Like his father, the former governor of the Argentinian state of Mendoza, Alejandro Orfila chose a life of diplomacy. From 1946 until the early 80s, his various public service roles included Argentine Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States and Argentine Ambassador to Japan. But like his grandfather, a winemaker whose 1905-established winery stands to this day, Alejandro harbored a lifelong love of viticulture. In 1994, Alejandro finally pursued that passion by founding Orfila Vineyards & Winery, a 70-acre hillside estate nestled within a 10,000-acre agricultural preserve in the San Pasqual Valley.
These days, winemaker Justin Mund oversees production on the estate, where grapes grow only 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Using both the estate's grapes and others from the California coast, Justin crafts wines that have earned more than 1,300 medals in national and international competitions since the winery's founding. Guests can sample said wines in a tasting room overlooking the estate, as well as a second located at the Wynola Farms Marketplace in Julian. Besides tastings, Orfila hosts events ranging from live concerts to the annual Grape Stomp festival, where folks gather to watch traditional wine-making and grapes gather to hold their annual Shirley Jackson-esque lottery.
The idea for California Fruit Wine was hatched in 2009, when a friend of Alan and Brian Haghighi introduced the twin brothers to small batches of homemade fruit wine. Since those first sips, Alan and Brian have continued to help wine drinkers break free from grape-based conventions, utilizing such fruit as pomegranates, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and pumpkins as the foundation for an ever-growing arsenal of flavors. The winery fills glasses with unique bouquets, and—like the microbreweries throughout Vista Business Park—buys its ingredients from vendors up and down the west coast rather than growing them or stealing them from the refrigerators of napping bears. California Fruit Wine's spacious facility, which is stocked with a stage, bar, and pool table, can also be rented out for parties and private events.
The Ramona Valley's long history of winemaking dates back to early Spanish missionaries who settled into the area in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The region’s altitude, high rainfall, and stable pattern of hot days and cool nights nurture the high-quality grapes fermented by Pamo Valley, Shawaesdall, and Lenora vineyards. After assisting with the winery’s operations for several years, Jennifer Jenkin took full ownership of Pamo Valley Winery in March 2007, turning the venture into one of the only women-owned wineries in the area. She produces award-winning wines in limited quantities to ensure that each contains captivating flavor notes and deter mutiny attempts by any one varietal. Schwaesdall Winery lies along 6 acres of boulder-strewn property managed by vintner and San Diego native John Schwaesdall. John first developed a passion for winemaking while working with vineyards planted in the 1950s—a passion that grew into a fulltime vocation after he planted, fed, and clothed 4.5 acres of his own vines. He and his pet turkey Zinny oversee the production of red and white wines, which visitors can sample in a tasting room constructed of straw bales. The rural vineyards of Lenora Winery produce eight distinct wine grapes, which ferment into the winery’s selection of single-origin and blended wines. A screened-in tasting room and separate picnic area allow guests to sample the wines surrounded by countryside scenery and the gazes of jealous sommelier squirrels.
At the helm of his urban winery in the heart of the Cedros Design District, winemaker Adam Carruth handcrafts award-winning wines, including the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Best in Class Alexander Valley Cabernet, from grapes he fastidiously collects from all over California. His team handles the production of each varietal from crush to finish, aging juices in barrels that line the walls of the industrial-chic tasting room. The final products—which range from a crisp sauvignon blanc to a bordeaux-style Surfing Madonna—slosh into customized stemware for patrons’ enjoyment seven days a week. Also in the tasting room, guests can peruse the exhibited work of local artists, break into crunchy baguettes from Bread & Cie or nibble on cheese.
Founded in 1993, Witch Creek Winery has racked up a multitude of awards for its handcrafted wines, especially its 12 red varietals. Soak up the sun at the original Carlsbad location near the beach, or take in the picturesque scenery of the mountain-nestled Julian storefront while you sample five to seven wines during a tasting ($5). A courteous staff member will tell you about the grapes you're gobbling, guide you through the flavors, and remind you to floss. Then you'll be free to grab grapey goodness such as the 2006 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($30), which blends hints of cherries and rhubarb, or the 2007 Lodi Zinfandel ($32), which emits soothing aromas of pepper, cinnamon, and eternity. Or, pick up Witch Creek’s 2008 CB Viognier ($20), which wakens senses with peach and floral flavors.
Linda and Mike McWilliams prefer to leave the rigors of raising grapes to their local vineyards, citing their lack of a chateau. Instead, they set their focus on crafting their vintages on the micro-level, making small batches and infusing them with an Old-World character and unique flavors such as habanero passion fruit. Their wines are named after places and figures from San Diego’s rich history, such as the Guadalupe Valley syrah and the Lake County sauvignon blanc.
Keyways Vineyard & Winery–owner Terri Pebley Delhamer presides over the only woman-owned-and-curated winery in Temecula Valley. Enlisting her close friend and designer Deborah Daniel to select the amber stucco walls and terracotta roofs, Terri cultivated the winery's classic mission-style aesthetic. Inside a tasting room that the California Winery Advisor dubbed "rustic yet elegant," head winemaker David Raffaele calls on experience gained during studies in the Italian wine country, crafting numerous varietals that grace the black onyx bar. Raffaele’s adherence to craftsmanship results in limited-run vintages that fill the vineyard’s trim annual production of 4,000 cases, or what Dionysus referred to as pregaming.
When the vintners aren't harvesting plump grapes on their equestrian-friendly property, they keep busy by hosting special events and overnight guests at a recently renovated estate home surrounded by rolling foothills and nearby ranches. Matrimonial knots take hold beneath a dark-stained trellis that caps a paved walkway perched in the foreground of the distant mountains.