It’s nearly spring and you may be hankering for a safe and fun happy hour in a beautiful outdoor space. San Diego has plenty of sweet spots – all socially distanced and safe places to hang out with friends. The Rancho Bernardo Winery in San Diego has become one of my favorites in north county and not enough people know about it!

Many visit the area to golf, take to the hiking trails or stay at the luxurious Rancho Bernardo Inn for a weekend getaway. A friend worked for Boeing when they had a facility in the north county area. He went to many gracious events at the Inn but he never knew about the winery, a stone’s throw away. The Bernardo Winery in San Diego is set between homes in a neighborhood of wide, winding lanes.  It’s too easy to miss!

Bernardo Winery Oro di Bernardo on the tasting room patio.

Bernardo Winery Oro di Bernardo on the tasting room patio.

Perfect Happy Hour Reunion Spot

My first happy hour reunion in a year was a rendezvous at the historic Bernardo Winery in San Diego. On the tasting room patio, we sat across from each other under the awning with a bottle of their dry, Oro di Bernardo, a sparkling varietal, between us. Not big tipplers and on a budget, we noticed it was $10 per flute or $25 per bottle. I ended up taking half of it home.

Conversation, sunshine, and a loaf of Sicilian-style bread for dipping in winery vinegar and olive oil, made it a perfect afternoon stop. If sparkling isn’t your thing, the Winery also specializes in regional varietals such as Petite Syrah, Syrah, Sangiovese, Albarino, Viognier and Zinfandel.

Most wineries in the region have built new tasting rooms with stylish architecture and cavernous spaces. The Bernardo Winery in San Diego is authentic.  The pathways decorated by barrels, and a jumble of old machinery and iron works burnished by the years have always charmed me. A decade ago, I attended networking events in the outdoor space and walked through when my parents were living a mile away. Only recently did I take time to poke around in the shops or sit and enjoy the setting. Now, I make sure to bring uninitiated family back for the comfortable tasting room and to wander the shops, cafe, coffee shop, and a small row of service vendors.

Bernardo Winery Nights Are Back

The Bernardo Winery in San Diego – California’s Longest Continuously Running Winery.

In the 1800’s the property was originally part of a Spanish Land Grant. Five Sicilian partners acquired the rolling hillside and began planting vineyards. By 1899 they were bottling wine. In 1937, while on a hunting trip in the tall sagebrush of North county San Diego, Vincent Rizzo came across the large production winery for sale. Even with Prohibition looming, he pictured a future family business. Vincent diversified quickly by pressing olive oil from trees on the property and sold that to the burgeoning San Diego Tuna canning industry. He also counted the local Catholic Church as a customer by furnishing them with sacramental wine. Legend has it that he sold the priests ’grape juice’ that fermented by the time it reached the dusty old Highway 395.

The Bernardo Winery Vineyard in winter

The Bernardo Winery Vineyard in winter

Vincent was a good businessman. Today the third generation of the Rizzo family has kept that entrepreneurial skill alive by selling food boxes, take out meals and home made pasta with their wines, of course, during the pandemic. Luckily, now the Mediterranean gardens, lush vineyards and home-style atmosphere are open again for all to visit. They’ve even re-started their night dining al fresco and by reservation.

On the north side of the property, the century-old building that once was the tractor barn has been updated into a modern wine-making facility. Another mark of this winery in San Diego is how the family has incorporated ancestral wine-making practices with modern technology, enological, and viticulture practices.

Don’t Miss the Mud Wagon in the History Museum

The Rancho Bernardo History Museum is closed at this writing but packed with local lore. I peeked inside to see a beautiful carriage. It’s a Mud Wagon! Between 1872 – 1912 mud wagons were an essential link between the back country and the growing coastal communities.

I was looking at a working recreation that, in better times, stars in local parades and festivals. The full-size wagon took two years, over 2,000 loving volunteer hours, and a Neighborhood Reinvestment Program Grant from the County of San Diego to build. Efforts were overseen by Master Wainwright, Phil Ewing.

Mud Wagon inside the Rancho Bernardo History Museum at the winery.

Originally Mud Wagons were part of the Escondido to San Diego Stage Line. The eight hour, one-way trip cost $1-2. That included lunch at the 20-mile house named for its location 20 miles from San Diego and 20 miles from Escondido. The journey took eight to ten passengers three days to complete!

I can just imagine a bumpy ride full of problems for passengers. Winds often plagued the mountain trails, rocked the wagons, overturned mail bags and even threw passengers out. Still, the wagons were compact and the easiest way to manage the hilly and rocky terrain. And so it went until 1912 when the stage line was discontinued. Shiny, new automobiles made mail delivery easier and more dependable.

When the museum reopens, I look forward to stepping up into the Mud Wagon’s driver’s seat to fantasize about driving a team of horses across the county.

Authentic winery machinery on the grounds

Authentic winery machinery on the grounds

If you Go:

  • Watch for the modest sign signaling the entrance. Roll in and you’ll find ample space for parking and even room for school buses.
  • Make time to visit the small vineyard with its historic windmill. A trail runs around the perimeter.  It’s a short walk and lovely to imagine the family harvesting grapes here.
  • Check out more about local history along the old San Diego highways at Hidden San Diego.
  • Pets are not allowed on the grounds
  • Extend your winery visits to Temecula in this earlier post.

Location of the Bernardo Winery in San Diego

The winery is located in North County San Diego, in the town of Rancho Bernardo. It’s a short drive off the 15 freeway. Nearby Hotels include the Rancho Bernardo Inn and Hilton Garden. Allow thirty minutes for the drive from the San Diego Airport.

13330 Paseo Del Verano, San Diego, CA 92128

Wednesday through Sunday Hours: 11am – 6pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday