Wine tours are a lot of fun. But if we’re talking understatements, the tour I went on with San Diego Beer and Wine Tours recently was the best yet! It had the perfect mix of an entertaining guide, incredible Southern Californian scenery and some surprisingly good wines.
San Diego is kind of perfect for making wine. Plenty of sun, not much water, rolling hills and fertile land… and most importantly – very thirsty locals!
And those locals have had a thirst for quite some time.
This region of Southern California we were headed for has the oldest grape vines in the whole of the States.
San Pasqual Valley and Ramona Valley are what’s called AVA regions. AVA is an American Viticultural Area – a designated region for growing grapes and making wine defined by the Government.
I know all this thanks to the very educational cellar door wine tour of the San Pasqual and Ramona Valleys I went on recently with San Diego Wine & Beer Tours.
Our guide, Paul Anthony, told me all this as we zoomed down the freeway heading north-east. On the way he pointed out some fascinating elements that made the drive to the first winery go very quickly.
He gave us a quick run-down on the history to California and of San Diego, and how the vines growing in the San Pasqual Valley were planted here in the 1770s, and he gave us some very handy pointers on what to do and how to act at the cellar door.
Our first winery, Bernardo Winery, was started by 5 Sicilian guys in 1889.
It’s an amazing setup at Bernado. The tasting room and gift shop is also the cellar door now. But you can take your (impressively full) sampling glass outside into the cute little street to explore.
From its clearly humble beginnings, where the wine was originally made, little shops and cafés have sprung up, there’s a place where blown glass is made and sold, a pottery shop and even a little museum. A lot of the old equipment they used to use is still here on display. If you’re anything like Mrs Romance and enjoy taking photos of old farm machinery, you’ve hit the jackpot here!
Take your wine to the Sweetie Shoppe for a free pairing with their lollies and chocolates, or the olive shop can do the same for you with their savoury goods.
We sat down and had a tasty cheese platter with the group while Paul gave us a quick wine appreciation class and took some group photos.
We were given 5 free tastings at Bernardo, and the pours were particularly generous. I enjoyed their clean and spritely Chablis – especially as the tour’s first drink. I tried the Burgundy next, but that wasn’t really my thing. I prefer reds with a bit more body. The Mulino Syrah I tried next though was delicious. And after that I had the Petit Syrah, which was so smooth and juicy, you couldn’t help but like it.
I finished off my 5-hit card with a taste of the Chocolate Bar Port. It was like drinking a chocolate-covered cherry that’d been dropped into a bucket of alcohol and left to soak. Absolutely amazing.
We were all a bit sad to leave this place, but on we went.
Next was Orfila Estate and a punch card of not 5 but 6 wine tastes!
Driving into the vineyard’s grounds, Paul pointed out the rose bushes at the edges of all the vine blocks. The roses act as early warning systems to attacks from disease or pests. They’re like the miners’ canaries of the wine industry. Another interesting element of this winery is the strange little huts on poles dotted around the fields.
These huts are owl houses, and the owners nurture these birds’ growth and reproduction. Each owl can carry away about 5 rodents a night, so they earn their keep!
The tasting room at Orfila is enormous, with a big run-around bar you get your tastings from. On two walls they’ve pinned up every flag from every American state, which is quiet interesting. Out the back are stacks and stacks of barrels.
Outside the scenery is absolutely stunning. It’s not surprising that while we were there, I noticed about three groups of people talking to events organisers discussing wedding plans for the venue.
The vistas out over that classic Californian mountainscape, coupled with the rolling hills of the grapevines, seating under a beautiful grapevine trellis and 5 glasses of wine… very enjoyable!
For me, the best wine here was the Petit Syrah. It was rich, inky and full of berry goodness. The other wines – the Viognier, the Gewürztraminer Tracken, the Sangiovese, the Ambassador’s Merlot and the Syrah were ok.
If you get hungry here, they’ve only got snacks in the tasting room. However, there are food trucks you can feast on.
All too soon it was time to move on again (just as the band were about to start) to our final stop for the day.
Our last vineyard of the day was Cordiano Winery.
Cordiano is another Italian place owned by Gerardo and Rosa, childhood sweethearts back in the old country. Here they’ve been making wine since the ‘80s and have a wine club called Primo Amore – it means First Love. Aww!
Membership to the wine club gives you 20% off all wine and merchandise. The wine – also following the lovers’ theme – is all marked with a different coloured heart on the label to denote the different variety.
This winery gave us 7 tastings and they came served to us as we ate dinner. The pizzas that came out were really good – all made in the winery’s wood fired oven. One of our group was even gluten intolerant and said her GF pizza base was the best she’d ever had!
The only thing that was able to distract me from my wine and pizza was the view as the sun set. The elevated cellar door, the suspended decking area especially for events and the little bar lit with little lights were all beautiful. What a lovely little place.
And as we drove back towards the city, that was the thought going through my mind as I reflected on all of the places we’d visited today. They were all small wineries, off the beaten track and probably not ones we’d go to if we hadn’t been with SD Beer & Wine Tours.
Interestingly, each place had standout features the other places were lacking:
Bernardo had the best wine, Orfila had the best views and Cordiano had the best sunset and food. But then I suppose that’s why Paul our guide chose those places in that order. How very cunning!
San Diego Beer & Wine Tours
Tours run most days.
Pick-ups for chauffeured tours are from most places in the San Diego city area.
Call or text: +1 (858) 551-5115
SD Wine & Beer Tours also runs daily beer and brewery tours – either chauffeur-driven, walking or by train, the same with the wine tours. Check their website for more details.
For more ideas on what you can do while you’re in San Diego, here’s our First-Timer’s Guide to San Diego and our review of San Diego’s world class zoo.
What draw cards do you look for in a winery: scenery, food or wine? What about wine tours – what’s the most important factor in a tour? Tell us in the comments!