Discover Ramona Wineries: San Diego County’s Best Kept Secret

View from Milagro Farm Winery
Ramona Valley is one of Southern California’s secrets. Most people are not aware that this is one of our state’s wine regions. Ramona Valley’s topography can be described as the old west meets Tuscany. The area reminds me of Maremma a portion of Tuscany known for its wine and cowboys, the Butteri, who work the Maremmano breed of horses. If you are looking for a weekend escape that includes winery stops, Ramona Valley is within two hours of Los Angeles. Join me in discovering the Ramona Wineries.

Ramona Valley
Welcome to Ramona.

The town of Ramona reminds me of an old west town. Its main street is lined with western-style buildings and many Art Deco facades. You can only image riding a horse into town to visit the local salon. One senses a time gone by while viewing the many murals that adorn the streets. The murals are a part of the Ramona H.E.A.R.T. Mural Project. Each letter of H.E.A.R.T represents the character and flavor of the community. The H for historic and hiking, E for Equine, and horses are ever-present in the area. A for art, antique, and agriculture. R for the rural vistas and drives. Finally, T for the tasting of wine.

H.E.A.R.T. Mural in Ramona
H.E.A.R.T. Mural in Ramona

It was the wine that impressed me the most. Ramona Valley AVA was established in 2006. The AVA consists of two main regions the east side, Ramona Valley, and the west, the Highland Valley. What I found most interesting throughout all the Ramona wineries I visited was that most of the winemakers were self-taught, but with patience and an extraordinary passion, each succeeded.

Of course, this did not occur without obstacles, and one of the biggest was the Witch Creek fire in 2007. Many wineries lost everything while others gained from the fire because it cleared the land enable the planting of more vineyards. They sometimes say out of a negative comes a positive and, in this case, due to the strict regulations regarding the amount of brush clearance. The fire cleared the land paving the way for vineyard planting.

This article concentrates on the wineries and vineyards in Ramona Valley

Ramona Wineries

Ramona Ranch Vineyard and Winery

Teri Kerns and Micole Moore moved to Ramona Valley in 2004 with the intention of farming. They started planting their vineyard in 2006 and by 2013 open the winery officially. Today the property consists of 10 acres with 2.5 acres planted.

Micole was in the military based in San Diego. Little did he know that he would play a huge impact on the founding of the Ramona Valley AVA. You might call Micole and Teri one of the pioneers of the Ramona Valley.

The winery is certified Sustainable and one of the few in the Ramona Valley.

One of my favorite wines I tasted on my visit was the 2014 Tannat. I found the wine very together and drinkable. The wine is big and bright and created with estate-grown grapes.

Ramona Ranch Wines
Ramona Ranch Wines

Milagro Farm Winery

Milagro is probably one of the larger wineries in the area. The property consists of 110 acres with 40% planted. Their wines are estate grown. Kit & Karen Sickels started the winery. Today the winery is a venture between the Sickels and three other families. They hired prominent winemaker Hugo d’Agosta from Mexico. He is most known for wines in the Guadalupe Valley.

Under Hugo’s supervision, the wines excel. From the Pinot Gris to the Chardonnay followed by the Rose of Sangiovese, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, and the other wines sampled, I found them all well integrated and balanced. My favorite was the 2012 Aleatico, a dessert wine created from an Italian grape. The Aleatico exhibits a rustic quality yet is very refined. Flavors of raisins dominate.

The property’s landscape is quite beautiful nestled amongst trees. The pastoral setting is ideal for a wedding. The winery also features a cave built into the hillside.

The Grounds at Milagro Farm Winery
The Grounds at Milagro Farm Winery

Grant James

Grant James is the perfect winery stop at the end of the day.  Sitting out on their patio watching the sunset and sipping wine is a relaxing conclusion to a day of wine tasting. During the summer winemaker, Susanne Sapier creates a refreshing white and red sangria, and a must-try. The white Sangria blends various white wines with orange juice, peach puree, and cherries. The red Sangria is sweetened with lime juice and Tapatio jalapeno.

The winery’s name combines Susanne’s son’s name with her father’s. The property consists of 9 acres of which 7.5 acres are under vine.

I had two favorites at Grant James. The first, Delphinus a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel. The wine is big and fruit-forward with aromas of mocha and chocolate. The other wine I enjoyed was the Malbec. This wine comes off as a lighter Malbec but excellently balanced and integrated. The nose is tobacco and dark fruit, and on the palate, I found mocha and dark fruit.

Grant James Owner Susanne Sapier
Grant James Owner Susanne Sapier

Turtle Rock Ridge Vineyard Winery

Named for a Granite rock on the property that looks like a Turtle, owners Laurie Wagner, and Ian Vaux specialize mostly in red wines. With a cheerful atmosphere the wines welcome. With wine names like Hello Gorgeous, Hello Beautiful you will feel the positive energy of this place.

You might say that their Sangiovese called Ciao is the signature varietal wine of Turtle Rock Ridge. Aging occurs in a combination of French, America, and Hungarian oak.

Laurie Wagner and Ian Vaux - Turtle Rock Ridge Winery
Laurie Wagner and Ian Vaux – Turtle Rock Ridge Winery

Hatfield Creek Vineyards & Winery

While specializing in reds owners Elaine Lyttleton and Norm Case started their winey in 2006. The vineyards lie on just 3 acres planted with Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Except for a Rose, which comes from Zinfandel everything else has a dark purple hue.

One of their signature wines is the Estate Fonzi Field Blend a blend of Petite Syrah and Zinfandel, but one must try the Estate Bonbon. This wine was supposed to have been the Fonzi Field Blend, but something went very wrong, and this error became their dessert wine. It shows that you can make something beautiful out of a mistake. I found a rich fun dessert wine that is ideal for something very chocolaty.

Hatfield Creek Wines
Hatfield Creek Wines

Where to Stay in Ramona Valley

By far the best place to stay in the Riviera Oaks Racquet Club and Resort. I enjoyed a one-bedroom suite with a full kitchen. The room was exceptionally comfortable and decorated with a Southwestern flair.

Guest Suite Riviera Oaks Racquet Club and Resort
Guest Suite Riviera Oaks Racquet Club and Resort

Where to Dine In Ramona Valley

If you looking for something to take for a picnic lunch at perhaps a winery the Ramona Family Naturals Market is perfect to pick up a salad or a sandwich. Otherwise, enjoy your meal on the premises by sitting out on the front patio.  Everything is made fresh daily.

Ramona Family Naturals Market Patio
Ramona Family Naturals Market Patio

The Par Lounge at the San Vicente Resort offers a fresh approach to California Cuisine. Chef Ben Peterson cuisine enhances the spectacular mountain views that one can enjoy while dining.

San Vicente Resort View
San Vicente Resort View while dining at Par Lounge.

A trip to Ramona Valley must include dining at Marinade on Main. We went for brunch, but I hear that their fried chicken is dynamite so you might want to stop in for lunch or dinner. The portions are hearty so you will not leave hungry.

Marinade on Main
Marinade on Main

If you still need a little more wine or maybe a beer to cleanse the palate, stop by Reds, Whites & Brews.

Red Whites & Brews
Red Whites & Brews, a place to get a beer or taste the wines from Ramona Wineries.

Ramona Valley AVA is still very young and in its first generation. It will be interesting to watch the progress as the Ramona wineries grow and the area is discovered by more wine enthusiasts.

The next stop in the Ramona Valley AVA will be Highland Valley. The wineries of this area will be featured in a separate article.

Ramona Valley is close to Julian so if you have a hankering for apples and wine allow time for a visit there too.

Note: Common to the wine and travel industry, this writer was hosted to these Ramona wineries visits, accommodations, and eateries. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.