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By Miriam Raftery

February 11, 2016 (Ramona) -- Savoring an afternoon of superb wine tasting at Vineyard Grant James in Ramona, it’s not hard to realize  why this family-owned winery has been drawing rave reviews on Yelp.  The place has ranked five stars—the top rating, with 64 reviews. 

The wines are complex and satisfying.  Owners/hosts Jacques and Susanne Sapier are warm and welcoming.  A stone patio with views of the sun setting over nearby mountains provides an idyllic setting.  Live music by a Dave Billock and his local band, plus delicious locally-made cheeses, round out a palette-pleasing experience.

Many of the wines are named for constellations.  For white wine lovers, there’s Bellatrix, a combination of Orange Muscat and Chardonnay – slightly sweet with a hint of citrus.  There are some rich red blends as well, such as Aquarius and Delphinus, as well as an intense rose, Phoenix.

I stopped by during a party for wine club members, where samples included special release wines plus yummy treats such as cheese with onion and chili powder and a sampling of cheddars made by Steve Tucker, a local high school coach-turned cheesemaker.

 “There’s something here for everybody – experienced wine drinkers or beginners,” Terah Weaver, one of the first wine club members here, told us.  Her boyfriend, Randy Moore, adds, “We’ve helped them harvest. That’s fun.” Wine club members can also enjoy quarterly potlucks, a New Year’s Eve party, invitations to chef tasting parties in the vineyard or barn, and a trip to the Guadalupe Valley. (Photo, top left: Terah Weaver and Randy Moore)

The next events are this weekend, including a cheese, fruit and dessert pairing on Saturday featuring Cheese from the Cave, and a chef’s dinner in the old barn for Valentine’s Day, featuring a five-course menu filled with aphrodisiac delights catered by chef John Little.

Jacques, an attorney, and Susanne, a teacher-turned-winemaker, moved to Ramona from Banker’s Hill in San Diego  eight years ago after reading an article about the Ramona region gaining recognition nationally as a wine-growing region.

“I had always really liked gardening, cooking and entertaining,” says Susanne(photo, below right). So they bought the property, attracted by its north and south facing exposures, planted vineyards and built up the winery and tasting patio from the ground up.

The couple learned the craft of winemaking through a combination of buying lots of books on winemaking on Amazon, going to an AVA meeting group, plus getting advice and grapes from winemakers at Highland Hills and Ramona Ranch wineries. 

They’ve learned through experience. “Our first wine, the only place to release it was down the driveway,” Susanne says candidly. Soon, however, her winemaking skills improved – and today Vineyard Grant James is  drawing high praise for creating a memorable experience as well as enticing wines and unique events.

Here are just a few samples of comments by Yelp users:

“This is the smallest winery we’ve visited, but it easily had the best wine I’ve ever tasted.”

“Wonderful owners and superior wine.  Great customer service.”

“Wines that you’ll want to take home with you.”

“Jacques…was very welcoming and a great conversationalist on wine from different parts of the world.”

“Jacques was so charming and cordial..Do not miss this charming, darling little place!”

“This is by far the most amazing dinner I’ve ever had.”

“We loved the views and the relaxing environment…living in Ramona and knowing how much these wineries work, most are small family owned, makes it the better for me in knowing that I’m helping support our local wineries.”

The Sapiers have even provided a list of local restaurants, some of which deliver foods to the winery, for those who want to linger and dine near the vines during the tasting room’s hours 12-6 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

So what’s up next?  The Sapiers recently planted tempranillo and cabernet Franc grapes to enhance their existing vineyard products: Syrah, Merlot, Sangiovese, Orange Muscat, Greco, Refosco and Nebbiolo.

You can visit Vineyard Grant James at 25260 East Old Julian Highway, Ramona, California.  Learn more by checking their website at or their Facebook page at


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