Gathered around a small bar, with overflowing charcuterie trays and a potluck lineup of wines, Tony Ferrara humbly serves up a taste of his past. One of the few remaining bottles of Ferrara Generation III Tawny Solera port-style wine sits side-by-side with a bottle of Ferrara Christmas Port. Tony’s brother, father, and grandfather all had a hand in making Generation III; it was an investment of time begun by Gaspar Ferrara in 1932. Each year, a portion of wine was added to the barrel, and a small amount taken out and bottled, while the rest of the wine was allowed to age over time to form a dark, sweet, caramelized dessert wine. The Ferrara family tended to this port year after year, tucking the wine in a roomy barrel, in a quiet corner of the winery, making additions annually, and taking only a little to enjoy along the way.
Our company holiday party feels much like a family gathering, thanks to Mitzi and Rodger Grove’s gracious hospitality, and also to the presence of Tony Ferrara. Mr. Ferrara lives in the neighborhood near Forgotten Barrel and has been a close friend and advisor to Rodger. His first-hand accounts of the people and the practices at Ferrara Winery offer us a glimpse of the past, and deepen our appreciation of what stands before us in the present.
Tony pours a little dessert wine into my glass; I swirl, I sip, and I smile. He then tells me to eat a cookie. The little sesame-seed-covered, not-too-sweet, shortbread type cookie holds up well to the super sweet port. He brought four trays of cookies to the party, festively decorated and unbelievably soft morsels of Italian tradition, made by Tony himself. I ask him what the secret ingredient is to getting them so soft, and he smiles and with a twinkle in his eye says, “Love”.
Tony Ferrara’s connection to the homestead and winery, located at 1120 W 15th Avenue, runs deep. He grew up on the farm, shared the workload with his family, celebrated their triumphs and grieves their losses. Although the family had a long-standing successful run at winemaking, challenges to health, and changes in the wine industry, forced the inevitable end to Ferrara Winery. The hardworking spirit of our former occupants lives on in the careful and loving reconstruction of a thriving winery at this same location. Forgotten Barrel’s tasting room displays old Ferrara bottles, both empty and full, along with a handwritten sales journal from 1946 and a California State Map Book of Wineries from the same year. More than memorabilia, the winery buildings and houses on the property stand as a testimony to the fortitude of the Ferrara family. Our day-to-day activities at the winery trace the footsteps of winemakers and winery workers over the past 86 years. Just like the Solera, Forgotten Barrel is a new addition, the gift of the present poured on top of layers of the past.
Each year, the winemakers maintained the Sicilian family tradition of spicing some Tawny Port Solera up for the holidays. The Ferrara Christmas dessert wine was much anticipated, and enjoyed in Christmases past. Rodger Grove was in possession of two bottles of Ferrara Christmas Port and chose to open one to taste at the company party. Tony Ferrara pours a little in my glass. He smiles, I smile. It isn’t everyday you taste a sip history! Sweet and spicy, I savor every drop, and then he pours me another taste. I smile and think to myself, I would like to stay in this moment and linger in the uniqueness of the experience. But moments are fleeting; I take another bite of cookie. Kaylan, the tasting room supervisor, has made a Christmas version of Forgotten Barrel Papa Dude. He is eager to do a side-by-side comparison with the Ferrara Christmas Port. The present and the future come crashing in at once as Kaylan’s spicy wine runs over my palate. It tastes sweet and full of cinnamon; it is bold, and loud in contrast to the more seductive aged wine. Tony says, “It’s good. It needs more time for the flavors to blend.” Kaylan is taking it in, tasting each wine, and making mental notes for future tries. It’s a sweet moment of knowledge exchange.
Like any product that requires the refinement of time, Tawny Port Solera wines remind us of Christmases yet to come. They serve as a symbol of hope, that future generations will be able to experience the patience, investment, and good intentions of the winemaker. Good things take time; a little saved here and there will add up with its passage and give back ten-fold what was given. Sometimes, the recipient of our efforts will be people we will never have met, people who will wonder at the foresight and commitment of previous generations. This is the essence of Forgotten Barrel, to preserve and resurrect the history and character of Ferrara, capture the cultural heritage of winemaking in Escondido, and create a thriving winery for the community to enjoy moving forward.
Forgotten Barrel now occupies the former Ferrara Winery, which was designated a California historic point of interest in the late 1970’s and a historic site by the city of Escondido in 1989. The winery, was established in 1886 as one of San Diego county and Southern California’s first vineyards. The winery was purchased in 1928 by George Ferrara, banking on the repeal of prohibition by President Roosevelt.
The winery reopened in 1932-33 with the passage of the 21st amendment. During the next 75 years, Ferrara Winery grew to prominence in the California wine industry. It was operated by 3 generations until 2010. Forgotten Barrel restored the historic property and opened the tasting room in 2017 and will continue to tell the story of the Ferrara family and the history of this amazing California landmark.
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