by | Dec 19, 2020 | Winemakers | 0 comments

are  the wines that are named after constellations that neighboring vineyards should look up to

My quest to explore more South County California AVAs led me to the city of Romona. I’m very familiar with North and Central Coast winegrowing regions in California, but San Diego and its surrounding areas are relatively untapped. In our state,  most wine production is firmly rooted and well known toward the north half section of the state. However, the rising cost in this area’s real estate translates to saturated regions with soaring prices. As a result, the growth of vineyards is spreading South at record speeds. So much that the vine is stretching across the border into Baja Mexico. Yet with emerging wine regions, finding an identity is more than half the struggle. Who has ever thought to journey for a weekend of wine tasting to Julian or  Romona? Conveniently, neighbors, I have invariably wanted to visit both for some time. 

Read my full write-up on our trip about What to do in Julian California.
However, the purpose of this article is to give a justified review of the BEST winery to date coming from these two AVAs.

Grant James Vineyard are the wines that are named after constellations that neighboring vineyards should look up to. Each wine is meticulously crafted and immortally named after constellations. If you haven’t heard of the Romona wine region you’re not alone, and owners/hosts Jacques? and Susanne Sapier are changing all that. You may have heard of the overcrowded Bachelorette party area Temecula, but check out neighboring Ramona for eccentric wines. The region was once known in the Gold Rush era for the “Salt Mine” now it’s a sea of aspiring wine grape growers. 

 Affectionately, the winery is named after Susanne’s son, Grant James. If any of you need further reason to commit to visiting, Travel & Leisure Magazine named Grant James Vineyard one of the top wineries in the US.

Mom really wanted to own a vineyard and make wine. In 2009 she knighted Grant to deliver on her vision. Applying his knowledge of agriculture and adoration for Mama, he constructed the fruition of the vineyards and property. Wow! That’s  A LOT of labor and progressive thinking. . 2013 is when they put The  Romona AVA on the map.

We had the most extraordinary chance to taste all of the wines on their menu. But the two wines reviewed here are of special mention because they were gifted to me by The Matriarch Susanne!. I was very honored and had to shine a light on them. Gabrielle Sherman, the wine club manager was an exceptional hospitable host. Others were seen enjoying the lovely patio overlooking panoramic views of their vineyards and Ramona Valley. Despite how expansive the outdoor tasting area is, they managed to make it feel like an outdoor living room. You really get the sense, pandemic aside, Grant James really cares. Not only about what goes into the bottle but what type of impression they want their tasters to walk away with. They are the true class act!  

Walker (aka the Matradie) and Dante ( aka Boss Man,) are the official winery dogs and pest management.



The color is medium gold, with no green reflections with tartrate deposits.

(TARTRATES: I noticed this wine had tartrate crystals. In the wine industry, we call them affectionately “Wine Diamonds”. This sometimes happens in two ways. When the wine is unstable and exposed to cooler temperatures than it can tolerate or not overly filtered. Tartaric acid is naturally found in grapes. In the winemaking process, it binds to potassium forming these diamonds in cold temperatures. It is really the equivalent of cream of tartar. They are completely harmless to consumption. Some wine connoisseurs see that as a sign of quality, indicating it was not overly manipulated. Though in this case, I’m not sure what the winemaker was after. If you like your wine with a little fewer graphics, just filter the wine through a muslin cloth.)  

On the nose, the intensity is medium plus with notes of ripe Meyer lemons, orange oil, bruised stone fruit, banana peel, fleshy kiwi core, floral scents of honeysuckle, vanilla yogurt dusted with nutmeg, and hints of nuts. It’s developed.

On the palate it’ dry, medium- acid, high alcohol, medium-plus body, medium-plus intensity, with primary flavors of ripe citrus fruit, bruised stone fruit, undertones of tropical nuances, such as fleshy guava, and mango nectar, the essence of orange oil, followed by beeswax and clover honey. Lanolin texture finishes medium.

This is a good solid wine. The fruit is sweetly overripe and carries the weight of the body blanketing the mouth with a thin coat of wax and citrus oil. The mid-palate is a bit hollow with flavors and acid to give it structure for longevity. Tones remain neutral throughout the finish, lacking length. 

Overall it’s easy to drink pleasant and pretty. Marsanne is a difficult grape to get right in a hot climate such as Romona. It’s very aromatic, and typically lower in acid by nature with thick skin, compared to other white varieties. The varietal is indigenous to Northern Rhone Valley in France. It’s usually blended with its partner in crime Roussanne. However, like the Viognier grape, it benefits from slow ripening, cooler climates to allow it to slowly develop a balance of flavors and acid. In hotter climates, the wine will be too heavy and lose its acidity. This is the reason why Marsanne is more widely planted in the north half of Rhone as opposed to Roussanne. Roussanne can tolerate the hotter climate in the  Southern half of the Rhone Valley. Marsanne just drowns it’s characteristics here, losing flavors, becoming too heavy on the palate, rising to high alcohol levels, and losing delicate acid.


The color is a deep ruby, with slow nonstaining tears, a deep ruby core fading to a magenta rim. On the Nose is a pronounced intensity. Dominated with notes of stewed black cherries and prunes. Chocolate dipped bing cherries, cherry cough syrup, wet saddlebags, and pungent spices.

On the palate dry, medium acid, medium tannins, full-body, high alcohol, velvet textures, high intensity with the same flavors following the nose with a long burnt bitter coffee barnyard finish.

 This is an ok wine. The issue is the grape varietal, Nebbiolo, attached to this bottle. If I were to be blind tasted on this wine, I would swear it’s a typical Zinfandel from anywhere in California, not Nebbiolo!  I’m not sure if this was deliberately executed by the winemaker, but I detected Brettanomyces in the wine, but not corked.

BRETTANOMYCES: or simply BRETT if you want to be cool. It is a yeast that happens naturally on grapes but if not killed off soon, it can become a problem in the winery. It will spread like wildfire, contaminating everything including wines in barrels. However, in small concentrations, it can complement certain wines. Most notably bold grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. Though in delicate grapes such as Pinot Noirs and Nebbiolo, it can be overpowering against their perfumes. Some would say the wine is corked.

This is my short and sweet description of a typical Nebbiolo. First off this grape is native to the Piemonte wine region in northwestern Italia. Second, out of the thousands of varieties coming out of the country, it’s not widely planted. Therefore it also doesn’t like to travel well outside of Italia, let alone its home in Piemonte. This grape is made into the most sought after wines in the world, Barolo and Barbaresco. These wines can compete even with the best of the Burgundy Romanee Conti, and even the Bordeaux Château Latour. 

The grape needs a very cool climate with good sunlight to develop its profile of bright fresh cherries, fresh earthy potted soil, terra cotta pots, tar, and roses. The acid is high and the high tannins will wipe your tongue off the floor. In the glass, the color is a pale ruby usually with a brick-colored rim that deepens over time. It can age for decades. This is the most gorgeous wine varietal on earth!

There are many wine producers who like this grape, it’s perfumed, high in acid, and super high tannins. However, I have a problem with winemakers who don’t respect grape varieties that ought to be left in their native style for what they are justly admired for. Before a winemaker begins to plant and make what they like, understanding first the grape type is most essential: the soil it can be planted on, the climate, the amount of direct sunlight per day, when to harvest, how it should be vinified and aged. For example, Chardonnay is a neutral type of grape that is extremely versatile. That is, the grape is expressed by the external factors it’s exposed to; such as climate and wine-making techniques. It’s the very reason you’d have a hard time throwing a rock and not finding a vineyard on the globe planted to it. However, A grape-like Nebbiolo is not so versatile. It’s a grape either best left in its homeland or left to its pure characteristic. 

All I know is  I ADORE Nebbiolo and disappointedly this is not Nebbiolo I know it to be. The truth is, this is a pleasant wine to drink. However, since this a genuine review, I had to be honest about its true persona.  But that’s only one person’s opinion. I’d like to inspire anyone to explore unfamiliar wine regions. Grant James Vineyard in Ramona, California is worth the visit. They make stable wines that will draw your taste buds for more. Expect to see their wines recognizable on the international market going forward. GRANT JAMES VINEYARD is here to stay! 

By the way… Walker (aka the Matradie) and Dante ( aka Boss Man,) are the official winery doggie mascots and pest management. Whatever your thoughts are about the wines, these guys will lure you back with their sheer charm alone. 

Ciao! Hope you enjoyed my article, please comment below Love your feedback.
Thank you and remember Taste Small Live Big!
Follow me on Instagram @epicurean.angel

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