Friday, March 17, 2006

Ramona Valley AVA

Finally out of the desert, thank God. Not that it wasn't lovely and all, there's just only so much vast rolling desert and Hank Williams you can handle without feeling so lonesome you could die. Then there was that snowstorm in the Cleveland Forest (damn you, Grover!). By the time I drove into the steep, granite boulder studded mountains toward the fledgling Ramona Valley AVA, I needed the color green like nobody's biz. From the back door of Bill Schweitzer's house, the Ramona Valley opens out into all the green your eyes can take. If I were a grapevine, I'd be thrilled to be in the dirt there.

The new AVA, designated finally this last January, is only the third to be designated in Southern California.
Bill Schweitzer's been a very popular man lately, as a representative of the Ramona Valley Vineyard Association, and has spoken to everyone from NPR to Decanter. He's a grower rather than making wine himself ("I'm not a chemist," he says) but the tidy vines surrounding his hilltop home supply local vintners with Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, among others.

Interview with Bill Schweitzer

C&D: Tell me about where we are.

Bill: The Ramona Valley is at an intermediate altitude in the back country of San Diego County. The coastal lowlands are between zero and six hundred feet above sea level, and then suddenly there's a string of mountains where you have to go up another thousand feet to get up to 1300-1600 feet where the Valley is. So what we did is, we defined a string of mountains that made a circle around that geographic altitude and defined that as the AVA.

How long have you been farming?

I've been doing this about five years. This first third of an acre here of Cabernet was planted before we built the house, five years ago.

What did you do prior to that?

I'm a computer guy. I wrote programs for Hewlett Packard and other companies up in Silicon Valley.

What made you decide to grow grapes?

I had all this land, and avacadoes...they take too much water, you saw them as you came in, huge avocado groves. They take a lot of water, and are pretty much overplanted. So doesn't use much water, it's a gorgeous landscaping plant, and you meet really interesting people, working with grapes.

You were a wine lover before, as well?

Sure. We lived in Northern California, and we traveled around, and we visited all the wine regions up north, and so we knew that was kind of a cool thing. And we happened to be down here...looking for property, and there was a sign that said 'So, you want to grow grapes?'. The San Diego Vintners Association was sponsoring. So we went to that seminar, just for the heck of it. Actually met a bunch of people who are my good friends now, who were just getting started, learning how to grow grapes. So that's what we did.

Bill was right about the interesting people. He took me on a tour that covered a wide swath of the Valley and the winemakers who are working to make a name for themselves. Here's a little snapshot of the Ramona folks.

Shirley Hamilton and John Schwaesdall

Bill calls John Schwaesdall of Schwaesdall Winery "the Godfather". He's been here in the Valley since the beginning. He makes a mean Mourvedre, as well as a "white port", made of Muscat Canelli.

Frank Karlsson

Frank Karlsson loves Italian and Rhones. He dipped into several barrels for us and pulled up some deeply scented Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cabernet. He's also been doing this for a while. I enjoyed talking to him. He really loves what he does.

Beth and Victor Edwards know a thing or two. She's a graphic designer and he knows petit sirah like the back of his hand.

My favorite wine of the day was the Edwards Vineyard 2003 'Cote D'Ramona' Rhone. The Edwards like a fruit-foward style accentuated by the right touch of oak, which might normally spook an old-world lover like myself, but this wine had lovely finesse, good balance and charm. Well done.

Bill and Jennifer Jenkin

Pamo Valley winery is an intriguing operation. Bill Jenkin, a strict teetotaler, who's running for state assembly, doesn't actually taste his wines. He does smell them, though, and he asks others, as he did us, to express our opinions. I was suprised at how good his wines were. He does a Tempranillo with nice spice, and a peppery Syrah I especially liked.

So very lovely.

One of the goals of this friendly, close-knit group is to lure wine lovers from the San Diego county area to tour their loop of tasting rooms. If they can get this going, I think it will be a great destination. It's just stunning scenery, and the wines seem to be coming along nicely. If you're ever in the area, check 'em out.

Thanks to Bill for showing me around, and for lunch. Cheers and Good Luck!

Today I'm in Santa Maria with The Santa Barbara Wineguy. God, there's so much wine to try, so few hours in the day. I press on in my quest. Stay tuned.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well you could knock me down with a feather because I just discovered that Eric Asimov has your blog link to his.

I am telling you. Sometimes a girl has to leave town to get famous.

6:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tif, we were wondering if you could come in a little early today cause Ez has to leave early.

Guess who?

10:16 AM  
Blogger taj said...

Oh, wow, see...I'd love to, but...I'm "sick".

"Guess who...?" You're either:

Charles Butt
Gerard Bertrand

Am I close?

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles Butt.

1:24 PM  

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