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Family-Owned Bernardo Winery Continues its Winemaking Legacy

More than a century in, this historic property in Rancho Bernardo still runs with heaps of heart and hospitality

Image Credits Vincent Knakal

Founded in what is now Rancho Bernardo in 1889, Bernardo Winery was purchased in 1927 — at the height of the Prohibition era — by forward-thinking entrepreneur Vincent Rizzo, who bided his time during the nation’s historic dry spell, selling sacramental wine to churches and supplying San Diego’s tuna-canning companies with olive oil made from trees on the property.

Following the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, Rizzo was able to realize his dream of establishing a full-scale winemaking operation using locally grown grape varietals — chardonnay, petite sirah, syrah, viognier, zinfandel — to express San Diego’s unique terroir. It’s a tradition that, like the Rizzos, has withstood the test of time.

Today, the family continues to operate the winery, both as a business and historic site. Decades after moving production to a former tractor barn on the north edge of the property, the old winery and its ancient barrels stand preserved and prominent as the centerpiece of a full-scale village that is open to the public and provides the basis for a lovely, laid-back day visit.

“Our guests are free to wander around and through the [more-than-a-century-old] winemaking facility to get a clear perspective on the rich history at Bernardo Winery,” says President and third-generation Master Vintner Ross Rizzo Jr. “It shows our guests that a winery, in its basic form, can be truly timeless, nostalgic, and classic, and about as farm-to-table, local, and sustainable as any food or spirit producer can get.”

Bernardo Winery
Bernardo Winery

Helping drive that point home is the winery’s walk-up restaurant, which serves dishes melding Sicilian and Old Californian cuisine including enduring Rizzo family pasta dishes, oven-fired pizzas, arancini (stuffed risotto balls), bruschetta, and more.

Adding even more local flavor — literally and figuratively — are the area businesses comprising the winery’s Village Shops. Coffee and espresso drinks are the specialty of Manzanita Roasting Company, while gelato, chocolates, and assorted confections await at the Bernardo Winery Sweet Shoppe. Varied forms of retail therapy are offered at The Bag Cellar, BW Candle Shop, Cotton Cottage, and home-and-garden store Olive & Cork, as well as a trio of multimedium art studios.

“I like to think of our winery as a step back in time, like you’ve entered an Italian village where you can sip wine on a patio amongst the gardens, shop from the little locally owned shops, get a dessert or an espresso, and take in the scenery,” says Marketing Director Samantha Nawrocki (née Rizzo).

Each Friday from 9am to 1pm, Bernardo Winery plays host to the Rancho Bernardo Farmer’s Market. The grounds are also home to a wealth of live entertainment, including concerts, arts-and-crafts fairs, and wine education classes. And come the holidays, locals pack in for their Holiday Nights and Breakfast with Santa events (December 13-17 and 20-23). 858.487.1866, bernardowinery.com


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