Owner Peter Bidegain has been lovingly restoring Ramona’s first commercial building for the past several years. The former “Pioneer Store” was a waypoint for gold miners traveling between San Diego and Julian in the 1800s. It was also a stage stop and a post office. Bidegain wants to preserve and highlight Ramona’s colorful history. The large outdoor area in back is adorned with repurposed highway guard rails and fire pits. There’s a stage where you can catch live music on the weekends.
Our first winery visit was to Ramona Ranch Winery, where we had a relaxed visit with co-owner Teri Kerns. She and husband, winemaker Micole (Mike) Moore, wanted to move away from the big city so they purchased their property in 2004. At the time there was a dirt driveway and a stick-framed house. Mike built everything on the property. The 10 acre property has two and a half acres planted to vines. When they were starting out, San Diego County ordinances made it nearly impossible to sell wine directly to consumers. A permit would cost about $250,000, prohibitive to most boutique wineries.
Our final winery stop of the day was at Turtle Rock Ridge Vineyard Winery, so named because of the rock above the tasting room that does indeed resemble a turtle. Co-owner and winemaker Laurie Wagner sat with us while we sipped her wines. She fell in love with Sangiovese Brunello while traveling extensively in Europe. She and her husband Ian Vaux moved to Ramona in 1991 and began amateur winemaking in 2008. They got their license in 2010 and opened the tasting room in 2012. Both Laurie and Ian have backgrounds in farming. They grow red wine grapes exclusively, but offer whites made from Northern California vineyards. Their 3,000 vines include Zinfandel, Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Barbera. Turtle Rock Ridge is open 10 – 6 Friday though Sunday.
For dinner we stopped at Par Lounge and Deck at the San Vicente Inn and Golf Course. We enjoyed wines from Hatfield Creek Winery while enjoying the splendid views from the deck. In the middle of San Diego Country Estates, the property features restaurants, catering, weddings, a golf course and an equestrian center. Food and Beverage Manager Larry Marshall welcomed us and introduced us to Executive Chef Ben Peterson. Peterson has been chef for eight years, has a musical background and spent time in New Orleans. He wowed us with a three-course dinner, starting with corn cream, a lukewarm soup with bacon, honey, pistachios, chives and hot sauce served with a corn fritter. Our entrée was a black garlic rubbed flat iron steak prepared sous vide, then seared with a parsley garlic purée, cauliflower romesco sauce, roasted beech mushrooms and sautéed greens. The perfect ending to a remarkable day was a lemon vanilla panacotta with marinated blackberries, butter cookie crumble, candied lemon zest and pink peppercorns. It was honestly one of the best meals I have ever enjoyed.
So went day one of two immensely enjoyable days. I’ll wrap this visit up in the near future.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. WINEormous is the recipient of the Luxury Travel Guide’s Wine Tour Operator of the Year award for Temecula 2017. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701. Ask about special discounts.