A visit to Sunshine Mountain Vineyards, San Diego

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It has been a couple months since I was granted an interview with Ed and Claire Kruger of Sunshine Mountain Vineyard in San Marcos and I was gently reminded about that great afternoon tasting and conversation, getting to know this wonderful husband and wife winemaking team, after I ran into them yesterday at a wine tasting event in North Park.

This was my time visiting the property and frankly the first time tasting their wines. See I had never even known it was there, until Becky from Small Lots Big Wines sent me a message and said that I should write and article about this great little winery in San Marcos. I was very glad to have had the chance to taste their wines and get to know them both better. They don't have a tasting room yet, and it's a shame because their winery is a garden of Eden in a sea of sameness, they've really carved out a wonderful spot on Sunshine Mountain, they take their name from the road which runs by their place.

It was a lovely day in the shade, quite warm otherwise [one of warmest weekends this past summer] but the spot near the lovely Koi pond was idyllic. In was in this great spot where I sampled their wines and got to know Ed and Claire better and hear about the wonderful winemaking going on in this rather unique spot in San Diego.

What is different about Sunshine Mountain Vineyards or any other small winery compared to many larger wineries is that they offer boutique wines that are handcrafted and are therefore unique. No huge manufacturing plants, no huge production lines, these San Diego made wines are hand crafted by local [speaking San Marcos, local] vintners. It often times begins with hand harvesting of estate grown grapes, resulting in a process which is reminiscent of artists putting the final brush strokes on the canvas. You maybe thinking well, that was flowery and perhaps a bit too poetic, okay but my thinking goes like this, if you “Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself.” ~ Paul "Bear" Bryant and I think you'll see some winning wines from Sunshine Mountain.
The Vision: After talking with Claire and Ed Kruger, the owners and proprietors of Sunshine Mountain Vineyard, I came away with a couple thoughts, they are both passionate about two things: wine and family (not necessarily in that order). What was there inspiration? After many trips to Italy on business they experienced firsthand the traditional practices of extended family, growing their own food, growing grapes, making wine on a sustainable, self-sufficient estate and the magic and romance of the yearly grape harvest which was the capstone event that propelled their ambitions and passions to become winemakers, with the desire to share this vision with not only family and friends, but the world.

The Result: Okay so you have a vision, now what? Well with some boots-on-the-ground and some good old fashion American know-how they now have a familial, sustainable, wine-centric atmosphere in the hills of sunny San Marcos. Although at the moment most of the fruit is purchased from other producers, the young vines they have planted are showing plenty of promise. So what you have in a bottle of Sunshine Mountain Vineyards wine is a dedication to producing delicious, high-quality wine [which should be every winemakers goal, of course] with the help and support of all the people that Ed and Claire have come to regard as “family” over the years.

Where to purchase click here --> Current Releases Reviewed:

2008 Estate Red Wine $18.00, weighing in at 14.1% ABV from the South Coast AVA. With a varietal makeup of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah and aged 18 months in French Oak Barrels.
My Note: A bit grapey and jammy on the nose, slightly bit of bramble, clean and bright in appearance, solid mouth feel, with kick of sweet berry flavors, but falls off a bit in the short finish, look for this to be a good food-friendly  wine. Score: 86 points.

2008 South Coast Syrah: selling for $15.00, weighing in at 13.9% ABV from the South Coast AVA the varietal makeup is 100% Syrah grapes and was aged 18 months in French oak barrels.
My Note: Clean and vivid in the glass, deliciously bright and spicy in the nose, cranberry and raspberry fruit are highlighted by pepper adn cinnamon, kinda of baked cherry pie finish, melding the toasty tight grained French Oak. Score: 88 points

2008 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: selling for $19.00 through their website and in weighing in at 14.3% ABV, from the Walla Walla Valley AVA, composed of 75% Cab. Sauv and 25% Merlot again aged 18 months in 50% new & used french oak barrels.

My Note: Made in a leaner, drier style than most Cabernets I run into, but still a nice mouth feel of blackberry and cherry flavors, with a touch of mint and tobacco. Drinking nicely now, but will improve with age. Score: 87 points.

2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc: selling for $23.00 and weighing in at 14.7% ABV from the Napa Valley AVA, specifically Atlas Peak and composed of the 100% Cabernet Franc, and slumbered gracefully [aged] in French oak barrels for a whopping 30 months before being bottled earlier this year.

My Note: Clean and bright in the glass, soft vanilla-like nuances lavished over a black fruit, plum cake, spice and cola playing together nicely, swinging on a merry-go-round of dense thick toasted notes fresh blackberry and fig, drinking nicely now. Score 88 points.

2008 Walla Walla Valley Syrah: which they are selling for $21.00 and weighing in at 14.8% ABV from the Los Collines Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley AVA and composed of 100% Syrah. Wonderfully aged for 18 months in 50% new & used french oak barrels.

My Note: Clean and bright ripe fruit on display, what I would call your potpourri of mixed dark fruit berries, wildflowers, light elegant with white pepper and vanilla accents traipsing about to the very delightful finish. Score: 90 points. Yep this was my favorite!

My Recommendation: You would be wise to give their wines a swirl and get a taste of the wonderful locally made wines being made right here in San Diego.

Full Disclosure: Yes,  I was able to sample their wines and any fee as result was waived, also I was given samples for further evaluation.

Moment of Clarity: I travel to many wineries all over the New World and have spent some time in Old World wineries as well, and there are very few places where I like every wine on the the tasting list. That's is just a fact of life for this reporter. In my opinion, for a wine reviewer to "gush" and say they like every single wine they've ever tasted is just not honest. So if you as the reader are looking for wine cheer-leaders, this is the wrong place, on the other hand if you want to get the skinny on incredibly great juice for as little as possible then stick around, there's so much more to "wine" about and new discoveries to be unearthed. Ciao!


Claire said…
Thank you Bill for the inviting write up about Sunshine Mountain Vineyard. The Walla Walla Valley Syrah is the winemakers favored bottle of our current releases as well. We hope to see you back in the spring to taste our upcoming releases including our first white wine announcement!
We are really enjoying your blog and hope to see more local San Diego Vineyard posts!
Will Eyer said…
Hey Claire,

Hey had a great time writing up the post, it's very exciting to see the number of folks who are reading this article, it's really trending in a nice direction. I'm looking forward to the spring tasting and thanks for the invitation.


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