Wine — and beer — tasting in Ramona
Some members of The Team and I recently visited a few of our local wineries. After a couple of rounds of rock-paper-scissors to select the designated driver, we began to chart our course. There are so many great places to visit here now, deciding on which ones to hit was tough.
I logged on to ramonavalleyvineyards.org and printed out their very handy map and made the decision to start on the right and work left. That put our first stop at Milagro Farm Vineyards & Winery on Littlepage Road. With a little sharing, we were able to taste eight different wines there.
As I’ve written before, I have no formal wine training. I’m not going to describe aromas, legs, balance or any of those other fancy terms. Of the eight I tried, my favorite was their estate grown 2010 Raggio Rosso. According to our hostess, Amanda, the Raggio Rosso is a blend of 66% Sangiovese and 34% Barbera grapes. It was great!
I’m usually not much of a dessert wine guy, but my second favorite wine was their 2010 estate grown Aleatico. The other wines we tasted were a 2011 Chardonnay, a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, a 2010 Sangiovese, a 2010 Barbera, and a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, which were all estate grown. Amanda informed us that “estate grown” means that all of the fruit was grown on site.
We also tasted a 2008 Merlot that was the only one that was not estate grown. Milagro will soon be coming out with its 2012 selections of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris & Meritage.
Next on our list would have been to see our friend Beth at Edwards Winery but I heard she was sold out. I’ve had some Edwards wines before and was disappointed that we would have to wait. (Editor’s Note: Edwards Vineyard & Cellars is back in business.) According to our navigator, our next stop would be Pyramid Vineyard & Winery at Magnolia and Highway 78. When we arrived at Pyramid, we were greeted by the owner, Don Kohorst. Don invited us in to his tasting room and shared some of his history while he poured.
After starting a Christmas tree farm on his property in 1980, he decided to change to grape vines in 2000. At first he just sold the grapes to different vintners but one year a buyer backed out at the last minute. “So what do I do with three tons of fruit? I went out and bought some winemaking equipment and caught the bug. Now I make between 600 and 1,000 gallons a year, which is still probably less than what Orfila spills.”
During our chat, we tasted five wines. We tried a 2010 Orange Muscat, a 2010 Blance de Syrah, a 2010 Muscat Canelli, a 2009 Merlot, and a 2008 Syrah. My favorite was the Merlot.
Our third and final stop of that day was Pamo Valley Winery’s tasting room on Main Street. The owner, Jennifer Jenkins, was not in that day, but we were treated to a great time by Barbara Blankenbaker. Barbara started us off with a 2010 Tempranillo, and then we moved on to a 2009 Grenache, a 2010 Petite Syrah, a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, and a 2011 Sangiovese.
I’m not sure if there is any significant value in the fact that the Sangiovese was the last of 19 wines I tried that day, but it was my favorite! We were having a great time but according to the designated driver, Saturday’s tour was now over. I tried to convince her otherwise, but wives usually win those types of debates. We bid adieu to Barbara and her crew and headed home, but not before a fist to chest oath that we’d continue the next day!
On day two, we decided to begin on the west side of the map and head east. Our first stop was Mahogany Mountain Vineyard & Winery on Mahogony Mountain Road (off Mussey Grade). There we sat down with owner Kim Hargett and her son Geoffrey. While we sampled some of their wines, Kim told us about her vineyard. “We have about 1,500 vines on our five-acre farm and all of our red wines that we produce are all estate grown.”
That day we started with a couple of their non-vintage white wines. The first was a Chardonnay, followed by a Pinot Gris. Up third came a 2007 Merlot, then a 2007 Zinfandel, and finally a 2008 Mouvedre. My top selection was the 2007 Zinfandel. “Mahogany Mountain will be introducing some new wines this year including a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, a 2009 Barbera, a 2009 Syrah and a 2009 Mouvedre,” added Geoffrey.
Next on our agenda was to go by and see the “Godfather of Ramona Wine,” John Schwaesdall. Schwaesdall Winery is located on the west side of Ramona on Highway 67, across from Daniel’s West. John treated us that day to several stories and several tastes of his wine, including his gold medal winning Cabernet Sauvignon and silver medal Merlot. Again, I’m usually not a sweet wine drinker, but the 2003 Port that we tried at the end was fantastic. Add a few pieces of dark chocolate and a good cigar to that port and I’d be set!
I asked John if he had anything new coming out for 2013. “Yes, I have a Petite Syrah that will be ready soon. I grew the grapes here on the farm from cuttings that I got from an old vineyard out in San Diego Country Estates. I’m really excited for people to try it!”
For our final stop of the weekend, we zigged instead of zagged. One of the team members, we’ll call him Jerry, told me that a new Micro Brewery had just opened up and that we should close out the tasting weekend with beer. Beer on a wine tasting weekend? Could we do this? Are we breaking international rules? Ah, what the heck, let’s go for it!
Shortly after we made our landmark decision, we arrived at ChuckAlek Independent Brewers which is at 2330 Main St., Suite “C,” right next door to Bisher’s Quality Meats. After a quick scan of their menu, I did not recognize any of the names. All their ales are made on site and have unique names, such as Fiddler, The Weiss, Revolver, The Hussar, Dowser and Breton. Each one has a different taste and story associated with it.
The only logical choice was to try the Sampler tray and figure out which of the six was my favorite. After careful consideration and perhaps a few second rounds, for me, Breton, which is a Porter, was the winner. In fact, I had them fill a “growler” full of it to take home. It was a great weekend of tasting.
If we didn’t get to your place this time, we’ll be by soon!
Eddie Brisendine, a Ramona resident and Class of 1982 Ramona HIgh School graduate, is a connoisseur of food and wine.
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