Belle Marie Winery (and its second label, Chateau Dragoo) was the last winery I was able to visit during my recent San Diego excursion and while I have categorized it under the San Diego County Appellation, that classification is actually a little false and technically should not be allowed in my Ultimate California Wine Blog. Why? Well, Belle Marie’s "claim to fame" is that not a single grape producing over 5,000 cases of Belle Marie’s wine is grown in the United States.
There is much scuttlebutt about the upcoming growth of the next wine mecca and while rumor has it that China is a growing concern, Mexico is another new producer of wines beginning to appear on various wine writers’ radars. For the past five years, Belle Marie has been cultivating sixty different varietals on 150 acres of vineyards just south of the border, in Baja. They truck all the grapes up to their facilities in Escondido for processing (and thereby have to deal with the US production laws), but these are actually Mexican wines. The one characteristic that seemed to earmark these wines was a dark sensation of iron. I can only assume it be a terroir issue and will look into where these vineyards are to determine soil quality, but I wanted to mention it upfront.
On their property in Escondido lies a castle-like structure. It was just finished a few weeks before my visit and as an annex to the tasting room, is actually a facility available for rent for weddings and parties. I just shot the picture to show the edifice with its lush gardens is seemingly out of place in this area of hot, dry, barren stretch between northern San Diego county and the beginning of Temecula.
The tasting room is much the standard of the industry, but an explanation is needed on the two labels. The Dragoo label is reserved for those wines "produced in a European style," meaning at least two years in a combination of French and American oak (this is what they told me, anyway). The Belle Marie wines only see twelve to fourteen months in 100% American oak.
2004 Belle Marie Viognier – Like the Witch Creek Chardonnay, this was the second time I perceived an aroma of hair dresser chemicals. I know that some of Witch Creek’s grapes also came from Mexico and wonder if this is another distinct Mexican terroir characteristic. Beyond this sweetish chemical scent, there was some floral qualities, but overall the wine was too harsh. $18.00
2003 Chateau Dragoo Freisa - Sweet strawberry nose that gives way to strident minerality. Soft entry thins to little else. $22.00
2000 Belle Marie Duet – A blend of 43% Grenache, 36% Barbera, and 21% Tempranillo. Pale in color and body with distinctly bright floral and red fruit notes. Then there is iron. Lots of iron. The flabby entry shows little beyond thin fruit and iron flavors. $18.00
2000 Belle Marie Maestro – 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Nebbiolo. I had an odd discussion with the lady at the counter on this one. With a bottle that was half gone, I was sure this wine was corked. She had thought the same earlier in the day and showed it to the winemaker who assured her it was fine. When I brought up the concept of taint, she reconsidered her earlier assessment and opened another bottle. The initial aromas were more dark rustic herbs and dark fruit but more course iron. And then there was more taint. It didn’t show itself until the wine had opened up a bit and made me wonder if this was how the wine was supposed to taste (considering the winemaker saw no problem with an earlier offering). It will remain a mystery. $24.00
1997 Chateau Dragoo Cresendo [sic] – 100% Petite Sirah. Port-like sweet cherry and berry nose that is raisiny with cooked fruit. Thin vanilla entry that dissipates. $26.00
2001 Chateau Dragoo Vintage Port – Made form a Late Harvest Zinfandel and Tempranillo. One wonders why – the pairing of two seemingly different grapes. The wine was not too harsh upon entry but failed in showing any depth or structure. $22.00
NV Rhapsody – Raspberry "Champagne" – Color me beguiled. This is a sparkling wine of 100% Chardonnay that is almost perfectly clear with little or no color. It is infused with an essence of raspberry which is only apparent in the bouquet. Like the St. George Framboise Eau de Vie, it is the pure and strikingly bold aroma of raspberry that appears on the nose, in a delicately defined moment. The mouth entry, belying the raspberry’s potential for sweetness, was perfectly clean and crisp and charming. $16.00
Belle Marie/Chateau Draggo ~ 26312 Mesa Rock Road ~ Escondido ~ CA ~ 92026 ~ 760-796-7557