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.
Grown across 43 picturesque acres in the Valley of the Sun, eight varieties of grapes grow plump on the estate vines of Mahogany Mountain Vineyard and Winery. Hand-picked, crushed, pressed, and tucked away to develop, these grapes transform into syrah, zinfandel, and port, just to name a few of the winery's varietals. Inside the tasting room or out on the shaded patio, visitors can get a taste of these labors, trying sips of the different styles of wine or ordering them by the glass.
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 Wine A Bit Coronado, meals and drinks go down in sips and nibbles. The owners wanted an environment in which people could feel free to unwind while trying new wines and interesting pairings at their own pace. To that end, they collected a wine list from around the world, along with a robust selection of house wines made especially for them. They hold casual tastings in a comfy back room every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening, pouring samples of up to seven wines for guests to try. These events tend to coincide with the presence of a musician, who offers up tunes to please the ears as visitors train their palates and sample appetizers such as artisan flatbreads and brie-and-apple stacks drizzled with agave nectar. Also onsite are more than 20 craft beers made by local brewers.
At the helm of his urban winery in the heart of the Cedros Design District, winemaker Adam Carruth handcrafts award-winning wines, including the 2009 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 break into crunchy baguettes from Bread & Cie or nibble on cheese.
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.