By Don Rutkoff
Photo: Elaine Lyttleton, Hatfield Creek Winery
July 30, 2014 (Ramona)--I went tooling around Ramona Sunday, visiting and tasting some newer wineries, and I will tell you, if you haven't started tasting the locals, you need to get off your couch and hit the road. There are a lot of very good wines in Ramona, mostly red, mostly familiar grapes, and a few lesser known grapes too.
Turtle Rock Ridge has been open for a while, but this was my first visit. The Sangiovese was the star, and ALL the wines showed that a lot of skill and good grapes went into the bottle. A 2nd star for me was a Pinot blanc, and even though it was not from Ramona grapes, it deserves a mention. I wish it was from local grapes, but maybe some will get planted here soon using this bottle as a target. If you drink whites and have not had Pinot blanc (or Pinot bianco in Italian), put your car in gear and go to Turtle. Or pick up an Oregon or Alsace bottle. Recently in a restaurant, I had a 2006, yes, 2006, from Ponzi in Oregon. Great stuff.
Then to Ramona Ranch, a bit east of "downtown", on Hwy 78. Hey, whaddaya know, a killer Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Micole (he is a he, not a she, pronounced like Michael) is the new head of the Ramona Valley Vineyard Assoc. A not-yet-ready Montepulicano was great too, tasted from the barrel. He and gal pal Teri own some goats, a bull, chickens, and probably never will need to buy fertilizer from a store.
Next stop was Hatfield Creek winery, also a bit east of downtown on Hwy 78. Elaine Lyttleton is the boss. She was pouring a few of the last wines made by Pyramid's Don Kohorst, who is still growing grapes, for sale, but not running a winery anymore. The 2012 Pyramid Vineyard grown, Dry Muscat is a wine that any wine drinker should try. Remember, muskrat does not have to be sweet. The fruit flavors of the wine will match well with a wine range of fruits or cheeses on your table.
And I can't visit Ramona without visiting either Woof n Rose or Kohill. This time, to Woof. to see what the Cab Franc geniuses have to pour now. Two special mentions today. First, a light, chillable red, their 2010 Puppy Love, which is a blend of Grenache noir, Merlot, and Alicante Bouschet. "Light" here meaning full red but not deep blue or violet, and can handle a slight chill so you can enjoy it in hot weather. Slightly chilled, but not full-on refrigerator cold. Then on to their current estate Cab Franc, the 2010. Higher alcohol, a bit over 15%, than previous vintages, as Marilyn explained that, while they had to wait through the cool weather for the acid and ph numbers to reach targets, the sugar moved up a bit faster than the acids came down. More sugar means higher alcohol. Still, a very good wine. Cab Franc does not rise to the ultra high status of its son Cab Sauvignon, but it is delicious when you catch it in the right place. The aromatics are of bright red fruits, not the dark color fruits that you get in Cab Sauv. The right places include Chinon France and Ramona, CA. I've tasted many Cab Franc winners in Ramona, and some stunners at Woof. I also look forward to the release later this year of their Alicante Bouschet. This is another semi-obscure red, usually blended with many Zins and Syrah wines. The pulp and juice itself are red. Most red or black grapes have green pulp, not red or black, and all the color comes from skin molecules. Ali. Boo is found in southern France, Spain, and probably some in Portugal and Italy under other names. As for Chinon, watch "The Lion in Winter". A lot of history in that castle at Chinon, on the Loire River in central France.
The first stop of the day was La Finquita, which I had not heard of before, had a change in ownership recently. The wines poured were not made by the new owners, and some are local grapes, some are from Paso Roble grapes. They have a killer Petit Verdot. Never heard of that grape? It is part of the Bordeaux group of grapes, usually a small part of the blend, and it is part of the "Meritage" allowed grapes. More earthy than Cabernet. Worth your giving it a taste. Especially the one at Finquita. Tied for next best honors here are a 2009 Cabernet that is another killer, and a 2013 Syrah Rose, that is a lovely balanced light weight with just right amount of red flavor. Best wishes to the new owners and I look forward to tasting the results of their own labors in next 1-2 years.
Go. To Ramona. Saturday and Sunday. Plenty of maps and most places show up on Google map. Google the Ramona Valley Vineyard Associations (RVVA) and hit the websites and maps, pick a name, any name with a tasting room, and go. Meet owners, wine makers, all owner-operated, no corporate parents, no large production. You can buy some wines on futures, buy a row of vines, and never mind hats, t-shirts, and reserved VIP limo parking. Small production, so be ready to buy what you love or it will be gone.
In a few weeks, more tasting notes from Ramona. For Wines & Vines, or from Your Man about Wine, or Donn on Wine.
(and in a few days, a column with stuff for growers and makers)