego State University’s Business of Wine certificate program, eagerly gathered for the two-day “Winemaking Behind The Scenes” course taught by Wilson Creek Winery’s  Wine Guru, Gus.


The timing of the class couldn’t have been any more ideal as the cellar was bursting with winemaking activity!  All phases of winemaking were available for observation along with extensive barrel and tank wine tastings.

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Gus first led the students on a walking field lecture in the vineyard, explaining the challenges of growing grapes in the Temecula Valley.  Vineyard and canopy management, pest control practices, soil type, irrigation and fertilization applications were explained as the students stood amidst the vines.


Considered a small winery, Wilson Creek Winery produces around 35,000 cases of wine a year from the 70 estate acres.  Grape varietals number 14, with claim to the oldest planted Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Temecula.

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The students viewed the crushing and de-stemming machinery as Gus demystified the whole cluster vs. de-stemming processes.   Students were treated to barrel samples of Chardonnay in the primary stage of malolactic fermentation and then to stainless steel tank samples in more advanced stages of fermentation for comparison.


Wines blended and aged for Wilson Creek Winery‘s Sherry sat still in the outside temperature-controlled steel tanks.  Gus demonstrated how veraison sugars are measured in grapes with the use of a hydrometer and explained how the chemistry of yeast, tannins and acids come into play in winemaking.

IMG_7877 Lastly, cellar sanitation, including barrel and tank cleaning, and the bottling process was discussed in detail.  The two-day class was amazing and insightful due in large part to the exuberance and knowledge that “Wine Guru Gus” imparted upon the students.  For a behind-the-scenes tour, contact Wilson Creek Winery


Sanford Winery ~ Sta. Rita Hills’ First Pinot Pioneers!


You might say that Sanford Winery & Vineyards is as old as the hills… the Santa Rita Hills, that is.  It was back in 1971 when Pinot Pioneer Richard Sanford planted the first Pinot Noir grapes in the Sanford & Benedict vineyards, that put Santa Barbara Wine Country and Santa Rita Hills on the map.


Fast forward 30 years…today, the Sanford & Benedict vineyard supports 68 acres of the Mt. Eden Pinot Noir clone, 52 acres of Chardonnay and 15 acres of other estate grapes.


Sanford Winery‘s sister vineyard, Rancho La Rinconada Vineyard, is located in nearby Lompoc.  Planted in 1997 on 135 acres, there are now three Pinot Noir Clones: 115, 667, 777 and Mt. Eden as well as Chardonnay.


Much to the determination and efforts of Sanford Winery, the Sta. Rita Hills AVA was officially granted in 2001.  From there, it is history.  Winemaker Richard Sanford turned over the helm to open Alma Rosa Winery, further up Santa Rosa Road.  The Terlato Wine Group later purchased Sanford Winery and continues to produce stellar Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

IMG_7471Sanford WInery‘s tasting room is beautifully appointed with a covered veranda that  overlooks the vineyards.   The 2011 Sanford & Benedict Viognier was clean, crisp and vibrant, with aromas of lemon peel, honeycomb and roasted hazelnut.  However, the 2009 La Entrada Chardonnay stole the show with a limited production of only 10 barrels!  Bright acidity, citrus notes and minerality make this Chardonnay shine.


Eager to try the famed Pinot Noir wines, I was not disappointed.  The 2010 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, deemed a Double Gold winner in the San Francisco Chronicle competition, was a complex blend of eight different clones from the two estate vineyards.  It was velvet in a glass ~ deep red in color bursting with raspberry and bing cherry with hints of spice orange rind, white pepper and sage on the nose.


Sanford Winery‘s crowing jewel, is the 2012 La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir ~ a sumptuous blend of the 114, 115, 667, 777 and Mt. Eden clones.  Explosions of spicy black cherry cola, cola, bacon fat and anise meet the palate, framed by bright acidity.   Ahhhhhh…. the Sta. Rita Hills at its finest.

Europa Village’s Oktoberfest ~ Barrels Of Fun!

IMG_7813Willkommen to Europa Village‘s Annual 2014 Oktoberfest!  Festive costumes adorned the staff and guests alike.   Steins of handcrafted beer were raised high and Europa wines flowed freely as guests enjoyed the authentic German fare and music.












Hangar 24Refuge BreweryIronfire Brewery and Craft Brewing Company were all on keg duty to serve their fine handcrafted brews.   Guests even received a complimentary beer stein to commemorate Europa‘s 2014 Oktoberfest.

IMG_7761Proceeds from Europa‘s Oktoberfest benefited  All From The Heart, which aids troops, their families and veterans in need.


German food, games and music filled the air as guests danced the “Chicken Dance” to the Hofbrau Boys’ Germanic polka rhythms.


One thing is certain… a good time was had by all ~ Beifall!!!

Europa Village’s Annual Grape Stomp Gala ~ Bon Vin, Tres Fun!

photo 4 There’s a little slice of Europe in the Temecula Wine Country ~ Europa Village is an Old World Euro-themed winery that offers wines handcrafted from French, Spanish and Italian grape varietals.  Love the French wines of the Rhone Valley?  Non probleme ~ the C’est la Vie Chateau Wines will soothe your soul. Feeling a little sassy?  Si, Si  ~  try the Bolero Cellars for a Spanish flare.  Looking for the perfect food and wine pairing?  Bene, Bon Appetito!   ~ Vienza will be a salute to all things Italian.

photo 2 Beautifully appointed, Europa Village is situated on 30 rolling acres, with vineyard views in all directions.  There is an ample outdoor seating area with water misters to curb the summer heat and even a wine cave that doubles as a tasting bar and an event room for large parties and wedding receptions.

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At the Annual Grape Stomp extravaganza in August, George Bursick, was introduced as the new artisan winemaker.  George hails from Sonoma County and will be tantamount in taking Europa Village‘s wine program to the next level.  

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Euopa‘s Wine Societe Members weIMG_7538re invited to stomp grapes, take photos with “Lucy” and to enjoy sumptuous food and wine pairings by Chef Dean.  Wine flowed freely as jovial accordion music filled the air.  A local artist captured the festivities on canvas as onlookers admired her fare.










Staff was festively costumed as they served food and poured the new wine releases ~ C’est La Vie’s 2012 Chenin Blanc and the 2012 Artist Series Bon Vie, an estate blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Counoise.


All corks were pulled out for the gala event ~ including the 2011 Estate Reserve Syrah!  Europa Village has live entertainment every weekend with many special events and wine education classes held throughout the year.


Grand plans  are in the making for Europa Village that will include a posh, yet classic, European 40 room resort and spa, with a village of boutiques and shops, walking paths and custom homesites.

For an intimate getaway, guests are welcome to stay at the mission-style Inn at Europa which overlooks Euopa‘s vineyards and the beautiful Temecula Valley.  









Altipiano Vineyard & Winery Reaches New Heights!

IMG_7517Happenstance brought me to Altipiano Vineyard & Winery in Escondido.  Eager to pursue the many wineries springing up in the Ramona Valley AVA, I ventured out and much to my surprise, found this boutique winery off Highland Valley Road, just a few miles from  San Diego.


Altipiano Vineyard & Winery was  aptly named.  Alti, (a variation of the word Alto) and the word piano,  roughly translates from the Italian words meaning  “Upper Plateau” ~ which is the ideal descriptor for the views off the back patio which overlook the dancing vines and the majestic valley below.


Peter and Denise Clarke are the owners of Altipiano Vineyard & Winery and are always on hand to personally welcome guests in the tasting room.   Denise is the winemaker and has just released her first estate wines ~   2010 Estate Brunello Sangiovese,  2012 Estate Barbera and  2012 Nero D’Avola.  


Mentored by master wine makers throughout California, Denise takes to winemaking like a duck to water.  She is enthusiastic, spirited, educated and willing to take risks to make the very best wines.  Until this vintage, the Clarke’s purchased grapes from other areas to round out the tasting menu.  It will be an exciting journey watching Denise evolve into an artisan winemaker.   Upon meeting Peter and Denise, you’re treated as “family” which makes the wine tasting experience that much richer.


This weekend marks the 2014 grape harvest, or vendemmia, which means that there will be more great wines to look forward to in the coming years!    Altipiano Vineyard & Winery is open Friday through Sunday and offers tours by appointment.   Salute!