By Rick Riozza
Hey—I thought I was on vacation; I had no agenda, I was just going over to the local winery and taste some wine. But as soon as getting to the Belle Marie/ Chateau Dragoo property, off Interstate 15 just north of Escondido, I thought again what I always think about when coming here: I’ve got to write about this place. The winery is built upon a hill; its 3 ½ acre surroundings are lush citrus and fruit trees with gazebos and shaded picnic areas all set for scenic views and relaxation.
Belle Marie Winery and Chateau Dragoo, are located on the Escondido Wine and Culinary Campus in North Escondido along Interstate 15. The facility encompasses a 20,000 gallon winery, three tasting rooms, multiple corporate and reception venues, educational facilities, a gourmet garden and a demonstration vineyard with grape varietals from around the world. www.bellemarie.com.
I remember first coming to this winery around 2007. At that time, it was the only winery in town that sourced all their grapes from the Guadalupe Valley. Now before you vino buffs go wracking your heads trying to place where in California wine country is that valley, just know right off, it’s in Mexico—about 25 miles northeast of Ensenada—you know that town, all you Papas & Beer fans from the past.
Anyway the Valle de Guadalupe is “Baja California wine country” for sure, where now over 50 wineries and their accumulative vineyards thrive, producing premium quality wine. However, after speaking with Belle Marie winemaker Jeff, he tells me, “it’s really tough right now getting these grapes transported safely over here.” He’s of course referring to—let’s just say the “bandidos” who troll around looking for ways to confiscate commercial property of the “gringos”.
But as to the tourists, things seem to be back to normal. A trip to Guadalupe Valley wine country with some of their great wineries, such as L.A. Cetto, Monte Xanic, and the venerable Santo Tomas to visit and taste at, are just as enjoyable as the wineries up here in “Alta California”.
Now back at Belle Marie, which sources over 100 grape varietals from all over our state, including Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, and locally in Escondido wine country; they produce over 30 different wines a year. This comes from the tradition set by owner Mick Dragoo who only a few years ago would simply revel in choosing through over 51 varietals available from their vineyards in Guadalupe.
At the tasting room we met the cheerful manager Rosie Barnett as she poured a 2012 Savignon Blanc from the Sierra Foothills; a crisp but fruit forward 2012 Pinot Gris; a barrel fermented 2012 Chardonnay; a 2008 Cabernet Franc with a touch of Grenache; a 2011 Pinot Noir that was smooth and fruit-filled; a 2009 “Chateauneuf du Pape” which is their blend of Grenache and Syrah; and, a 2003 “Vintage Port” dessert wine made from late harvest Zinfandel and Tempranillo. As you can tell, a great variety of wine for tasting and purchase.
And, as I’m inclined to do at these tasting rooms, I enjoy chatting with the tasters. I met Doug and his cousin Anne who were out-and-about tasting through the Escondido wine country. As it turns out, Doug, who now lives in La Jolla, was born and went to school in Indio. And he is happy to hear of the success of the CV Weekly publication. A Belle Marie wine-club member, he comfortably went behind the bar to pose for photos with Rosie and his favorite wines.
Anne is a proud northern California “garagiste”, who along with her chemical engineer husband are making their own wine at “Chateau Huff” where their tongue-in-cheek motto is “any fool can make good wine from great grapes. Check out their website: www.chateauhuff.com.
Doug also mentioned how much fun he’s having at Belle Marie’s new “Hidden Valley Enoteca Tasting Room”, which is considered to be one of the most unique wine tasting venue’s in San Diego. Enoteca is home to several of the finest local, family-owned artisan wineries, which have joined together to offer their limited production wines. Enoteca is open at the winery property on Saturday and Sunday from 11-5. Looks like everyone is tasting everywhere on the property!
And just to distinguish between Belle Marie and the doppelgänger Chateau Dragoo, I guess the large impressive castle-looking building that houses the Escondido Wine and Culinary School is technically the “Chateau”. Also, Chateau Dragoo wines are produced in an “old world style” versus perhaps the “new world style” of Belle Marie. Again, a great variety of wines for tasting and purchase.
This place is the perfect wine and beer getaway for us CVers, where the temps are usually twenty degrees cooler. Stone Brewing Company and many fun and happy craft beer pubs and bars are right down the highway.
Belle Marie Winery & Chateau Dragoo26312 Mesa Rock Road, Escondido, CA 92026 | 760-796-7557
Rick is the somm-about-town entertaining and conducting at wine events and tastings. Contact winespectrumaol.com