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Southern California Wineries

Ventura County

Leeward Winery
2784 Johnson Drive, Ventura / 805-656-5054

Leeward is located in a pair of warehouses in the city of Ventura and the tasting room has a terrific view of the small parking lot. Does this give you an indication of the wines? No it doesn't. Leeward specializes in Chardonnay and during my visit their list of current releases included five different years/styles. Most of the fruit was grown in the Edna Valley. The Edna Valley Reserves were buttery with peach, pineapple and vanilla flavors and a Central Coast Chardonnay had crisp citrus flavors with a buttery finish. There were two Bien Nacido Pino Noirs, one with aromas of strawberries and rose petals and another with spicy berry, plum and bing cherry flavors. My favorite was a full-bodied Napa Valley Merlot with flavors of berries, currant, black cherry and a hint of chocolate. Also available is a light, melony White Riesling and a soft Cabernet Sauvignon with black cherry and berry flavors with a touch of mint. There is a fair selection of wine-related gifts in the tasting room, which includes a model train which owners Chuck Brigham and Chuck Gardner will gladly run for a child's distraction. Not bad for a winery of four employees (including the owners) and an output of 10,000 cases.

Old Creek Ranch Winery

This winery is fittingly located at a ranch at the end of Old Creek Road near Ojai. The tasting room consists of a small tasting bar (complete with bar stools), a wood-burning stove and even chairs made from wine barrels. The winery offers a Fume Blanc blended with Semillon, a light, clean Chenin Blanc, a spicy estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon, a light, fruity Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. They also offer white (Chenin Blanc), blush (Chenin Blanc and Barbera) and red (estate-grown Merlot and Cabernet) blends. The original winemaker, Chuck Branham (1981-92), is now back after a seven year absence, which gives one the impression that this small 1,300 case winery has a promising future.

Los Angeles County Area

Agua Dulce Vineyards
9640 Sierra Highway, Agua Dulce / 661-268-7402 / aguadulcevineyards.com

Agua Dulce Vineyards claims to be the first new winery in Los Angeles County in about 100 years. The tasting room opened in October, 2001-- a year or two after the planting of it's 77 acres of estate vines-- and by the end of 2002 has already outgrown its facilities. As of the time of this review, all of the finished wine was produced from fruit purchased from other premium regions. The tasting room is large and comfortable and offers many gifts, sauces, food and deli items. Weekends tend to have guests several deep at the ample tasting bar. I visited on a weekday and the lack of crowds allowed me to converse with Margaret, one of the tasting hosts. Agua Dulce produces two labels of wines: Agua Dulce Angeles Crest and the premium Agua Dulce Aneas series. The winery produces Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Brut Rose sparkling wine. The Angeles Crest Sauvignon was non-grassy and light and the Aneas Chardonnay was somewhat acidic. My favorites were the Aneas Paso Robles Merlot, a jammy Aneas Paso Robles Zinfandel and a surprisingly good Aneas Sangiovese.

San Diego/Escondido Area

Bernardo Winery
13330 Paseo del Verano Norte, San Diego / 619-487-1866

Bernardo is the oldest winery in San Diego County and is one of the most interesting wineries I have ever visited. Following the signs from the parking lot, you are led through a seemingly authentic historic western town, complete with restaurant (Italian) and various gift shops. There are several picnic areas that are often used as settings for social events as well as for sipping wine on a quiet afternoon. The tasting room is large and includes many wine-related gift items and gourmet foods. The wine selection, which is tasted via a shot glass, is very large (over 30 items!) and includes everything from jug wines to premiums and all are priced to sell. The Chardonnay was dry and fruity, the Sangiovese was light-bodied with raspberry flavors, the Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon had flavors of plum and black cherry, a Carignane was full-bodied and dry with cherry flavors and a Private Reserve Mourvedre tasted of stewed plums. I particularly liked the Private Reserve Zinfandel ($11.95), which was full-bodied and tannic with distinctive cherry and cocoa flavors, and the non-vintage Port-- a bargain at $6.50. There is even a sparkling wine for $6.50 and for a $2.50 fee you can taste a 1952 Port or a 1939 Muscatel. The wines are available only at the winery, as is an estate-grown olive oil and several fruit wines and grape juices.

Ferrara Winery
1120 W. 15th Ave, Escondido / 619-745-7632

Ferrara is the second oldest winery in San Diego County. The tasting room is no-nonsense and looks spartan compared to others in the area and tastings are served in a plastic "thimble." There is a wide selection available, including a Chardo/Cat (Chardonnay/Muscat blend) with a strong Muscat flavor, a Chianti-style Vino Russo, a nice, dry Chianti and a Nectar de Luz, based on Muscat of Alexandria, Chardonnay, White Zinfandel, Burgundy and Cream Sherry. The best of the lot was the Generation III Port which sells for $18.00.

Orfila Vineyards & Winery
13455 San Pasqual Road, Escondido / 760-738-6500

Orfila has been in the Escondido area for about six years and is most likely poised to be a major force in the area. The winery is in a cavernous room-- about one-third is reserved for the tasting bar and gift shop and two-thirds as an aging room with self-guided tour. The tasting bar is situated in the center of the room and was somewhat impersonal through the use of tasting tickets (yes, I said tickets!)-- there are two complimentary tastings and four additional for a $3.00 fee. A coastal Chardonnay was dry and light with vanilla, butterscotch and apple flavors, while an Ambassador;s Reserve Chardonnay had tasty vanilla, apple and pineapple flavors. The Viognier Cuvee was an excellent sipping wine with noticeable honey flavors, the Johannisberg Riesling was medium-dry and the Ambassador's Reserve Merlot was herbal with blackberry flavors. This is an attractive winery with a large, arbored picnic area and there is even a selection of deli items for sale.   

San Pasqual Winery
1262 Prospect Street, La Jolla / 858-459-4728 / sanpasqualwinery.com

I discovered the newly-opened San Pasqual tasting room by chance as I was walking down La Jolla's main avenue. The small but attractive tasting room is housed in a historic cottage overlooking the bay and offers a good selection of wine-related gifts. Our hostess was friendly and a small fee buys five tastes and a logo glass. The winery, which is located in Escondido, produces Sauvignon Blanc, several Chardonnays, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and several varietal blends. The Felicita, a blend of Tempranillo and Grenache, is a good barbecue wine with flavors of pepper, plum and black cherries and the San Luis Rey, a blend of Nebbiolo, Grenache, Barbera, Malbec and Syrah, had jammy raspberry flavors and good body. The Ranchero, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo, is the best seller, exhibiting flavors of plum, berries and pepper.

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