Archive for the ‘San Diego County’ Category

Belle Marie & Chateau Dragoo – 137

Wednesday, August 10th, 2005

Bm_signBelle 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.

Bm_castleOn 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.

Bm_tasting_roomThe 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

Orfila – 135

Monday, August 8th, 2005

Orfila_signIt was with some odd trepidation that I went to Orfila Winery in Escondido… You see, twenty-some years ago, what is now Orfila was home to what was then Thomas Jaeger Winery. Way back then, when I was young and thin and beautiful, I was working at the California State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control when this incredibly handsome young man walked in and asked for a wine-making application. I asked what his affiliation was with the winery and he told me he was the winemaker. Suffice to say that I now have very fond memories of that all-too-brief era in my life, of a winery that is no more, and a young man who is… well, I’ll leave it at that. I know that the Jaegers are now (and, I believe were at that time) growers in the Napa Valley. And the young winemaker today has his own California winery. Yep, that means that some day our paths may cross again, as I continue this blog…

Orfila_tasting_roomThe buildings have not changed and the interior space has been expanded to include both the working wine barrels and selling area. Heck, twenty years ago, I don’t even remember a retail area and not sure there was one. But I do remember the barrel rooms and this set-up is expansive and welcoming as it is nice to see elements of production so closely tied to hospitality.

Orfila_flagsAlejandro Orfila is the proprietor now and as an Ambassador from Argentina, has showcased his collection of flags all around the winery walls. It is an impressive collection as our world geography has changed, so has many of the worlds’ country flags, including a pre-Apartheid South African example.

Orfila_spit_signThe tasting room staff are extremely pleasant, helpful, AND honest. Many of the wines tasted had been recently bottled and while the winery probably should hold them for a while before releasing, I can understand the business behind needing to have wines for guests to taste. In those instances, the staff is up front about the potential that a wine might be too tight and suggest voluminous swirling to counter that. Also, I shot a picture of an unexpected request — here is a winery that really does not want guests to spit. I imagine this has something to do with a health department regulation, but I had never seen it so blatantly enforced. Being one always spit, I simply asked for another cup to spit into. As I am out here often doing this alone, there is no way I’m going to risk a DUI for a mere tasting that requires swallowing. To their credit, they were understanding and allowed me to expunge my samples.

2004 Bien Nacido Chardonnay – Austere and clean with creamy floral tones. Lemon peel and fresh flowers on the mouth entry which warms on the finish. $15.00

2003 Ambassador’s Reserve Chardonnay – Clear, straw color with easy, crisp butter and a hint of fig. $21.00

2004 White Riesling – At 2.3% residual sugar, a fairly sweet offering showing honeysuckle and white melon. Simple and easy to drink. $13.00

2004 Gewurztraminer – Residual sugar unknown, but a sweet nose would indicate at least 2.5%. Enticing roses aromas with some white fruit. The rose aroma mirrors in the flavor and is coupled with layers of pear, honey, and white flowers. $15.00

2001 Pinot Noir – From the San Luis Obispo Edna Valley. Hints of smoke and dust on the initial aroma. A tinny mouth entry blossoms to display balanced herbs in the mid-palate but a thinning finish behind the pale berry. $41.00

2003 "Coastal Cuvee" Merlot – Overt raspberry bouquet that is incredibly young (apparently having been bottled three days beforehand). $17.00

2002 Estate Sangiovese "Di Collina" – An estate wine from the San Pasqual Valley, bright cinnamon and clove shows heightened acidity. The thin, lean entry expands to a juicy center and finishes a bit dry. $20.00

2002 "Gold Rush" Zinfandel – Dark plum and blueberry with layers of mineral qualities shows in the nose. The minerality continues in the initial mouthfeel and interestingly shows some tin and miso flavors. The finish displayed more tin and a faint hue of soy sauce. $24.00

2002 Estate Ambassador’s Reserve Merlot – Slightly murky purple tone. Dusty violet and cherry aromas. Darker bing cherry flavors coupled with oaky leather. $28.00

2002 Estate Syrah "Val de la Mer" – Dark inky color showing meatiness in the nose with a faint hint of greeness. Flavors of wild berry and a bit of dry cocoa on the finish. $25.00

2003 Muscat Canelli "Bacchus Nectar" – Not an overtly sweet dessert wine showing yellow peach and honey. Simple and easy that would work well with a custard dessert. #25.00/750 ml

NV California Tawny Port – Made of Zinfandel and Carignane, hot aromas of dark toffee and nutty butter. Sweet entry and toasted nutty finish. $20.00

Orfila Vineyards and Winery ~ 13455 San Pasqual Road ~ Escondido ~ CA ~ 92025 ~ 760-738-6500

Witch Creek – 134

Saturday, August 6th, 2005

Wc_signI daresay that Witch Creek Winery might very well be the only winery within a walking block’s distance to the Pacific Ocean. Located near a community of antique stores in historic Carlsbad, the working building and tasting room is hardly special or decorative.

Wc_bldg_1A slump of concrete with signs that badly need re-painting marks the home of Witch Creek, tasting room, barrel room, offices, lab, and all. The winery’s name comes from a small creek which runs near a vineyard in the east county of San Diego, near Ramona.

Wc_labStarted by the Wodehouse family in 1993, one of the things I was told was that they pride themselves on is that most of the grapes are grown within an 85-mile radius of the city of Carlsbad. However, a list near a complete list as I could obtain goes like this:
- Fresno: Muscat
- Monterey: Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Sirah
- Rancho Cucamonga: Mourvedre, Zinfandel, and Grenache
- Temecula: Barbera and Carignane
- Shadow Mountain: Syrah
- Escondido: Merlot

Wc_bottlesThere is a cat that often appears on the labels, alludes to a witch’s familiar – or companion – so I wonder if there are any occult affiliations within the establishment?!?!

NV Le Chat Blanc – 100% Chenin blanc. Clean, easy with a hint of lemon peel. Simple. $8.50

2003 Chardonnay – Initial aromas of metal and then a very odd, chemical smell that I can only describe as what one smells when one enters a hair salon or beauty parlor. Tinny taste. $10.00

2002 Bandol – 2/3rds Mourvedre and 1/3 Grenache. Painfully mineral aromas with a touch of cherry and then mostly hospital smells. Flavors of old meat with a thin finish. $16.00

2003 Carignan – Meaty barbecue aromas that touched upon some sweet cherry. Velvety entry that showed considerable fruity notes, a bit of minerality in the mid-palate, and turned a bit sweet on the finish. $14.00

2002 Petite Sirah – Overt meaty soy sauce tones that subsided to produce blueberry in both nose and mouth entry. Dry entry with heightened acidity. $16.00

2002 Reserve Merlot, El Dorado – Mineral and harsh. $18.00

NV Muscat Love – From Orange Muscat. Well-integrated bouquet of yellow flowers and honey blossom with a hint of toffee. Not sickly sweet on entry, but balanced and easy to drink. $10.00


NV Jeeves Reserve Late Bottle Vintage Port – Okay, they call it vintage without a date on the bottle… Made from Tinto Roriz, Toriga Nacional, and Carignan, this was a surprisingly developed offering that showed balance and depth. $25.00

Witch Creek Winery ~ 2906 Carlsbad Boulevard ~ Carlsbad ~ CA ~ 92008 ~ 760-720-7499

Bernardo Winery – 133

Saturday, August 6th, 2005

 Bernardo_sign_1Bernardo Winery stakes claim to being the oldest continually-operating wineries in Southern California. Started in 1889, it is still owned and operated by a member of the Rizzo family, now Ross Rizzo, the third generation to produce wine. Getting there is slightly beguiling as new, monstrously expensive tract homes surround the facilities. It would be easy to see how, 116 years ago, this lone complex sat amongst olive tree and grape vineyards. But over the years, the family was forced to sell off hundreds of acres which is now home to sprawling urban development.

Bernardo_entranceI say "complex" for it is exactly that; far more than a mere tasting room or wine-making facility, what remains of the family property includes a dozen assorted various gift shops, beauty salon, coffee house, and restaurant. The facilities also include a tremendous amount of antique farming and wine-making equipment worthy of any historian.

Bernardus_tasting_roomThe tasting room large and amply bedecked with a variety of local offerings. It seems the Rizzo family and their friends also produce a number of products including dried herbs and spices, sauces and dressings, pickles, olives, jams, and jellies.

Bernardo_shot_glassOne of the major draw-backs of the Bernardo Winery is its insistence on providing wine tastes in shot glasses. I was taken aback at Ferrara’s serving in small plastic sample cups but was moreso surprised to see the practice continued to the extent of having said shot glasses emblazoned with the company logo. I suppose, however, for the quality of the wine being served, it was seemingly adequate…

2003 Pinot Grigio, Madalena Vineyard, Paso Robles – Floral, sweet, and thin. $12.95

NV Chablis – From a blend of Colombard and Chenin Blanc. Unremarkable. $5.95

NV Colombard – Unusual to find this 100% French grape being grown and produced. Very, very thin in color and aroma with faint hints of floral and little taste. $6.95

2000 Carignane – Murky red, showing harsh, burning tones.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon – Aromas of burnt meat and cedar. Flavors of stale tobacco and peppery, meaty barbecue overwhelm. $14.95

Bernardo Winery ~ 13330 Paseo Del Verano Norte ~ San Diego ~ CA ~ 92128 ~ 858-487-1866

Ferrara – 132

Saturday, August 6th, 2005

Ferrera_signSouthern California is having a renaissance in the wine industry, but mostly due to the growth of the Temecula area. However, eighty years ago, when Napa was just getting started, the largest concentration of wineries (over 130 by many accounts!) was in a small community north of San Diego, in a town called Escondido. Now if we play with Mr. Peabody’s Way-Back Machine, we can literally step into a winery that was built in 1932 and experience a winery, as though it was 1932. Much of the oddity of going to Ferrara is its location; set now in an entirely residential area of 1950’s-style bungalows, the locale was once entirely agricultural with Ferrara being the last remnant of those days gone by.

Ferrera_bldgSadly, even those last vestiges of agriculture are being plowed under. The bulk of the wine produced by Ferrara these days are from grapes purchased from growers in Temecula and Rancho Cucamonga. Construction is underway adjacent to the grounds where yet another house is being built on a plot of land which just a few weeks prior, was home to wine grapes. There is one small plot of vineyard left next to the buildings, but these are more decorative than anything.

Ferrera_tasting_roomWalking into the tasting room is also a transformation — a low ceiling with a heavy wrought-iron candelabra casts dim light on the dark wood shelves, laden with screw-top jug bottles. The back of the room had an abandoned kitchen area, complete with a refrigerator display unit, a meat slicer, and counter. The story I was told that when Grandfather George passed away, only a few years ago, they shut down the food service. Now, with health department regulations the way they are, it would be impossible to re-open without substantial renovation. Had they stayed open, the grandfather laws would have been in affect and the health department could say little about their operation.

Ferrero_grape_juiceThe dichotomy of Ferrara is two-fold; there is a vast array of the large-format jug wine that is on display and sold, but not offered for tasting. These include bulk Chablis, Kellermeister, Weis Wine, and Mellow Vin Rosé. When I queried what some of these were (being unfamiliar with the term Weis Wine, for example), I was basically told the bulk wine was made from "any grape the owner can buy…" Then there is also the selling of grape juice in jugs — a variety of grape juices including Chardonnay and others which are never made very apparent.

Ferrera_old_labelMuch of the wine that IS tasted is in the standard 750ml-sized bottle with actual pull corks. There are a variety of labels, both recreations of the historic label dating back to the 1930s and a more austere, classic label with the winery name and the varietal. In general, the wines are not of a quality that would justify aging or even proper cellaring. It is generally common plonk but with an occasional surprise. The prices are affordable with the downside that tastings are done with plastic sample cups (you know, the size that pills are dispensed in when at a hospital). Considering the expansive list of what is being made and the years they have been in business, they must be doing something right!

2000 Chardonnay – Like a fino sherry, aromas of apple cider or an off martini. Very, very dry. $9.85

NV Chardo Cat – 60% Chardonnay and 40% Muscat de Alexandria. Intensely sweet nose or orange blossom and flowers. Clean and sweet, but not sickly syrupy in its sugar. $9.53

NV White Zinfandel – Only 11% alcohol. Pale, salmon colored. Sweetish entry with heightened acidity. Not as harsh as a more famous Napa offering of the same… $5.50

NV Carignane Rouge – Clear garnet, looking all the while like a Pinot Noir. Overtly sweet strawberry aromas. Candy sweet entry that, like a Beaujolais, is served well chilled, but does not diminish its sugar. $9.25

NV Muscat of Alexandria – 11% alcohol, made in a demi-sac style. Sweet, floral tones of backed honey buns and candied orange. Surprisingly clean, but turns harsh at the end. Not unengaging, surprisingly. $12.50

NV Vino Rosso – "A classic Chianti of Carignane, Merlot, and Zinfandel." [sic] Faint, woodsy aromas with a tinny entry, flabby, fruit, and no finish. $9.53

NV Red Zinfandel – Painfully sweet bouquet. Harsh entry that goes no where. $10.50

Nonie Gino, Vino di Caspano – Same red make-up as the Vino Rosso, but in different proportion (never told what those were!)  Not nearly as flabby as the Vino Rosso, but softer and sweeter with a thin, flaccid, metallic grapey finish. $9.53

Generation III Tawny Port - Here’s where I was shocked and awed. Entitled Generation III as this is a true tawny, made in the classic style with some of Grandpa’s circa 1930s port contained within the current offering. A dark, golden brown color, the aromas were sweet and very nutty, showing hazelnut, caramel, toffee, and butterscotch. The toffee and caramel flavors continued into the mouthfeel and were enhanced by a subtle, erotic coffee tone. Shockingly good at $32.95.

NV Nectar de Luz – A sweet wine made from the Muscat de Alexander. Dark amber color showing toasted sweet honey in the nose. Tad harsh entry with dark, rustic toffee tones. $20.49

NV Cream Sherry – Very, very sickly sweet. $20.49

Almond de Luz – White wine-based liqueur with natural almond flavoring and fortified with brandy. $12.50

Ferrara Winery ~ 1120 W. 15th Street ~ Escondido ~ CA ~ 92025 ~ 760-745-7632