Winemaking in this area can be traced back to the 1800s, when local landowners first planted muscat grapes, though production has mainly remained small and distribution stayed close to home.
Noticing the greater attention recently paid to San Diego wineries and an upswing in local wine tourism to nearby Temecula and Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe, Escondido’s winemakers decided to band together with the goal of making the city’s name synonymous with Southern Californian wine production.
Helping local wineries was a 2010 San Diego County ordinance that allowed facilities to host public tasting rooms and on-site sales, offering long-needed incentive.
There are now over 115 wineries across the county, according to the San Diego County Vintners Association, many of which are boutique and are able to be visited. On a recent visit to the area, I stopped by three of the flagship wineries on Escondido’s newly minted wine trail.
One of the Escondido’s most historic wine producing properties is Forgotten Barrel, which seems out of place in a modern subdivision until one remembers that this entire area used to be farmland.
Forgotten Barrel was formerly Ferrara Winery, which operated for nearly 80 years as a family business until 2011, when it decided to sell due to financial pressures.
Today, Forgotten Barrel is operated by Rodger Grove, a Rancho Santa Fe real estate investor, and his family, who purchased Ferrara Winery and transformed their own wine dealing business into a full-scale winery where they continue to source grapes from Napa and Sonoma counties while they begin to plant their own in San Diego County.
The name comes from a few “forgotten barrels” of wine inherited from Ferrara Winery, most of which was undrinkable save for one special barrel of aged port.
Photo: Hungry Hawk Vineyards & Winery
Further out into the San Pasqual Valley is Hungry Hawk Vineyards and Winery, an operation helmed by the Embly family, from which their son, Mike, is the winemaker. The family grows 15 grape varieties in a process that was really trial and error.
“I just started growing grapes that I knew I liked and suspected might work,” Mike explained. “Some have worked incredibly well, like petite sirah and sangiovese, and some, not as much. Some turned out to be surprises, like cabernet franc.” Embly also makes a blueberry wine, fermented from San Diego County-grown blueberries.
For the most part, Hungry Hawk hones-in on varietal wines made with San Diego County-grown grapes and Embly employs a mix of American, French, and Slovakian oak, adjusting the levels in each wine to bring out different characteristics.
After enjoying the tasting room, visitors are able to bring food and a glass of wine out onto the winery’s sprawling patio to enjoy sprawling views of the San Pasqual Valley.
The largest winery of the three and likely the best known of Escondido’s wineries is Orfila. By far the largest of the three, Orfila opened in 1994 and boasts a large tasting room and seemingly endless outdoor space for weddings and visitors.
Like Forgotten Barrel, though on a much larger scale, Orfila sources grapes from other regions of California, like San Luis Obispo, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara Counties, in addition to growing and selling their own grapes from their 70 acres of vineyards in San Diego County.
Rhone, Burgundy and Bordeaux-style varietal wines are a particular focus at Orfila, owing to the hot days and cooler nights characteristic of both that specific region of France and San Diego. Italian grape varieties, like sangiovese, are also favored.
Visiting just two or three wineries made for a long and eventful, but intensely pleasurable day. It seems the Escondido wine trail is indeed starting out with deep roots in San Diego County. So often in San Diego County we prioritize outdoor activities like hiking, biking, running, and surfing while forgetting that communing with outdoors while sampling its wares is yet another way to experience the natural beauty of the amazing place we call home.
Plan Your Escondido Wine Tour
Find winery maps, tasting hours, and more at visitescondido.com/wineries