• Fig Cookies
  • Nina's Yummy Food
  • Grapevines and Olive Branches
  • Italian Cookbook
  • Pumpkin Mint
  • too pretty to eat

The Bernardo Winery

Long ago, in a valley in North San Diego County, a group of Sicilian partners started one of the most beautiful little wineries in the country. In 1889 Bernardo Winery first opened its doors, making it one of the oldest operating wineries in California. The Winery’s heritage stands as a testament to the dedication and loyalty of our family, and as a monument to older and more traditional ways. Now, in our 124th year, we continue to dedicate ourselves to the traditions that have carried us this far. Today, the Bernardo Winery is a small boutique wine producer set in a more urban backdrop. We set ourselves apart by making fine wines that are regionally loyal. We use traditional methods that were perfected on this land more than a century ago. Our rich legacy of winemaking started with my grandfather, who passed it down to my father. A century ago, however, wine was produced in an old-world, California style from grapes that were well suited to Southern California terrain. Varietals, such as Muscat and Tokay, were prevalent here and rewarded us with fine, fortified wines that have withstood the test of time. Almost 400 acres of vineyards surrounded the Winery back in the day. Bernardo Winery was once the largest wine producer in Southern California. The founders of Bernardo Winery saw an opportunity to make fine wine commercially in an area that was replete with richly traditional Sicilian and Portuguese enclaves. Back then, winemaking was as varied as the San Diego landscape, and enthusiasts made wine in their basements and garages. The city of San Diego covered far less area than it does today; a short 25 miles north of the city center was extremely rural. The Bernardo Winery was, truly, off the beaten path. It was part of the city of Escondido and a stop-off point on Highway 395 for people traveling between San Diego and Los Angeles. Bernardo Winery was also the local San Diegan’s source for wine, brandy, and fortified wines year round, and for the fresh grapes that so many Sicilians used in the early fall to make homemade wine. Another large part of our production back then included brandy. Many wineries needed brandy to fortify their products. Because of the cost of shipping, the limited number of grapes, and the small supply of stills, Bernardo Winery flourished as a brandy producer. One large-pot still produced enough brandy to fortify a few thousand gallons of wine each season. Wine was fortified as a way of preserving it, which meant that aging the wine was a simple decision: Make what you need right now, and save the rest. This concept was common among those of us who lived a rural lifestyle. The same idea extended to fruits, jams, preserves, and meats. Today, the Winery would be nothing without its family heritage. My grandfather bought the Winery from its founding partners in the middle of Prohibition. The Eighteenth Amendment   made all winery prices plummet, for obvious reasons. But thanks to my savvy grandfather, the Bernardo Winery survived and even thrived through and after Prohibition. The wine and olive oil production my grandfather started kept the Winery viable and prosperous. The Bernardo Winery of the past gave birth to the strong traditions we still practice today: food and wine are life. We are proud of the fact that our family’s dedication to food and wine over the years wasn’t just a fad—it was real life. We grew vegetables, fruits, and grapes for wine and the table. We used seasonal ingredients. We obeyed the solar clock and the agricultural timeline. Our Winery depended on the land—and on the people to properly utilize it. I never met my grandfather, but when I work on this 124-year-old Winery, I feel as if I work with him every day. The same applies to my father, whom I miss and loved dearly. My father taught me how the Winery worked: from the antique farm equipment that he once used daily to the redwood wine storage tanks to the rich production mechanics he used to produce thousands of gallons of wine. My aunt Nina connected the family’s history through the kitchen. Our family gathered for dinners on Thursday nights and enjoyed some of the best home-grown cooking ever. Dishes were traditional and focused on what the Winery had to offer in that season. These dinners were beautiful, and I know my aunt enjoys sharing it all with you. My mother added something to the mix that I continue to respect. She taught me that there may be traditional ways, but that it’s okay to pick them up, master them, and execute them in my own style. I have always appreciated that aspect of our family history. I don’t expect to make wine the way my father did, but I will always use his techniques and cite his training and experiences. My mother showed me that life is about learning from the best, making things your own, and never losing sight of your heritage. —Ross Rizzo, Jr. Third Generation Owner & Winemaker Bernardo Winery – 2014

Where to buy the book:

Available in Costco spring of 2015!