Ryan and I have an ongoing joke about Ramona.... that maybe isn't even a joke (I'm still trying to figure out if he's kidding or not). But every time we are confronted with the painful reality of the price of houses in San Diego, Ryan says we're moving to Ramona.
Ramona is about 30-40 minutes east of where we live and is ideal if you want to build a big house on lots of land for a fraction of the cost of living in or around the city. And apparently it's also ideal if you have ever had a secret fantasy about growing your own vineyard and starting a winery.
Prior to this weekend, I had no idea that there are over 20 wineries hidden in the vast expanse of Ramona. Even more of a plus for us, many of the tasting rooms are dog friendly. So when our friend Jason planned a Labor Day weekend camping and wine tasting trip there, we loaded up the dogs and hit the highway.
Ramona, we're coming for ya...
We woke up at our beautiful, central-to-wine-tasting camp spot in Dos Picos County Park on Saturday morning, fresh-faced and ready for vino. I'll share more about our camping experience in another post, because it really was a great spot to spend the weekend. The best part about it was that Jason found us a dog-friendly wine wagon, WTT Transportation, that would pick us up there to drive us around safely for the day.
WTT, which I called Wine Transportation Time! but which really stands for Wright Trammel Transportation, is a husband and wife-owned company rthat has been based right out of Ramona since 2008. Although their shuttles and town cars can take parties anywhere, they are Ramona locals with good tips and know the owners of practically every winery around.
We were lucky enough to get one of the owners, Cheryl, to be our guide for the day. She picked all of six of us and the two pups up right at our campsite at 11am and shuttled us off to wine country.
The first stop was Woof'N Rose Winery, a tucked-away tasting room hidden on a side street off of the 67. If you have a guide like Cheryl, you don't have to worry about finding this sweet little winery, but if you're going it on your own, you may want to call ahead and get directions from the owners, Marilyn and Steve.
Woof'N Rose became our starting point because something told us it might be the most dog friendly of the local vineyards. The small vineyard boasts mostly Bordeaux varietals and their specialty is a Cabernet Franc that's won a number of awards.
One of the owners, Steve, greeted us out on the little tasting veranda and got us started on our pours with their 2011 Happy Tails, a grenache blend. For $8 a person, you can taste six of their delicious wines and keep their adorable logo glass!
Of all the wines we tried, my favorite was definitely their 2011 Eglantine, a Bordeaux Style Blend comprised of 40% Estate Cabernet Franc, 20% Estate Petit Verdot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.
After a great tasting and conversation with Steve, we purchased a few bottles of their wines and started on the short walk down the street to our next stop, Eagles Nest Winery.
Eagles Nest is a a gorgeous sustainable, vegan and dog-friendly winery just .3 miles away from Woof N' Rose and is owned by another husband and wife duo, Julie and Dennis. Julie greeted us from the balcony during our climb up their steep driveway (we came prepared in flat shoes, but beware if you're in heels!) and it was as if we were long lost friends who she was expecting to come over rather than six almost drunk strangers.
But the warm reception didn't end there. When we rounded the corner to head towards the tasting patio, we walked right into a bottling operation. Julie, without missing a beat, ushered us all over behind the table and let us try out the bottling process.
We got to fill, cork, seal and label wines during our short stint and then Julie led us over to the patio to start our tasting. At Eagles Nest, you get to taste five delicious wines for $10.
As she poured, Julie explained that while their infrastructure prevents them from obtaining organic certification, they only use sustainable and organic practices in making and bottling their wines.
After the tasting, I bought several bottles of my favorites, including their incredible 2010 Zin and a unique blend called a Sauzao. Then we spent a few minutes wandering around and taking in the property with some of their frozen sangrias.
They had two available that day, a mango peach sangria and a raspberry port sangria, either of which were the perfect treat for a sunny afternoon. Then, before we knew it, Cheryl was there to take us to our third and final winery, Salerno.
Salerno was by far the largest winery we visited during our tour, with a sprawling property that is also home to a bocce court, an outdoor oven for pizza and most impressively, a large sculpture garden with over 30 sculptures.
As patrons of the arts, naturally we appreciated the sculptures the best way we knew how... by posing with them.
Cheryl helped us get a table on the patio overlooking the gardens while an opera singer played live music in the center. Because the owners, another married duo, include a former opera singer from Italy, there's a very good chance the singer happened to be the husband. Regardless, the music and scenery were a lovely way to spend the last hour of our afternoon.
Unfortunately, because Salerno was so slammed, we weren't able to try any pizza or even get our flights (4 pours for $8-10) in time before our tour ended. We cancelled our order and I purchased a glass of Malbec for us to share instead, so that we could at least try some of their wine. It was good, but cold which I wasn't expecting. We finished the glass and headed out to meet Cheryl and drive back to camp.
We couldn't have asked for a better wine tasting adventure, thanks to Jason's planning and the amazing service from Cheryl and WTT Transportation! While we were in Salerno, Cheryl even went and found a box and paper to wrap up and protect our wine glasses from Woof'N Rose. So when she dropped us off at camp, she was definitely due for a few hugs before we said goodbye.
I had no idea that wine tasting, especially wine tasting with the pups, could be so much easier, closer, and more intimate than heading up to Temecula, which is the place most people from San Diego think of when they plan a wine tasting tour. But now that we know, I can't wait to head back in the fall and hit up a few more of the wineries.
Ramona, you're growing on me.
Things to Know Before You Go...
- Most of the wineries in Ramona are small, family-owned operations that are only open on weekends or by appointment during the week. But even on weekends, you should call ahead to see if the wineries you're interested in are open. A few that we had looked at were closed because the owners were on a grape stomp or because they had already sold out of all their wine!
- The wineries that we went to all accepted credit cards and had restrooms, but some do not, so plan ahead!
- A few of them typically have 2-for-1 tasting coupons on Groupon or, if you're lucky, you can find a map with 2-for-1 punches on it at some of the wineries or local stores.