Atop a hill that overlooks Ramona Valley, the workers at Eagles Nest Winery move from row to row, hand picking cool, dewy grapes in the early morning. Gently crushed and subjected to two rounds of fermentation, these grapes eventually emerge from natural-oak barrels and stainless-steel tanks as fine wines. Myriad varietals are served and sampled in the winery's tasting room, including full-bodied merlots, dry chardonnays, and ports laced with notes of vanilla, blackberries, and licorice shoelaces.
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.
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.
When Fred Einer opened Holiday Wine Cellar in 1965, he knew he needed something to draw customers into his wine shop. So he raised a 65-foot neon "Liquor" sign out front. It still shines bright today, alerting passersby to the domestic and imported wines, handcrafted beers, and rare spirits available inside. A black spiral staircase connects the shop's two floors, which are stocked with everything from craft beer to cigars.
To help customers narrow down their choices, the cellar's staff keeps its Enomatic wine dispenser filled with samples of 16 different wines. The store even hosts weekly beer or wine tastings, during which guests can savor samples while lounging on the carpeted bar area's armchairs and stools.