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Friday, March 15, 2013


Bernardo Winery in San Diego's Rancho Bernardo Neighborhood

DAY TRIP ESCAPE--It was such a gorgeous day that we turned a business trip to San Marcos into a serene and delicious day trip to Café Merlot, a indoor/outdoor restaurant on the grounds of the busy and wine active Bernardo Winery. 

If you haven’t been there you’re in for a pleasant surprise.  The sprawling grounds of the 1889 winery are in the middle of not-so-cheap red-tiled housing tracts in San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo neighborhood.  If you’re not quick to read the small sign you’ll miss the Paseo Del Verno Norte turn off from southbound Pomerado Road (The Pomerado Road nearest Lake Hodges—not the one in Scripps Ranch).  Just when you think you’re on the road to visit Aunt Maude and weird uncle Vito—there it is—hidden behind olive trees.

Remember the winery was there first because that’s hard to believe that as you drive along Paseo Del Verno Norte.

On arrival, I immediately thought of Knotts Berry Farm as a kid—before thrill rides and modernization.  Being compared to old Knotts is a good thing.

Bernardo Winery at 13330 Paseo Del Verano Norte is also a quaint commercial village now make no mistake, but the unpretentious feeling about the grounds makes it worth the half-hour drive from San Diego.

Cafe Merlot
Arriving mid-week at Café Merlot, we were seated on the outdoor patio.  Staff isn’t pushy on selling you wine.  They’re focused on making your dining experience a nice one. Menu is skewed to soups, salads and sandwiches with on premise desserts.  We tried a bit of everything and ate way too much.  Also our Groupon had expired but they accepted it—no problem. 

Price was fair for two with one mimosa (sunny day remember) even without the Groupon.

Wine tasting patio was down the block, where a flight of 5 wines is priced at $10.  Nearby is Sweet Pea, the coffee house that serves plenty of Ryan Bros. grinds and desserts. The Cafe and coffee shop offer breakfast, lunch and snack items for you to enjoy on the grounds.  My wine drinking partner liked the idea of being able to sip and shop.

At different times of the year, it may not look like your traditional winery, especially if you’re Napa or Sonoma County aficionados, but make no mistake Bernardo Winery is a full working winery, family owned for three generations producing wine in San Diego, with San Diego grapes.  Tank number six in the winery barn holds enough aging wine to fill 15,000 bottles.

The winery ( has transitioned over the years from the early production and growing style established in San Diego by the missionaries to family heritage roots by producing Italian varietals as well as Spanish and French varietals, dry climate style wines well suited for the San Diego Terrior. The tasting room is open daily (except Mondays) to sample wines.

Weddings and special events are popular
After we ate too much (portions were huge, including a dessert bread pudding that was enough for four) we decided to walked through the centuries-old buildings and wine making equipment, new and old, beautiful gardens, unique studios, galleries and shopping in our village of shops.

Just when we thought we were calorie safe, we bumped into a full, functioning candy store.
After leaving the sweet shop, we entered Icarus Studio and viewed the remarkable plein air landscapes of San Diego resident Robert Caldwell.  There were easily five landscapes we admired.  Instead we settled on attending one of his classes at the winery soon.

The Winery, Village Shops, Cafe Merlot and the entire property is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day & New Years Day.

Tasting Room
Spring/Summer Hours:
Open Monday - Friday 9am to 5pm
Saturday & Sunday 9am to 6pm
$10 for 5 tastes.

Shops & Studios
Tuesday - Sunday 10am to 5pm
The wine barn
Individual shop times may vary...

Cafe Merlot
Tuesday - Thursday 10am to 3pm
Friday - Sunday Breakfast 8:30am -1pm
Friday - Sunday Lunch 11am-3pm

Sweet Pea Coffee Shop
Open Tuesday - Sunday 8am to 4pm

Friday's Farmers Market
Friday's 9am to 12noon

The Rizzo family grows more
400 olive trees of various varieties for olive oil production including ascolano, mission, manzanilla de sevilla and sevillano.

5o hass avocado trees line the north side of the property.

2500 grape vines including red and white concord, zinfandel, syrah, merlot, cabernet franc, muscat, mission, tokay & alicante are spread around in the various lots and around the buildings.

The Winery only uses well water and runoff to irrigate our landscape and crops.

They implement only organic farming techniques reminiscent of decades ago when the lack of modern technology limited your options as a farmer. No chemical pesticides, chemical herbicides or chemical fertilizers are used on the property.

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