Fruit of the vine

Ranch resident Orfila keeps his winery thriving

Not everyone can uncork a great bottle of wine and proudly see his or her name prominently displayed on the label. Rancho Santa Fe resident Ambassador Alejandro Orfila gets to do just that, having owned Orfila Winery in Escondido for the last 14 years.

"I'm very, very happy," said Orfila, 83. "More important than making money, it's a wonderful thing to contribute to San Diego being known as a place to produce first class wine, just as good as anywhere else."

Orfila, a former Argentine ambassador, runs the winery close alongside Leon Santoro, a winemaker with 30 years of experience in the wine business. A good pair, both said that the other is the reason that the winery has been so successful.

"I bought it not because of the winery but because of Leo," Orfila said of Santoro. "He is one of the best winemakers in the country and he is an extraordinary companion in this adventure."

Santoro said that the day Orfila bought the winery was one of the best.

"I was very happy, underline very," said Santoro. "We are similar but opposites in a lot of ways. He's a very bright man, very aware of what he is doing."

Time to harvest

The vineyard had its first harvest last Wednesday. For three hours they harvested the viognier grapes and then they stopped.

While the crew was anxious to harvest more, most of the grapes were still not ready yet, although you would not know by their appearance on the vine - a purple so deep it's almost blue.

"The luxury of having a small winery is that you get to pick grapes when they're ripe," said Santoro.

The winery's popular Grape Stomp was last weekend.

Santoro said it took him a while to get on board with a grape stomp, cringing at the thought of all those grapes being crushed. But grapes are brought in from another location and the resulting juice from the wooden barrels is used as fertilizer.

The Orfila Winery is a 70-acre estate that grows 40 acres of premium wine grapes, close to the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Its location put it directly in the path of the Witch Creek Fire last October. While fire threatened from three sides, the winery was lucky and only 200 vines of merlot representing about 1 percent of the vineyard were burned. All were replanted.

Since Orfila purchased and changed the name of the winery in 1994 (it was formerly the Thomas Yeager Winery), it has received more than 1,000 medals in major national and international competitions.

Last year, their Estate "Lotus" viognier took the gold medal at the International Challenge du Vin in Bordeaux, France. Other award winners include their syrah, sangiovese, pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay and zinfandel.

"We try to make the best wine and hopefully it wins a gold medal. If not," Santoro joked, "the judges don't know anything."

Foreign roots

Orfila has been a Rancho Santa Fe resident since 1989. Originally from Argentina, he grew up in a family of winemakers.



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