After eight years of growing herbs, lavenders and tomatoes in the hills of the Rainbow Valley, Jim and Judi Brady have re-invented their farm as a boutique winery — and with astonishing results.
Today, as owners of the tiny but respected Roadrunner Ridge Winery a few miles south of their Murrieta home, the Bradys christened the place after the long-legged cuckoo birds populating the property, so fearless they skitter across the couple’s feet. Judi, 67, is the vineyard manager. Jim, 71, is the winemaker. Because the 1,500-elevation is too steep for a tractor, the Bradys hand-terraced with a shovel and rake, clearing rocks and pulling stumps to tame the rugged terrain and breathe life into a vineyard.
“All done with hard work and red wine,” Judi quipped.
These 4 1/2 acres are home to 3,500 vines of 12 mostly Southern Rhone-style varietals, part of the boutique production movement that’s juicing the U.S. wine industry. Half of the wineries in North America are making less than 15,000 cases per year and todayâs more sophisticated connoisseurs are seeking out limited, obscure labels, according to the Wines & Vines Annual Directory.
Last June Roadrunner Ridge won a gold metal at the Orange County Fair commercial wine competition for the Bradyâs 2011 Redemption red blend of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel and a bronze for their 2011 Zintastic Zinfandel. Slowly building a following, Roadrunnerâs customers include D’Canters Wine Bar & Grill in Wildomar, Temecula Valley Cheese Company and Wine on a Dime in Temecula.
Chris Kern, who carries some of Roadrunner’s products at his Riverside store Forgotten Grapes, calls the winery one of the best in the region. “I’m a big supporter of the Bradys,” he said. “They know what they are doing when it comes to Southern California wine making.” Kern sold out of Roadrunners 2011 Rapture, a blend of Barbera, Mouvedre and Tempranillo grapes.
In 1999 the Bradys paid less than $100,000 for the 822-square-foot mobile home that was in foreclosure on nine acres at 4233 Rosa Rancho Lane. When San Diego County kept rejecting the couple’s home improvement plans, the couple decided to grow herbs and lavender and sell related products, such as soaps and lotions.
Anointed Rusty Acres Herb Farm, the twisty premises attracted thousands of visitors to its annual fall heirloom tomato festival and annual summer lavender festival in 2003 through 2006.
Then abruptly, the farm was kaput. âIt was like somebody came along and said, âyouâre done!ââ said Judi. When wildfire swept though Fallbrook in 2007, the government agency FEMA ordered road closures throughout the area. The blockade choked off water and electricity for six days to Rusty Acres, destroying the coupleâs nursery stock.
But the surprising hanger-on was the one Petite Sirah offshoot from a vineyard in Paso Robles that Jim planted in 2003 “to look cute,” Judi said. “But it kept producing.”
Four years later, as therapy during his recovery from esophageal cancer surgery, Jim dug holes next to their chicken coop, planting 80 cuttings. “We had no idea what we were doing,” Judi said. “But 90 percent took root and grew.”
So the Bradys decided to morph from farmers to vintners. “There were only so many herbs we could eat,” Judi joked about Rusty Acres. “We were always passionate about wine.” More than 20 years ago, Jim founded the Cork and Bottle Society in Orange County and the couple enjoyed making wine at home.
They discovered that the locationâs warm days and cool nights were ideal for handcrafting premium wines. Following an increasing popular viticulture model in California, the Bradys planted the vines close together to create competition. The couple also trellised them low to take advantage of the radiant heat from the ground. The rocky clay soil retains the water and nourishes the vines with natural nutrients, creating intense small clusters of grapes with thick skins. Investing about $80,000 in equipment, the Bradys converted the greenhouses into production and storage facilities, temperature controlled at 55-degrees Fahrenheit.
In vintner lingo, Roadrunner Ridge is a nano-winery, one that produces fewer than 500 cases a year. Itâs a mom-and-pop operation, with the Bradys doing everything themselves, including bottling and labeling. In 2013 they turned out 400 cases of wine, well below Roadrunner’s goal and capacity of 700 cases a year — and all from uncommon varietals. The whites start at $25 a bottle, comprised of Picpoul Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Rousanne. The reds, beginning at $28 a bottle, feature Mourvedre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
Two years ago the Bradys remodeled the gift shop after Jim built a 14-foot bar to create a public tasting room. Reservations are by appointment only by calling 760-731-7349.
I first met Jim and Judi Brady about four years ago in the rustic tasting room of their Roadrunner Ridge Winery in Rainbow. At that time, they were for all intents and purposes brand new, with just two vintages under their belt. Located on the former site of Rusty Acres Herb Farm, they had grown herbs and lavender until wildfire swept through, blocking access to their property. With no access, they were unable to water and without water, they lost everything. In 2007, Jim, a former home winemaker, thought he’d play around with a little vineyard, planting cuttings from a single Syrah vine. Those cuttings on the “Chicken Ranch” vineyard thrived, so they ordered some “real” vines from a nursery. Today they have nearly 4,000 vines on four and a half acres. From 25 cases produced in 2009, they expect to have almost 500 cases of the 2013 vintage. Growth is slow on purpose. It has taken time to establish their name and their reputation.
“We make wine we like, because we might have to drink it” explained Judi, who serves as vineyard manager and assistant winemaker. It’s advice they took to heart from Wes Hagen from Clos Pepe Winery. He told them early on to only grow and produce what they really like. Wine is really hard to sell if you’re not passionate about it, he explained. She follows Jim around to make sure he doesn’t miss any steps. Jim and Judi were both home winemakers when they met 37 years ago. They recall buying grapes from Joe Hart in the mid ’70s before he had a bonded winery. But “when you get involved with something it mushrooms” said Judi. In 1993 they met again through a wine tasting group. Both were divorced.
In addition to the first Syrah cuttings, they have added Mourvedre, Shiraz, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Petit Verdot and all five white Rhône varietals: Rousanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc. They blend all five whites together into what they call their Cinq Blanc. They love what they call the “crazy” blends from Paso Robles and have come up with a few of their own. PMS is a blend of Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Syrah. Renegade is a blend of Zinfandel, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah. Petite Shirazin combines Petite Sirah, Shiraz and Zinfandel. Jim says he likes big, bold, extracted red wines and doesn’t want to waste a drop of his precious juice on rosé. They say the rocky red clay soil allows them to cut back on watering, and the morning fog and temperatures about 10 degrees cooler than Temecula make it ideal for growing grapes. They enjoy a spectacular panoramic view, but they admit they have to remember to look at it.
This year marks the fifth year they are participating in thePechanga Wine Festival slated for February 28th. They like the fact that most of the attendees are locals who aren’t aware there are wineries in San Diego County and just how close Roadrunner Ridge is. Most of the people who stop by for a taste know wine, so they don’t need to educate them. Judi says “the whole thing is top rate.” They cite the service, food and live music. Nearly 100 wineries not only from around the state, but from around the world will be pouring.
If you’d like to visit Roadrunner Ridge, Jim and Judi are there nearly every day. They just ask that you give them a day’s notice because if they don’t know you’re coming they might not see or hear you. Their wine club is at about 35 members now. Shipments are four bottles twice a year with pickup parties in the spring and fall. Members enjoy live music and food at no cost. If you can’t make it to the winery, you can find their wines at Temecula Valley Cheese Company, D’Canters and Wine On A Dime. Roadrunner Ridge is located at 4223 Rosa Rancho Lane in Rainbow. Put in Fallbrook if you’re relying on your GPS. Give them a call at (760) 731-7349. I tasted seven of their 15 wines and was more than impressed. The wines were good when I visited four years ago. They are much better now.
“It was like somebody came along and said ‘you’re done’.” When wildfire swept through Fallbrook in 2007, Jim and Judi Brady’s Rusty Acres Herb Farm was destroyed. Husband and wife had both been home winemakers for more than 30 years and in the back of their minds they had been toying with the idea of planting grapes. They planted one Petite Sirah vine in 2003 to see how it would do. It did quite well. After the fire, they planted 3500 vines on four and a half acres and opened Roadrunner Ridge Winery.
Today they have a tasting room open by appointment, where they’ll be happy to sit down and talk wine with you while they pour you their offerings. Judi started me with their white Rhône blend; primarily Viognier, it also features Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Rousanne and Marsanne. The wine had a lovely straw color, a beautiful nose that became more prominent as the wine warmed up, and it tasted delicious.
Roadrunner Ridge is the epitome of a mom and pop operation. Jim and Judi do everything themselves. Although bringing in help to harvest would likely be much more efficient, they have a certain way of sorting grapes that would be too time consuming to explain to anyone else. Jim is the winemaker and Judi is the vineyard manager. They pick and sort 750 pounds of grapes per day. They chill the first 750 pounds and when the next day’s pick is done they crush two days worth of harvest together.
Judi’s journey into winemaking dates back to getting grapes from Joe Hart before Hart Winery was bonded. She says “after 30 something years of tasting commercial wines, I think I can tell good from bad.” Jim simply says, “Go big or go home.”
The name Roadrunner Ridge came because of the vast number of roadrunners that populate the property. They love grapes, and jump up to grab a berry or two. They’re so unafraid of people that Jim says it’s not uncommon for them to run across his feet.
The wines they produce carry unique names: Petite Shrazin, Rapture, Zintastic, Renegade and PMS. The Bradys are fans of wines from Paso Robles and noticed that several wineries there have come up with unusual names for their wines so they decided they might as well have a little fun, too. Petite Shrazin is a blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah and Zinfandel. Rapture is a Barbera, Mourvedre and Tempranillo blend. Zintastic is a Zinfandel and Petite Sirah blend, Renegade features Zinfandel, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah while PMS is a blend of Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Syrah. They poured me a taste of Blue Petite, a blend of 20% estate grown blueberries with Petite Sirah. The nose is absolutely heavenly.
After our tasting, Jim and I hopped in the Gator and drove to the top of the property to visit the cellars for a bit of tank tasting. One visit makes it clear how serious they take their winemaking and how passionate they are about it. Tank tasting allows you a brief glimpse into the future and there are some exciting wines coming from Roadrunner Ridge.
“Everything’s handmade,” says Judi. We stay as green as possible. Handcrafted, small, custom lots. If it’s not good, we’re not going to release it.” They belong to the Orange County Wine Society, where Jim founded the Cork & Bottle Society over 20 years ago. They’re also members of the San Diego and Temecula amateur wine groups. They have developed a following from pouring their wines at the various societies and now you can find Roadrunner Ridge Wines at Viva Vino, Temecula House of Wine and the Temecula Valley Cheese Company and at D’Canters in Wildomar.
The 3500 vines planted comprise 12 varietals: with Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Rousanne making up the whites and Mourvedre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Malbec and Petit Verdot rounding out the reds. They produced 50 cases in 2010, 130 cases in 2011 and hope to reach a maximum of 600 – 700 cases annually. They figure that’s the most they can do realistically between the two of them.
Jim and Judi will be quite visible in the days to come. They’re doing a winemaker dinner at D’Canters in April. There’s a new release and pick up party free for members of the Cuvée Club on April 22nd. The Brady’s invite you to walk through the vineyards, enjoy small bites to compliment the wines and keep an eye out for roadrunners. Non-members are welcome to attend for $15 per person. On May 6 they’ll be pouring their wines at Vintage Alpine at Summers Past Farms in Alpine.
My recommendation is that you give them a call and make an appointment to visit them at Roadrunner Ridge. Sit back and enjoy these fine wines and a good visit with Jim and Judi.
Roadrunner Ridge Winery is located at 4233 Rosa Rancho Lane in Rainbow. If you’re using GPS you’ll need to call it Fallbrook. Give them a call at (760) 731-7349 or visit their website at www.roadrunnerridgewinery.com.
Vista CA — Now, people with a taste for eclectic fine art and a thirst for eclectic local wine can satisfy both appetites at monthly wine tastings presented by excellent local wineries at ArtBeat on Main Street Gallery and Wine Lounge, 330 Main Street, in the heart of downtown Vista. As part of the festivities, people vote for their favorite wine, with the winner incorporated into ArtBeat’s fine wine selection.
Typically the wine tastings are accompanied by live music and held on the first Saturday of each month beginning at 6 pm. The $12 ticket price includes the tasting and complimentary appetizers.
The wine tastings are the brainchild of Vistan Bill Grote, a longtime grape-grower and home winemaker whose spirits have won acclaim from associates and garnered awards at the San Diego County Fair. A member of the San Diego Amateur Winemaking Society, he had long wanted to help promote local wineries, which number more than 100 countywide.
[Chet and Diane Mankowski enjoy ArtBeat wine tasting]
Chet and Diane Mankowski enjoy ArtBeat wine tasting (courtesy photo)
On a serendipitous introduction to Art Beat, Grote says he realized, “This is precisely what a community-oriented gallery should be. Accessible, affordable and down-home Vista nice. When I saw the comfy wine lounge in the back, a light bulb went on. I knew ArtBeat would make an ideal venue to showcase the outstanding products of our local vintners.”
Grote approached ArtBeat owner Kait Matthews. In the time it takes to stomp a few grapes, they crafted a program featuring monthly wine tastings presented by diverse local wineries.
The first tasting, presented by Roadrunner Ridge Winery of Rainbow on August 1, 2015, was a huge success. “We love the ArtBeat ambiance,” said Roadrunner owners Jim and Judi Brady as they chatted with patrons, revealing the nuances of their selected wines for the tasting; six of their nearly 20 wines. At the end of the evening, the votes were tallied. Tying for first place were the 2012 Cinq Blanc (a white Rhone blend) and 2012 Redemption (Malbec, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel). Second-place honors went to the whimsically named PMS (Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Shiraz).
Grote said he was “absolutely delighted” at the turnout for the debut event. He confided, “I am not an artist, but being here has inspired me. I’m signing up to take an ArtBeat painting class. Perhaps I’ll start with the ‘Paint Your Own Wine Glass’ workshop!”
ArtBeat on Main Street co-op gallery and wine lounge is located 330 Main Street in downtown Vista. It is open Tuesday, 11:00am- 8:00pm, Wednesday–Saturday, 11:00am-9:30pm, and Sunday, Noon-4:30pm. For information, visit www.artbeatonmainstreet.com, find us on Facebook or discover Vista’s creative vibe in person. To learn about gallery partnering opportunities, including space rentals, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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