When Tom and Audrey Cassidy set out in the late 1990s to find the flattest and most affordable piece of land for sale in San Diego County, little did they know that a 16.8-acre plot in Ramona would be the perfect location for their future winery.
As an avid polo player, Tom was eager to build his own field. And with a background in estate landscaping, he had all the skills to shape the land just as he wanted.
Shortly after purchasing the property in 1999, the family was given a number of Merlot grapevines in exchange for a horse. At that time, local winemaker John Schwaesdall of Schwaesdall Winery was the only person using their grapes for making wine.
When personal reasons caused Tom to put aside playing polo on their fields, he wondered if they might be able to put their efforts toward grape growing on a greater scale.
As Audrey tells it, he said, “I’m not gonna do that anymore. I know grapes grow well here. I’m going to call my dad, and if he wants to make wine, he can.”
In 2005, they began planting Cabernet, Tempranillo and Muscat vines, and their first wines were produced in 2011.
Robert Garland, the primary winemaker at Barrel 1 — who is also Tom’s stepfather — had an inkling that something beyond Ramona’s ideal grape-growing climate was yielding such high-quality fruit.
As a nuclear physicist, he used his scientific skills to dig a little deeper and was surprised by what he found. Unbeknownst to them, their land was made up of volcanic soil eroded from two ancient volcanoes on the hills behind the property.
His discovery reinforced the truth that good wine has as much to do with the terroir as it does with those who craft it.
As for the winemakers, Audrey says, “We are straightforward, 100 percent traditional winemaking.” She explains that the combination of Tom’s 20-plus-years of experience in the care and maintenance of plants, Garland’s winemaking expertise and her taste in determining when the wine is ready to bottle allow them to produce wine that has won multiple awards in local competitions.
She explains that because they use their estate grapes exclusively, they are able to precisely control the quality of what they produce.
“We are stewards of the wine,” she says.
Barrel 1 wines are aged in oak barrels, a fruit-forward practice that the family equates with letting the grapes sit with the skins longer than other winemakers may. In addition, their grapes are grown without pesticides.
Barrel 1 Winery also offers some hand-bottled wines, which take longer to produce, but feature an even deeper richness than some of their already robust offerings.
As the person in the trio who solely performs the hand-bottling, Audrey says, “It’s the love put into it.”
In the coming months, the Cassidys will release their 2015 Muscat and Merlot — visit barrel1.com for updates.
Whether visitors are returning customers or first-time guests, Audrey hopes that everyone who stops at the winery will feel a sense of calm when they sip their wine and enjoy the outdoor tasting room.
“When they’re here, I want them to just come in, feel welcome and relaxed, and enjoy the wonderful estate wines that we produce,” she says. “(I want you to) feel like you’re visiting old friends.”
She says that during COVID, many people found that spending time at the winery has been therapeutic.
“Take a minute and relax — people don’t do that as much as they need to.”
1007 Magnolia Ave., Ramona CA 92065
Hours: Saturday & Sunday 12-5 p.m.