Adventurous wine tasters, take note: Highway 94 is more than just a fun, backroads, scenic country drive. A drive on the two-lane highway east of Rancho San Diego will take you through the towns of Jamul, Dulzura, Barrett Junction, Portrero and Campo. This is the Highway 94 wine trail. Off the beaten track. Not Napa. No tour buses…yet.
In summertime, the vines are green, laden with fruit starting to ripen. The cool afternoon breeze blows through your hair and reminds you that you’re only 25 or 30 miles inland from the ocean. Hillsides have transitioned from vibrant Kelly green to a golden brown. Ancient California Oaks, Black Oaks and Cottonwood trees dot the landscape. This is the iconic view of southern California back country.
Life moves slower out here.
Spend an afternoon out here exploring the vineyards, the vistas, taste some award-winning wines at the charming and historic tasting rooms or have a picnic among the vines.
Located on the historic Clark Ranch, homesteaded in 1885, it is still owned by the Clark family. The tasting room once was the “Pickle House” where in 1902 Lila Clark produced and sold her famous pickelized figs. Winery co-owners Grant Spotts and Terry Winnette have been collaborating since 2008 when they planted four acres of grapes.
Today they offer Viognier, Chardonnay and Riesling for their white wines and they’re making a name for themselves with their full-bodied red wines: hearty Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, robust Zinfandel and a fruit-forward Malbec. Sip wine on the patio or in the vineyard in their two-story lookout tasting patio.
Granite Lion Cellars
Big things are happening at this winery. While it’s a relatively new winery, owner Joseph Knutsen has big plans; vineyard homes, a club house, a new winetasting room and more acres of grapes to be planted.
Currently four of their 500 acres are planted with fifteen different varietals including Tannat, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. They are also experimenting with Pinot Gris and Marsanne. The winery is young and still finding its way. Winemaker Sarah Spotts is celebrating a silver medal at the 2014 San Diego International Wine Competition. Visit their tasting room on Saturday or Sunday and experience all that East County has to offer.
The Casi Cielo Winery at Maness Vineyards
“If you have a dream and you work hard at it, it can come true,” says Greg Maness of his dream of opening a winery. For years Greg has been the cheerleader and champion for all the other wineries in the county, and now it’s his turn.
Today, Casi Cielo (Almost Heaven), is open to the public. Maness, vineyard designer and installer creates turn-key vineyards for people throughout San Diego. Along with his wife Dr. Paula, they have worked vigorously at planting and experimenting with different grape varietals to see which ones work best with their soils.
A favorite of winemaker John Keily is his Chardonnay and Viognier blend, called PJs Blend.
Their property is a “must see” in East County. An historic adobe brick house built in Rancho Mission Architecture style that takes you back to the days of Old California. Greg is a collector of art, if you’re lucky he might show you some of his bronzes or cherished paintings.
Deerhorn Valley Vineyards
One of the newest wineries on the trail, Deerhorn Valley Vineyards is on the eastern slope of Lyons Peak which cascades down to verdant Deerhorn Valley. The vineyard boasts newly planted Chardonnay along with mature vines of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Zinfandel. Their 2013 Cabernet Franc was awarded a silver medal at the Toast of the Coast at Del Mar 2016. Look for great wines to come out of this winery in the next year. New owners Dianne and Robert are learning the ropes and getting their feet dirty in the winemaking process.
These wine pioneers are hearty people who all share the same passion; farming the land, making wine and enjoying the quiet countryside. Sit down with the winemakers and talk about their inspiration for their wines or their wineries. Many people have planted vineyards and will be opening tasting rooms in the next few years. Watch this entire wine region grow and remember it’s a secret, enjoy it before the word gets out.
For current happenings or a map go to: www.thewineriesonhighway94.com.