I recently attended a media dinner at Escondido’s Orfila Winery. Ten of us visited with the team that runs the day to day operations at Orfila and enjoyed an extraordinary dinner prepared by Chef Mark Kuhlmann of San Diego based Culinary Underground. Ambassador Alejandro Orfila owns the winery, but he has chosen a team of young, bright minds to make Orfila hum. After years as Orfila’s Executive Winemaker, Leon Santoro passed away in 2009. Don Reha was brought in as interim winemaker and last year, Justin Mund stepped into the role of Executive Winemaker.
Justin, events manager Steffi Habermann and sales manager Scott Ledbetter are the driving force behind the winery and I’m thoroughly impressed by the passion and energy they bring to the table. Mund grew up in Sonoma County wine country and has been around wine most of his life. After studying at Santa Rosa Junior College and at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, he took jobs at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards, Laetitia and Addamo wineries. He is excited about the opportunities at Orfila and truly believes he can begin raising the bar in Southern California winemaking. He’s a firm believer in not over-aging wines and wants his wines released within an 18 month time frame.
While we were all socializing and tasting an excellent sparkling wine, we went out to see how dinner was progressing. Chef Mark was manning the Weber, preparing a Tuscan style pork roast. You can tell by his smile how much he loves what he does and we were soon to taste the fruits of his labor. In addition to catering this event at Orfila, Chef Mark hosts “underground” dinner parties, the most recent one paying homage to his home town of New Orleans. He is a true believer in the slow food movement and likes to know the farmers and see exactly where his produce is coming from.
Orfila isn’t your average winery, if such a thing even exists. You enter a very large, high ceilinged tasting room with a large four sided tasting bar in the center. There are assorted cheeses, fruits and meats available for purchase to enjoy while you taste at the bar or on the beautiful patio outside. They also offer 8 different menus ranging from a simple cheese and grape platter with artisan breads to sandwich platters to a full dinner and dessert. This is for groups of 15 or more.
Chef Mark dazzled us, starting us off with an organic arugula salad with pears, prosciutto and aged Gouda. Justin selected the ’08 Coastal Cuvée Chardonnay to pair with it. For the second course we enjoyed a fresh mushroom and watercress soup, paired with the ’07 Estate Sangiovese. That pork roast we saw on the grill earlier was our third course, prepared with rosemary, sage and garlic and served with farm fresh baby veggies and mini fingerling potatoes, paired with Orfila’s flagship wine, the ’08 Estate Ambassador’s Reserve Merlot. Chef Mark wasn’t quite finished yet. He presented an incredible New Orleans bread pudding with a warm brandy sauce that we savored with a Tawny Port.
Plan a visit to Orfila in the near future. Check their website for coming events and see who’s scheduled to play in their concert series. Make a day of it. You won’t be disappointed.