Wine Bitten

Santa Ysabel Casino:

70 Tequillas, 24 Craft Draft Brews, Good Dining, and Gambling Too

Perched high atop the mountain just down the road from Julian (head east toward Temecula), sits the Santa Ysabel Casino, run by the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel (nee the Santa Ysabel Band of Diegueno Mission Indians).  Iipay is native Indian for this tribe and means “the people.”  This tribe was the first in California and among the first five tribes nationally to recognize same-sex marriage.  The casino offers discounts to seniors and to gay pride card holders.
The casino, which opened in 2007, is friendly, comfortable; almost cozy.  Embracing the local talent, Santa Ysabel Casino offers 24 craft beers on draft, three quarters from local breweries.  You don’t have to go brewery to brewery, or winery to winery, to taste some local wine and beer.  Here too, you can taste 7 days a week.  Taste wine, beer, tequila by the flight.

Taste wine by the sip or the glass. Most of the featured wineries are only open weekends, if at all. So why not stop here to taste several in one place, during the week.  Local wines from Warner Springs, Julian, and Ramona are available by the sip or glass using an automatic wine dispenser.  Load a card with the dollar amount you want, and taste as many of the twelve wines in the dispensers as you desire.  I tried San Pasqual Winery’s Habanero Passion fruit wine (yes, made from passion fruit), and it was a delicious fruity and pepper hot sipping wine, whose sweetness offset the heat; it would be a great Sangria wine as well.  At about $1.10 for a taste, $6.00 for a glass, it was the same price as at the winery. The Wolf & Rose Cabernet Franc from Ramona, at about the same price, was exceptional, deep, dryly berry, pairing as well with a burger as a steak. 
Taste Tequila:  With over 70 tequilas to choose from, I suggest a flight; three to five tastes followed by the margarita of your choice.  The tequilas cover the gamut, and the ultra premiums are ideal sipping.
Dine at the Orchard with a Panoramic View:  We couldn’t drink on empty stomachs, so we dined at the casino’s Orchard restaurant.  The Orchard offers a spectacular view across the valley, over Lake Henshaw, to Palomar Mountain.  The menu has recently been revamped, and includes very good burgers, personal pizzas with farm fresh ingredients, a spicy shrimp cocktail, and surf and turf.  I didn’t gamble, but several in our party won, no one lost, and even without gambling, we all had a good time.  When I go back, I’d like to sit out on the patio, sipping some micro-brews, watching the sunset over the lake.

**updated August 17, 2014

Sadly, the Casino closed on Feb. 3, 2014 and remains closed as of August 17, 2014, check before you go