State Of County Wine Industry A Focal Point Of Awards Dinner

Vineyard Grant James operations manager Grant James Choy and owner and winemaker Susanne Sapier received multiple awards during the competition.  Photo Courtesy of Ramona Valley Vineyard Association

Vineyard Grant James operations manager Grant James Choy and owner and winemaker Susanne Sapier received multiple awards during the competition. Photo Courtesy of Ramona Valley Vineyard Association

- Charlene Pulsonetti

Regional wines were celebrated during the Ramona Valley Vineyard Association (RVVA) Awards Dinner for the 10th annual Lum Eisenman/San Diego County Wine Competition, which took place on June 19. There was a total of 128 entries from amateur and commercial wine growers that were submitted for consideration.


The gathering of industry professionals, winemakers and journalists also offered an opportunity to network with one another and discuss the state of the industry in the county.

Maurice DiMarino, who serves as the wine director for the Cohn Restaurant Group, was the guest speaker during the lum eisenman/san Diego County Wine Competition awards dinner.    Photo by Charlene Pulsonetti.

Maurice DiMarino, who serves as the wine director for the Cohn Restaurant Group, was the guest speaker during the lum eisenman/san Diego County Wine Competition awards dinner.

Photo by Charlene Pulsonetti.


"We have seen an increase in the number of wineries and acreage of vineyards within the county,” said San Diego County Vintners Association President Ed Embly, referencing a 2018 report from the association that analyzed the economic impact of area wineries.


According to the report, San Diego-area wineries made a $50 million economic impact on the region in 2017, and gross sales increased 9.4 percent from 2016 to 2017.


For rural East County communities, especially, vineyards have the potential to be a significant source of revenue, with a direct impact on individuals and local commerce. In addition, the SDCVA report indicates that wages from San Diego wineries show a growth of 35 percent from 2016 to 2017.


Jobs within the wine industry go beyond winemaking, encompassing skills such as facility maintenance, marketing and sales, hospitality, operations, finance and administration.


These positions can help residents within East County’s rural wine hubs of Ramona, Julian, Warner Springs and Escondido develop valuable careers and keep revenues local.


Guest speaker Maurice DiMarino, wine director for the Cohn Restaurant Group, shared about the importance of collaboration to elevate the status of San Diego County as an up-and-coming wine region.


"Now is the time to think about our communities and do it together,” said DiMarino, encouraging attendees to educate others about what is unique in their community.

Alfredo Gallone of Principe de tricase Winery, right, pictured with his son Alessandro Gallone, won best of show in the commercial winemaker category.   Photo Courtesy of Ramona Valley Vineyard Association

Alfredo Gallone of Principe de tricase Winery, right, pictured with his son Alessandro Gallone, won best of show in the commercial winemaker category.

Photo Courtesy of Ramona Valley Vineyard Association


A question from the audience regarding how to make county wines available in the Cohn restaurants sparked an energetic discussion, with winemakers in the room eager for answers. Due to time constraints, the short answer referenced the ability of vintners to provide sufficient volume of product to meet restaurant menu planning, adding that increased volume should also aid in reaching an agreeable price point.


Until the region reaches a level where local wines can be more widely represented, DiMarino suggested focusing on what can be offered through local boutique wineries, for example, expanding on the ability to offer unique experiences that both locals and tourists can appreciate. This can even extend beyond the tasting room, with vintners collaborating with nearby restaurants, lodging providers and entertainment professionals to make each wine-tasting experience a special one.

Josh Mann won best of show in the amateur winemaker category.   Photo Courtesy of Ramona Valley Vineyard Association

Josh Mann won best of show in the amateur winemaker category.

Photo Courtesy of Ramona Valley Vineyard Association


Urban tasting rooms located within higher-population areas may be especially important in introducing wine to younger generations, something that DiMarino says is critical for the future of the industry.


"(Urban wineries offer) another way to go wine tasting,” shared Lisa Miller, co-owner of Koi Zen Cellars in the Carmel Mountain Ranch area.


Urban venues can also serve as a catalyst for tasters who do not have regular access to rural wineries, motivating them to delve deeper into wine appreciation.


Partnerships formed among wineries, vineyards and related associations can help represent the region overall, which is especially important when working with government agencies.


Among the entries submitted to the competition were a number of Ramona’s winemakers, who took home top awards.


Principe de Tricase Winery winemaker Alfredo Gallone won commercial best of show and double gold for his 2015 Estate Aglianico Barrel Select, and winemaker Josh Mann took home the amateur best of show and gold for his 2017 Panacea Red Blend Reserve.


The event was also an opportunity for newcomers, such as Ramona’s Carrie and Tobias Panek of Three Hills Winery, to showcase their talent. While their winery is not yet open to the public, the couple won gold for their 2018 Estate PicPoul Blanc.


Award winners in the double gold and gold categories also included Vineyard Grant James, Barrel 1 Winery, Farquar Family Winery, Mahogany Mountain Vineyard and Winery, Milagro Winery, Hatfield Creek Vineyards & Winery, La Finquita Winery & Vineyard, Old Julian Vineyards, Ramona Ranch Winery, Highland Hills Winery, Pamo Valley Winery and Crystal Hill Vineyard.


"We are pleased to see the increased interest in this competition, which shows the growth of the San Diego County wineries and their contribution to the local economies,” said Don Bartik, competition chairperson. "I’d also like to express my appreciation to the Ramona Mainstage for providing a great venue for our wineries to receive recognition.”


Wineries are one asset San Diego County’s rural communities can use to their advantage.


Residents can spend an afternoon enjoying any number of award-winning varietals right in their own backyard. And for visitors, the combination of wine, art, food and lodging under the dark skies of the backcountry couldn’t be more convenient.

This story was originally published in the July 11, 2019 issue of the Ramona Home Journal.