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San Diego’s Highland Valley Wine Trail

by Robin Dohrn-Simpson

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“Wine has a rhythm to it,” muses Denise Clark, musician, music lover, winemaker and co-owner of Altipiano Winery. “It’s like a symphony waiting to be played. There’s a beat and a rhythm of the vines swaying in the wind. Sometimes it’s frantic and sometimes its controlled chaos.” Just like life. We’re all moving to the rhythm of the world.

Highland Valley, 30 minutes north of downtown San Diego, is a close neighbor to verdant San Pasqual Valley. During Prohibition, the valley changed from grapes to avocado and citrus, now 90 years later, with the high cost of water, and a renaissance of the wine industry, grapes are once again becoming the crop of choice. With this resurgence there are now four wineries operating with another one slated to open in 2015.

Altipiano Vineyard and Winery:

When life gives you fires, make wine.
As with many wineries in San Diego and Ramona, the 2007 fires cleared hillsides, destroyed crops and structures. The Clarks lost many acres of avocado trees and when it came time to replant, decided to plant grapes instead. Thus began their journey into the wine world. It was on a trip to Italy that Peter and Denise fell in love with Brunello, and that’s when they decided to start their journey into the wine world. The grape thrived in the decomposed granite soil of the four-acre property. Next came Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and coming soon is Nero D’Avilo.

Denise Clark is the winemaker. She uses her keen palate to create fresh wines with grapes from their vines and also with grapes sourced from Central California.

From her perch on the kitchen island, one can watch her manage and control her household and winery. Denise’s keen sense of art and beauty is evident at their winery and home. Their lovely tasting room is a cool respite from the world. The patio with fireplace, bar and French designs with blue and yellow tablecloths is refreshing and calming.

The Music of Wine is their motto and truly this winery is like a lovely concerto.

Cordiano Winery:

Fueled by passion and a genuine love of wine, Gerry Cordiano told his lovely wife Rosa that he needed to return to his roots of winemaking. From his younger day growing up in Italy with a winemaking family, it was in his blood. His flagship wine, “Primo Amore” – First love- refers to both Rosa, and winemaking.

Selling their Italian restaurants throughout San Diego the couple traveled through Highland Valley ascending higher and higher until they found the right property with a stellar view of the San Pasqual Valley. In 1998 they purchased the 20 acres of avocado farm and proceeded to build a winery. This winery has grown and multiplied many times over since they opened. Recently Gerry purchased another 10 acres of property adjacent to his current vineyard with plans of planting Sangiovese and Malbec.

Gerry was instrumental in starting the wine country ordinance. He always knew he wanted a patio with a pizza oven, a tasting room and when it seemed that the county was dedicated to prohibiting this, Gerry was not about to take no for an answer. For this San Diego will forever be grateful to him. Today, their lovely patio is just what he envisioned and more. With many tables surrounding a lovely fountain, guests enjoy homemade pizza and their choice of a bottle of wine or wines by the glass.

The Cordiano family excels at Italian hospitality. Family members and staff make everyone feel comfortable in their “home” and treat them as if they are best friends or family. That is why people return again and again to enjoy the sunset on the patio, listen to music and be regaled by Rosa’s stories. Well, that and the excellent wine.

“The secret is to be ahead of the curve and on top of our game,” says Gerry Cordiano. “All of our vineyards are young. As they grow and mature, we will be better than Napa/Sonoma and Paso Robles. Our soil is harsher here. That makes for stronger more flavorful grapes.”

Winetasting through lush Highland Valley is truly a joy. Espinosa Vineyards and Highland Valley Vineyards have opened and are also flourishing. Watching the wine region grow is invigorating. Being a part of it is like tuning up with the lead violin in the symphony: someone may be sharp, someone flat, a little tweaking of the strings, adjusting the reed of the oboe and ultimately everyone is in tune and playing a concerto.

Last updated: August, 2015




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