Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

San Diego's new wine region

Good reds and Rieslings in the 94 corridor

The grape vines at Campo Creek overlook the border fence.
The grape vines at Campo Creek overlook the border fence.

‘It’s all about the diurnal drop. It cools off a lot here at night, 30 degrees on average. That’s why we can make good whites,” says Sarah Babine, who, along with husband Grant Spotts, aims to put an obscure corner of San Diego County on wine enthusiasts’ radar. She opines that the common wisdom ‘round these parts — that it’s just too hot to grow white varietals — is flat wrong, and after tasting the bottlings of Dulzura Vineyard and Winery, I’m inclined to agree with her.

Winemaker Bill Clarke of Campo Creek Winery.

When one thinks of San Diego wine, it’s a Red County. The Tempranillo and Zins, the Rhone blends — to name a few — are the standouts in the Ramona AVA (American Viticultural Area), as well as in other areas of the county (such as the San Pasqual Valley) that fall under the sprawling South Coast AVA.

Casi Cielo ownder Greg Maness displays the medals his wines have won.

Yet somehow, Dulzura Vineyards not only grows the grapes, but accomplishes something once thought (at the very least) commercially impracticable in the County. Sure, there are a number of virtuous Viogniers up in Ramona — but Riesling hard by the border? That cool-weather Teutonic tipple from the banks of the Mosel?

Grant Spotts at Dulzura Winery, where the overnight temperature drop makes for good grape growing.

I wander way down south and way out east at the tail end of September on a humid late afternoon, as the spreading skirt-tails of Hurricane Rosa sent rafts of thick air and the occasional fat raindrop to the county. As the red-shouldered hawk might fly, it’s 20 miles from Dulzura to the Pacific, but it seems a lot farther. Maybe it’s all the twists and turns on State Route 94, perhaps it’s the acres of empty rangeland interspersed with sere, jagged hills, and no-name box canyons, but the average San Diegan would be struck by its remote serenity.

The approach to Dulzura Winery is as rustic as one might conjure, replete with a wood-plank bridge spanning a small seasonal creek and a narrow gravel road that winds around an old ranch house and tasting room. Old by San Diego standards means 1885 in this case, an erstwhile cattle ranch that’s been in the Spotts family since then. First to greet me is Willie, a canine of unknown lineage whom Babine calls an “illegal alien,” apparently found wandering by Border Patrol agents making the rounds just south of here. Every little family-run winery must have a dog, preferably a big dog, but not a scary dog. I think it’s a California statute, and Dulzura Vineyards is in full compliance with Willie, who looks like he’s been fed a steady diet of the ubiquitous palate-clearing breadsticks.

At the tasting bar, across from an original, late-19th Century hand-cranked phone on the wall, Babine pours ten or so wines, and to my palate, there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. I’m surprised that I prefer the whites, including a crisp Viognier redolent of rose petals and a big, 13.8 percent Riesling of all things. There’s winemaking talent in these hills. (To be fair, I did not have the opportunity to taste the offerings at four of the six wineries on the 94.)

The scant half-dozen wineries hardly make the 94 corridor a juggernaut, and I wouldn’t have heard of it at all if I hadn’t happened by the Campo Creek Vineyards tasting room in Poway one day. My wife and I saw an intriguing new Lebanese restaurant, and then spied, next door — on a prosaic, subdued stretch of Poway Road — the incongruous Campo Creek Winery tasting room. Sure, I’d been to in-town tasting rooms in places such Healdsburg and Los Olivos — think, e.g., Zin standout Edmeades. But to find one in the home of rodeos and car lots — why that’s a whole different deal. Voluble proprietor, Paul Clarke, who regaled us with a synopsis of his family’s transition from wrangling cattle to wringing berries, gave us a brochure detailing 94’s offerings. Casi Cielo Winery in Jamul, at 19 miles from downtown, is the closest of the six; the farthest is Westfall Winery in Campo, 54 miles out.

No matter whence you hail, reaching the 94’s resveratrol reservations is gonna’ be a hike-and-a-half. Sure, if all you aspire to is a quickie at Casi Cielo Winery in Jamul (19 miles from downtown), it ain’t no thang. But if your wino wanderings mandate a sojourn way out to Westfall Winery in Campo, 54 miles out, plan on a long afternoon. Not that it’s a bad thing. But no one sidles up to a San Diego border winery on accident. And there aren’t a lot of dining or lodging options out here. However, if you’ve had a bit too much Malbec, say, or are simply disinclined to take the twists and turns of ol’ 94 after nightfall, Babine and Spotts have turned part of the premises into an Airbnb.

If you’re expecting a Temecula scene, you’re in the wrong place, pardner; turn around and head back to the city while you still can. Under the old oaks, you won’t spy a stretch limo, and no matter how much you drink, you won’t stumble upon a bachelorette party.

But if you’re in need of decent-to-commendable wines, most of which (I think) are a step above Temecula’s typical plonk, the 94 corridor may fill the bill.

As the light begins to fade and the wine ordinance witching hour approaches, there’s time for one more stop, and we head uphill on Honey Springs Road, a strip of bosky asphalt that leads to a place I’ve never even seen on a map before — Deerhorn Valley, whose eponymous operation sports a tiny tasting room constructed from a barn-style pre-fab building. Behind me is a steep slope covered with vines, and around me is a bowl-like valley, rimmed with boulders as if God had been a recreational rock-stacker. I’m greeted by Dianne Collis (co-owner with husband Robert) who informs me that the rocks are responsible for the valley’s hospitable, decomposed granite soil.

The Collises typify the self-taught, rough-hewn, pretense-be-damned winemakers who rule most quadrants of San Diego’s viniferous scene. Engineering types who both worked at Boeing up in Seattle, they’ve never sat in an enology class at UC Davis or Cal Poly SLO, but produce a lineup of sturdy reds that are as least as good as Temecula’s crimson offerings and beat the crap outta’ Two-Buck Chuck. For my money, the star here is a fruit-forward Rhone-style blend, ‘Quattro Uva,’ composed of 54 percent Zinfandel, 29 percent Syrah, 12 percent Grenache, and 5 percent Mourvedre. Weighing in at 15.1 percent ABV, it shares the high extraction characteristic of warm climate wines.

Tasting time’s up and we make our way down from Deerhorn’s 2200 feet elevation back to the highway, westbound, and come to a stop at the Border Patrol checkpoint. The officer asks, “What’s your citizenship?” Notwithstanding my wife’s blonde hair, the agent, not one to profile, queries in earnest, and my better half — designated light-sipper this afternoon — replies with confidence. Then the gatekeeper turns in my direction and says, “And you?” Resisting a wisecrack along the lines of "No hablo ingles," I smile and say, “U.S.-yep! Just bringin’ back a little vino from the East County, compadre.” He doesn’t smile but waves us through, and before long, we’re at the junction of Proctor Valley Road, where nary a proctor awaits.

In some cases, auspicious enology takes a backseat to media encomium, and when one looks at the ascendancy of places like the Hitching Post in the Santa Ynez Valley, it seems that it must take a sideways glance to put a grape-squeezer on the map by Robert Parker. With its slick brochure, Serious Wine Tasting Seriously Close [The Wineries of Highway 94], these borderland boutiques are a bit ahead of the publicity curve. Whether their offerings can trump their remoteness is another question entirely, but for the San Diegan oenophile with at least a tendency to test the zip code perimeters of vine culture, it’s worth a cautious jaunt through the brush and the boulders.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Jackslacks releases Billy Bacon tribute EP When Pigs Fly

Bacon passed away in August 2019
Next Article

The Golf Bar: Bratwurst and ball whacking

“This is the first golf bar in San Diego.”
The grape vines at Campo Creek overlook the border fence.
The grape vines at Campo Creek overlook the border fence.

‘It’s all about the diurnal drop. It cools off a lot here at night, 30 degrees on average. That’s why we can make good whites,” says Sarah Babine, who, along with husband Grant Spotts, aims to put an obscure corner of San Diego County on wine enthusiasts’ radar. She opines that the common wisdom ‘round these parts — that it’s just too hot to grow white varietals — is flat wrong, and after tasting the bottlings of Dulzura Vineyard and Winery, I’m inclined to agree with her.

Winemaker Bill Clarke of Campo Creek Winery.

When one thinks of San Diego wine, it’s a Red County. The Tempranillo and Zins, the Rhone blends — to name a few — are the standouts in the Ramona AVA (American Viticultural Area), as well as in other areas of the county (such as the San Pasqual Valley) that fall under the sprawling South Coast AVA.

Casi Cielo ownder Greg Maness displays the medals his wines have won.

Yet somehow, Dulzura Vineyards not only grows the grapes, but accomplishes something once thought (at the very least) commercially impracticable in the County. Sure, there are a number of virtuous Viogniers up in Ramona — but Riesling hard by the border? That cool-weather Teutonic tipple from the banks of the Mosel?

Grant Spotts at Dulzura Winery, where the overnight temperature drop makes for good grape growing.

I wander way down south and way out east at the tail end of September on a humid late afternoon, as the spreading skirt-tails of Hurricane Rosa sent rafts of thick air and the occasional fat raindrop to the county. As the red-shouldered hawk might fly, it’s 20 miles from Dulzura to the Pacific, but it seems a lot farther. Maybe it’s all the twists and turns on State Route 94, perhaps it’s the acres of empty rangeland interspersed with sere, jagged hills, and no-name box canyons, but the average San Diegan would be struck by its remote serenity.

The approach to Dulzura Winery is as rustic as one might conjure, replete with a wood-plank bridge spanning a small seasonal creek and a narrow gravel road that winds around an old ranch house and tasting room. Old by San Diego standards means 1885 in this case, an erstwhile cattle ranch that’s been in the Spotts family since then. First to greet me is Willie, a canine of unknown lineage whom Babine calls an “illegal alien,” apparently found wandering by Border Patrol agents making the rounds just south of here. Every little family-run winery must have a dog, preferably a big dog, but not a scary dog. I think it’s a California statute, and Dulzura Vineyards is in full compliance with Willie, who looks like he’s been fed a steady diet of the ubiquitous palate-clearing breadsticks.

At the tasting bar, across from an original, late-19th Century hand-cranked phone on the wall, Babine pours ten or so wines, and to my palate, there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. I’m surprised that I prefer the whites, including a crisp Viognier redolent of rose petals and a big, 13.8 percent Riesling of all things. There’s winemaking talent in these hills. (To be fair, I did not have the opportunity to taste the offerings at four of the six wineries on the 94.)

The scant half-dozen wineries hardly make the 94 corridor a juggernaut, and I wouldn’t have heard of it at all if I hadn’t happened by the Campo Creek Vineyards tasting room in Poway one day. My wife and I saw an intriguing new Lebanese restaurant, and then spied, next door — on a prosaic, subdued stretch of Poway Road — the incongruous Campo Creek Winery tasting room. Sure, I’d been to in-town tasting rooms in places such Healdsburg and Los Olivos — think, e.g., Zin standout Edmeades. But to find one in the home of rodeos and car lots — why that’s a whole different deal. Voluble proprietor, Paul Clarke, who regaled us with a synopsis of his family’s transition from wrangling cattle to wringing berries, gave us a brochure detailing 94’s offerings. Casi Cielo Winery in Jamul, at 19 miles from downtown, is the closest of the six; the farthest is Westfall Winery in Campo, 54 miles out.

No matter whence you hail, reaching the 94’s resveratrol reservations is gonna’ be a hike-and-a-half. Sure, if all you aspire to is a quickie at Casi Cielo Winery in Jamul (19 miles from downtown), it ain’t no thang. But if your wino wanderings mandate a sojourn way out to Westfall Winery in Campo, 54 miles out, plan on a long afternoon. Not that it’s a bad thing. But no one sidles up to a San Diego border winery on accident. And there aren’t a lot of dining or lodging options out here. However, if you’ve had a bit too much Malbec, say, or are simply disinclined to take the twists and turns of ol’ 94 after nightfall, Babine and Spotts have turned part of the premises into an Airbnb.

If you’re expecting a Temecula scene, you’re in the wrong place, pardner; turn around and head back to the city while you still can. Under the old oaks, you won’t spy a stretch limo, and no matter how much you drink, you won’t stumble upon a bachelorette party.

But if you’re in need of decent-to-commendable wines, most of which (I think) are a step above Temecula’s typical plonk, the 94 corridor may fill the bill.

As the light begins to fade and the wine ordinance witching hour approaches, there’s time for one more stop, and we head uphill on Honey Springs Road, a strip of bosky asphalt that leads to a place I’ve never even seen on a map before — Deerhorn Valley, whose eponymous operation sports a tiny tasting room constructed from a barn-style pre-fab building. Behind me is a steep slope covered with vines, and around me is a bowl-like valley, rimmed with boulders as if God had been a recreational rock-stacker. I’m greeted by Dianne Collis (co-owner with husband Robert) who informs me that the rocks are responsible for the valley’s hospitable, decomposed granite soil.

The Collises typify the self-taught, rough-hewn, pretense-be-damned winemakers who rule most quadrants of San Diego’s viniferous scene. Engineering types who both worked at Boeing up in Seattle, they’ve never sat in an enology class at UC Davis or Cal Poly SLO, but produce a lineup of sturdy reds that are as least as good as Temecula’s crimson offerings and beat the crap outta’ Two-Buck Chuck. For my money, the star here is a fruit-forward Rhone-style blend, ‘Quattro Uva,’ composed of 54 percent Zinfandel, 29 percent Syrah, 12 percent Grenache, and 5 percent Mourvedre. Weighing in at 15.1 percent ABV, it shares the high extraction characteristic of warm climate wines.

Tasting time’s up and we make our way down from Deerhorn’s 2200 feet elevation back to the highway, westbound, and come to a stop at the Border Patrol checkpoint. The officer asks, “What’s your citizenship?” Notwithstanding my wife’s blonde hair, the agent, not one to profile, queries in earnest, and my better half — designated light-sipper this afternoon — replies with confidence. Then the gatekeeper turns in my direction and says, “And you?” Resisting a wisecrack along the lines of "No hablo ingles," I smile and say, “U.S.-yep! Just bringin’ back a little vino from the East County, compadre.” He doesn’t smile but waves us through, and before long, we’re at the junction of Proctor Valley Road, where nary a proctor awaits.

In some cases, auspicious enology takes a backseat to media encomium, and when one looks at the ascendancy of places like the Hitching Post in the Santa Ynez Valley, it seems that it must take a sideways glance to put a grape-squeezer on the map by Robert Parker. With its slick brochure, Serious Wine Tasting Seriously Close [The Wineries of Highway 94], these borderland boutiques are a bit ahead of the publicity curve. Whether their offerings can trump their remoteness is another question entirely, but for the San Diegan oenophile with at least a tendency to test the zip code perimeters of vine culture, it’s worth a cautious jaunt through the brush and the boulders.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Religion in Christmas movies, Yellow Deli a cult?, San DIego Sikhs, Christmas without Jesus, Hare Krishnas

San Diego spiritual
Next Article

Jerry Andrews preaches the beauty of the savior

“Don’t doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.”
Comments
2

I wasn't impressed with most of the wine from Valle de Guadalupe, and can't imagine this area is much better. Extremely earthy, tons of mouth-puckering tannins... no thanks. We did have some nice stuff from L.A. Cetto, and I'm sure there's much we didn't get a chance to explore, but I'd stick with Temecula wines 'round these parts.

Oct. 26, 2018

You left a review on a place you have not been to, doesn't seem very fair. By the way I went to a house and it sucked, cant imagine yours is any better.

Sept. 10, 2019

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close