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By Miriam Raftery  

Photo, left: Dulzura Winery owners

November 15, 2015 (San Diego's East County)--At the inaugural Toast to East County event hosted by the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce and San Diego Vintners  Association at Cottonwood Golf in Rancho San Diego on November 8th, guests savored a wide array of wines from local vintners as well as foods ranging from artisan cheeses to barbecued meats, Mexican food, olive oil, raw honey and more.

Speaking of honey, Pearson Brothers Winery of Dehesa served up Honey Saccharo wine made without grapes.  Other vintners offered up samples of more traditional vintages, from cabernet to chardonnay.  Rock Canyon poured its latest offering, a dessert port-like wine, while others showed off new varieties for the region such as a Malbec. Plus awards were presented for trailblazers in our region's fast-growing winemaking industry.

Ramona, a premier emerging wine region that now has 36 bonded wineries and tasting rooms, was well represented with Ramona Ranch Winery and Vineyard Grant James serving up some rich red wines ,notably hearty zinfandel blends, and other vintages.  Linda McWilliams from San Pasqual Winery in La Mesa, sporting a T-shirt reading “Think globally, drink locally” gave out samples of some wonderful wines too, including their ever-popular passion fruit wine.

Maness Vineyards, which will open a tasting room next year in Jamul, offered tasty jams and hand-made quilts along with its wines.  Maness is one of several wineries along the Highway 94 corridor including Granite Lion Cellars, Dulzura Vineyard and Winery, and Deerhorn Valley Vineyards, which recently purchased Dubet Vineyards.

Several local brewers brought kegs including Ballast Point, Bolt Brewery, Goose Island, Karl Strauss, and URBN St. Brewing Co.

Food offerings included Cheeses from the Cave, artisan cheeses, an array of Jensen Meats, Quisenberry Farms Olive Oils – from jalapeno to blackberry, Culinary Condiments.

Local restaurants also brought samples to savor including Black Angus, Hacienda Casa Blanca, Hooley’s Irish Pub & Grill, and other establishments including Cottonwood Golf and Dream Diners.  

A large crowd turned out, sipping and noshing their way through an outdoor tent at Cottonwood Golf course, also stopping off at vendor booths outside.

Greg Maness presented special Trail Blazer Awards on behalf of the San Diego County Vintners Association, dedicated to those who have blazed old and new trails in the local new wine communities and have made a big impact helping, assisting and mentoring  new growers and wine makers.

This year’s winners were:

Bill Schweitzer, one of the first vineyard growers in Ramona, who inspired many families to start growing grapes and helped develop the county’s boutique winery ordinance. He is also a founder who created the new Ramona RVA American Viticulture Area wine growing zone,  helping to put Ramona on the map as a winemaking destination.  Also a consultant, he has worked with hundreds of clients and is still teaching and learning about vines and wines. Most recently he opened the Ramona Gold Olive Oil Company.

Pete Anderson,  an award-winning winemaker and vice president of Witch Creek Winery’s winemaking team as well as vineyard consultant,  studied viticulture and enology at the University of California, Davis. He is an associate faculty member at Mira Costsa College, teaching vineyard development and management and created a viticulture seminar at California State University San Marcos for new growers.  As a private wine maker, he has won gold medals at local tasting events for his estate-grown wines.  He also tracks date results for the Italian Winegrape Project or Vite Italiano Project.

Lum Eisenman, 86, is a research scientist and physicist, viticulturist, educator and founder of the San Diego Amateur Wine Making Society. He began his work in the winemaking industry in his teens in the Cucamonga Valley and studied viticulture and enology form U.C.. Davis   He has won many gold medals for his own winemaking and also has taught course at  Mira Costa College ranging from vineyard design to wine judging. He is the author of The Home Wine Makers Manual (available online) and as assistant wine maker at Belle Marie Winery for 12 years.  He continues to take pride in consulting and helping local wine makers fulfill their dreams.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob, a past Trail Blazer Award winner, was also on hand, drawing praise for her efforts to pioneer passage of  a tiered winery ordinance credited with providing fertile seeds to nurture the growth of San Diego’s now-burgeoning wine making industry.   There are now 105 wineries in San Diego County – most of those right here in East County.. Cheers!

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