Nature plays a central role in the lives of the McClellans. As avid gardeners, they relish plunging their hands into the dirt and planting new seeds, especially those for Rhone grape vines. Yet even as the owners of Highland Hills Winery, tending the vineyard isn't their only means of communing with nature. Local coyotes and birds of prey from the on-site lake help to keep rodents away from the vines and occasionally feed on the grapes, giving the signal that everything is ready for harvest. As a gesture of thanks, the coyote and the surrounding Ramona Grasslands are featured on the labels that adorn Highland Hills' six wines. These barrel-aged styles range from a rich, fruit-forward petit syrah to a bright and citrus-tinged blended white. Every Saturday and Sunday, they're available for sampling in a climate-controlled, ADA-approved tasting room that's furnished with iron cafe tables and cushioned chairs.
Sprawled across 20 acres on Sunshine Summit, La Serenissima produces premium, handcrafted wines. To develop its complex varietals, the Venetian estate winery follows traditional winemaking practices that have been passed from one generation to the next. Such a process begins with remarkable grape quality, which La Serenissima achieves through organic farming practices. The winery's process also includes meticulous harvesting, oak barrel fermentation, and aging timed by taste instead of pouring the wine into a giant hourglass. La Serenissima showcases this process during winery tours, during which visitors taste wines in different stages of aging straight from the barrels.
The impressive stone veranda at Vineyard Grant James allows visitors a view of the property in all its grandeur. Lush vines and grassy paths stretch across its 3 acres, just the beginning of a larger vineyard to come. But the vineyard is more than a breathtaking view; it's settled in the perfect climate for growing a wide variety of grapes. Elevations of up to 2,200 feet, decomposed granite soil, and an average temperature of 64 degrees contribute to the perfect atmosphere for cultivating syrah, merlot, sangiovese, orange muscat, greco, refosco, and nebbiolo grapes—which its winemakers mix into five smooth varietal blend wines.
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.