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 location in Downtown 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.
Oregon may have the Oregon Trail, but California has a trail that's much more fun for present-day oenophiles. You don't have to ford any rivers or fend off bears to enjoy the Winery Rail Trail, whose railcars ferry riders between 14 wineries in San Diego.
For the trail's passengers, BK Cellars is conveniently situated—it's walking distance from the Nordahl Road Sprinter Station. It's well worth the walk, too. In the winery's industrial-chic environs, visitors can taste wines by the glass or the flight. On Sundays, they can also sway to live piano entertainment and wine bottles getting uncorked on every fourth beat.
Family owned and operated, this boutique winery in north San Diego county produces artisanal, fruit-forward wines. Their boutique bottles are made by harvesting one of two vineyards: the Reidy Creek Vineyard, which contains Zinfandel and Sangiovese grapes, and the Keys Creek Vineyard, which is planted with Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, and Muscat Blanc grapes.
During visits, customers enjoy an intimate tasting surrounded by the vineyard and oak trees, picnics are welcome too.
At Witch Creek Winery, red wine meets beach vibes. Just a block east of the beach, the Carlsbad tasting room of this San Diego staple gives beach-going crowds a convenient place to sample small-lot, handcrafted zinfandels and blends. The tasting room also hosts live music on the weekends, to let visitors sip to the sounds of moon-drenched guitar.
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 or nibble on cheese.
Honey made by California bees. Spring water from Palomar Mountain. Mix one part of the former with four parts of the latter, and you have the light, sweet foundation of every mead at Golden Coast Mead. The finished gluten-free brews, which may also feature elements of ale yeast and hints of oak, have an alcohol content of 12% by volume.
The basic idea of these craft libations—a fermented honey drink—isn't new. In fact, mead has a long history, as it's considered one of civilization's oldest alcoholic beverages. Everyone from Ethiopian kings to Aristotle to Shakespeare drank mead. However, Golden Coast Mead puts a fresh spin on an ancient classic by sourcing the ingredients locally and serving its sweet, slightly fizzy creations not in ancient castles but in two hip California tasting rooms.