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Orfila tasting room brings the flavors of wine country to downtown Oceanside

The Orfila Burger, paired with the winery’s estate syrah wine, has become a signature dish at the recently-opened tasting room in Oceanside.
The Orfila Burger, paired with the winery’s estate syrah wine, has become a signature dish at the recently opened tasting room in Oceanside.
(Howard Lipin / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

For 25 years, Orfila Vineyards and Winery has welcomed wine lovers to its bucolic, 70-acre estate in Escondido’s San Pasqual Valley.

The pretty property has played host to countless picnics, weddings, family gatherings and, of course, wine tastings, giving visitors the true feel of a day in San Diego wine country.

Now wine country has taken a second home in the city, with the January opening of the Orfila tasting room in downtown Oceanside, just steps from the Oceanside Pier and the site of two future luxury hotels. With its airy, industrial, art-filled, chic space in a new, mixed-used, upscale apartment building, Orfila is the latest venture helping to fuel that city’s economic, culinary and cultural revitalization.

The recently-opened Orfila Vineyards and Winery tasting room in downtown Oceanside has a contemporary feel.
The recently-opened Orfila Vineyards and Winery tasting room in downtown Oceanside has a contemporary feel.
(Howard Lipin / Union-Tribune)
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The urban tasting room will also introduce a new segment of people to the quality of Orfila wines. Under the capable ownership of Alejandro Orfila and leadership of winemaker Justin Mund, the winery produces about 20,000 cases of wine a year, making about two dozen single varietal and blends from Orfila estate grapes and fruit sourced from the premium growing areas of Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Oregon. Over the years, including a recent visit to the Oceanside tasting room, I’ve tried nearly all of Orfila’s wines. Every one of them has been polished, clean, well-balanced and simply delicious.

Orfila executive chef Luke Morganstern is serving up impressive food, including the ample charcuterie and artisanal cheese Ambassador Board.
Orfila executive chef Luke Morganstern is serving up impressive food, including the ample charcuterie and artisanal cheese Ambassador Board.
(Howard Lipin / Union-Tribune)

They also pair wonderfully with the food being served in the new tasting room. Orfila chef Luke Morganstern has developed an enticing menu of small and medium-sized plates to sample and share, four kinds of tortilla flatbreads, plus charcutierie and artisinal cheese boards and sweets. Suggested wines are listed for each.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon earlier this month, I met Orfila and Mund for lunch and below are some food and wine highlights. But first some background.

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Ambassador Alejandro Orfila in the Escondido winery in 2016.
Ambassador Alejandro Orfila in the Escondido winery in 2016.
(Union-Tribune file photo)

Who is Alejandro Orfila?

Alejandro Orfila, 95, built an illustrious career, from being born into one of the most prominent winemaking families in Argentina to serving as the Argentine ambassador to Japan and the United States, as well as Secretary General of the Organization of American States. In that capacity, he led the negotiations of the Panama Canal Treaty in the 1970s. In 1989, he and his wife Helga — whom he famously met in Washington, D.C., while on a date with Jackie Kennedy — moved to Rancho Santa Fe. He founded Orfila Vineyards and Winery in 1994.

Justin Mund in the vineyard in Orfila in Escondido.
Justin Mund in the vineyard in Orfila in Escondido.
(Union-Tribune file photo)

Who is Justin Mund?

Arguably one of San Diego County’s most talented winemakers, Mund is a native of Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, and studied Fruit Science at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He’s the former assistant winemaker at Laetitia Vineyards and Winery in Arroyo Grande and winemaker for Addamo Vineyards and Winery in Orcutt. Mund joined Orfila as winemaker in 2010 after the unexpected death of pioneering San Diego winemaker Leon Santoro in 2009.

Under the direction of winemaker Justin Mund, Orfila Vineyards and Winery produces some of the best wine in San Diego.
Under the direction of winemaker Justin Mund, Orfila Vineyards and Winery produces some of the best wine in San Diego.
(Howard Lipin / Union-Tribune)

What to drink

Among the 20 wines offers at Orfila’s Oceanside tasting room, nine hail from the estate’s vineyards. The range of varietals Mund excels at producing is impressive, from the aromatic and vibrant estate Lotus white Rhône-style blend to the smoky, inky estate syrah, a silky, refined Santa Maria Valley pinot noir and the lusty, yet food-friendly, Left Out, made from the ancient Northern Italian grape lagrein. While some wineries can be faulted as unfocused for producing every grape under the Southern California sun, Mund appears to revel in finding the true expression of such varied varietals as gewürtztraminer, chardonnay, montepulciano, cabernet and petite sirah. Glasses range from $10-$15; flights from $15-$25.

The crispy Brussels sprouts at Orfila’s Oceanside tasting room are among the best I’ve tasted.
The crispy Brussels sprouts at Orfila's Oceanside tasting room are among the best I've tasted.
(Howard Lipin / Union-Tribune)

What to eat

As Mund’s wines pair well with food, Morganstern’s menu is designed with wine in mind. The cheese and meat boards come with cornucopia of accompaniments, like house-made compotes, nuts, pickled vegetables, mustard, olives and Prager Brothers’ baguette slices. The crispy Brussels sprouts , with goat cheese, bacon, cranberries, almonds, garlic aioli and late harvest syrah sauce is a knockout dish that’s loaded with flavor. Other standouts are: the Mediterranean plate with hummus, olives, dolmas, feta, crispy chickpeas, lemon tahini and more; pulled pork quesadilla that gets a kick from sriracha aioli; the signature Orfila burger and any of the tortilla flatbreads. The biggest surprise was the vegan coconut cake with vegan butter coconut frosting, made from Morganstern’s mom’s recipe. It’s ultra-tender, moist, delicate and not too sweet. The homemade cookies are like a salute to Ambassador Orfila’s dual Argentine-American success stories: alfajores (South American shortbread sandwiches with dulce de leche) and peanut butter chocolate chip. Dishes $10-$15; boards $16-$24; desserts $3-$9.

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Morganstern’s vegan coconut cake is tender and moist.
Morganstern's vegan coconut cake is tender and moist.
(Howard Lipin / Union-Tribune)

Orfila Vineyards and Winery

Where: 221 N. Cleveland St., Oceanside

Phone: (760) 755-7040

Online: orfila.com/oceanside-tasting-room

Helga Orfila helped design and curate the art at the Orfila tasting room in Oceanside.
Helga Orfila helped design and curate the art at the Orfila tasting room in Oceanside.
(Howard Lipin / Union-Tribune)


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