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Award-winning wines made in Ventura Co.

August 21, 2009 5:14:22 AM PDT
A trip to California's wine country is just a short drive away, and you don't have to drive to Napa. There are several wineries making award-winning wines in Ventura County.Wine tasting tours are not unusual in wine country, but not many think of them being in Ventura County, too. It may not be the first place you think of when it comes to winemaking.

"The quality of the wine comes from the vineyard," said John Whitman from Old Creek Ranch. "The style of the wine comes from the winemaker."

The people of the Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau hope to change that. They've organized wine trail tours as a way to bring tourism to the area and boost the local economy.

Old Creek Ranch has one of the oldest wineries in the county. It's run by John Whitman and his family. The bottle labels show the family history, and the wine today would make them proud. It's won a number of awards.

"We tend to try and make a little more esoteric wines, though we do have the Bordeaux's and Burgundian wines," said Whitman. "But we're moving into Southern France and Spanish wines, and certainly Italian wines, and we're showing great success with them."

In downtown Ojai, under magnificent Spanish columns, there's another interesting find -- Casa Barranca. There, it's all about organic wines and winemaking techniques the way they used to be.

"We could call this Old World winemaking as well," said Ryan Elliot from Casa Barranca. "This is simply the fruit, and we try to buy the best, high-quality organic fruit to make our wines."

And then there is Herzog Wineries. Everything there is grand, from the elegant tasting bar to the restaurant. It's the largest winery in the county, with just as large of a family history.

"I'm actually the youngest of the eighth generation in the family in the wine business," said Joseph Herzog from Herzog Wine Cellars. "So it's actually five generations back in Europe, three generations here in the states."

They produce thousands of bottles of wines a day, and they are all kosher. The wines are world-class with the awards to show for it.

"People remember kosher being sweet," said Herzog. "That's history. Today you can get kosher wine, any kosher wine, produced in California."

And from the quite large to the quite small, Rancho Ventavo Cellars in Oxnard is a husband and wife team. They produce artisan wines in small quantities. If you like red wines, this is the place for you. They only make red wine, and it's truly a labor of love.

"I go get the grapes, so I get up at o'dark-thirty in the morning," said Faye Hawes from Rancho Ventavo Cellars. "Hook up the trailer and the truck, go up to the vineyard. Get there about 8, 9 in the morning. It's beautiful."

The interesting thing about this tour is that each winery is unique. Each has its own personality, if you will. But the one thing they all have in common is that the people involved all love the art of winemaking.

"When people come wine tasting, it's because they want to. It's not because they're being forced to," said Hawes. "So when they visit your tasting room, and they taste your product, they're happy."

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