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Beautiful Ramona Valley, an easy 45-minute drive from downtown San Diego, is an up-and-coming wine region that produces some of San Diego County’s best wines. In 2006, Ramona became an approved American Viticultural Area (AVA) that covers 89,000 acres. While people have been growing grapes here for some time—Dr. M.C. Woodson planted vines on his homestead below his namesake mountain in the 1870s—the current bumper crop of tasting rooms is relatively new, thanks to a 2013 San Diego Boutique Winery Ordinance that allowed many wineries to pour for guests at their properties and tasting rooms.
Ramona boasts the highest density of wineries in San Diego County with 30 currently active. Because the valley has properties that range from majestic hilltops to verdant valleys, from rocky slopes to mountain vistas, Ramona’s vintners can take advantage of a wide variety of microclimates and growing conditions, each one suited best to a specific collection of excellent varietals.
The sprawling 110-acre Milagro Farms Vineyard & Winery sits on a dirt road just off Highway 78, which will eventually take you to Julian. Originally opened in 2006, the winemaking facilities on the property were greatly expanded a few years later, which also increased production. Today, the recently renovated tasting room sits atop a scenic hillside overlooking the vineyard. Bocce courts lay near the large, shaded patio, and wild turkeys are a common sight around the property.
The winery produces about 3,000 cases of wine per year, all from estate-grown fruit. The winery has recently expanded its plantings, even though there are already more than 10,000 vines of Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Aleatico grapes.
Standout whites include an award-winning Sauvignon Blanc, Milagro Chardonnay and the Rosé of Sangiovese, which took the Toast of the Coast award in 2012. Notable reds include an elegant Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as a solid and delicious Sangiovese blend. If the Aleatico is available when you visit, be sure to get a taste. This unusual and somewhat rare varietal produces a sweet, heady elixir that can only be described as a decadent blueberry port.
Within minutes of Milagro, just off highway 78, you’ll find Edwards Vineyards and Cellars. There’s no tasting room structure here (yet), so you’ll have to look for the yellow and orange umbrellas on the hill. The umbrellas will lead you to a casual open-air tasting room and some very impressive 100% estate-grown red wines. The pastoral setting offers great views of Witch Creek Mountain, Cuyamaca Peak, horse farms and roaming camels, which inhabit the dairy across the road.
Beth and Victor Edwards are the passionate owners of this three-acre vineyard, which sits at 2,500 feet above sea level. Winemaker Victor’s talents are best showcased with his Syrah—a blend of four clones that produce a dark, concentrated cherry and strawberry fruit with a touch of white pepper spice. The Petite Sirah—their flagship wine—is another dense and rich red that is both accessible and also balanced by impressive tannins.
Kohill Vineyard and Winery sits up in the Highland Hills near the Mt. Woodson Golf Course. Its charming and cozy tasting room is small, but the patio offers stunning views of the valley and the property's eight acres. Since 2004, Mike Kopp has been producing some nicely structured and impressive wines from six estate-grown varietals. Try his beautifully balanced Viognier, his unique Refosco and his mellow, fruit-forward Merlot. Kopp also makes rosé from his Refosco grapes, which is a reliable and refreshing hot weather sipper. Guests are encouraged to bring a picnic and their dogs so they can spend a leisurely afternoon at the winery.
When you pull into Woof 'n Rose Winery, you understand immediately how winemakers Marilyn and Steve Kahle chose their vineyard's name: The first two things you notice are a group of lively dogs and the lovely aroma of roses.
This boutique five-acre winery produces nine varieties of red, all with 100% Ramona AVA estate-grown fruit. Their flagship wine is a medal-winning 100% estate-grown Cabernet Franc. Of particular note is the deep red, jammy Alicante Bouschet—an uncommon varietal—and their Bordeaux blend, Eglantine, which is a well-balanced and tasty mix of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. If you’re a dessert wine fan, be sure to try the Neuf Anges, which is named for the nine dogs that have lived at the property over the years.
When you turn off Old Julian Highway to get to Hellanback Ranch, don’t be discouraged by what seems like a long, isolated stretch. The ranch got its name for a reason! If you remain steadfast, however, your determination will be richly rewarded. At the end of the road, you’ll find a sprawling property covered in grapevines, dotted with livestock and populated by a friendly welcoming couple ready to pour you some refreshment.
Husband and wife owners John York and Paula Payne are true wine hosts, always smiling and ready to show off their latest vintages. Winemaker John only makes about 400 cases per year, and he produces a number of nicely concentrated estate-grown reds and whites. Most notable among the whites are the Viognier and the Sauvignon Blanc; for reds the Sangiovese and Montepulciano are well-balanced and easy to drink, but the Bordeaux blend—Rancher’s Red—is the winery’s standout.
Husband and wife team Carol and Andy Harris are producing some impressive reds at Chuparosa, which means hummingbird in Spanish. On their four-acre property, you'll see rows of Malbec, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc and Albariño (a Spanish white grape) growing. You can sip their flavorful wines—including North Block Blend Dry Rosé (a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese) and a standout Cabernet Franc—in the newly completed tasting room (which features a large stone fireplace) or relax out on the spacious dog-friendly patio.
This small, family-owned-and-operated boutique winery is tucked inside a residential community near the top of Highland Valley Road. (When you arrive, you may have to get buzzed into the front gate.) As you roll down the driveway toward the tasting room, a large, beautiful Georgian-style house will come into view (it’s unique and intriguing because it seems oddly out of place in San Diego).
Winemaker Rich McClellan makes an impressive variety of wines from grapes that were planted a decade ago, including a rich and delicious Viognier and classy Marsannes and Roussannes. McClellan also grows ten red varietals, including Mission (the original wine grape of California), Corvina and Rondinella. These varietals are interesting and well made, but Zoe’s Petite Sirah steals the show.
The tasting room is comfortable and well-appointed with a nice-sized bar at the center of the room. A spacious patio with views of the Ramona Grasslands is another welcoming feature of the property.
Be sure to check the Ramona Valley wineries' website for up-to-date tasting room hours. Some wineries will open by appointment if you have a group and call ahead.
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