Big gains for Temecula wine country

It fits that the next big event for Temecula Wine Country is the Harvest Celebration Nov. 2 and Nov. 3.

Temecula is harvesting some big awards these days. From the California State Fairs to New York, Florida and London England, Temecula’s wines are boldly mixing it up with the Northern California establishment and are coming up winners.

An exclamation point was the excitement of two Temecula winemakers making the top 100 winemakers list in the U.S. out of some 7,000. That distinction belongs to Joe Hart of Hart Winery, with more than 30 years of winemaking, and Jon McPherson of South Coast Winery both named California Winery of the Year at the California State Fair.

Sorting through this success is no simple matter.

In 1968 there was only one commercial vineyard, established by Vincenzo and Audrey Cilurzo.

Callaway began farming grapes in 1969, and then opened the first winery in 1974. Within recent years, the winery population has fast-forwarded ahead to some 35, spread out over 33,000 acres, with 5,000 more acres protected as agriculture by Riverside County.

Temecula Valley Wine Country proclaims itself as Southern California’s “Wine Country” and indeed, sitting central to San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties — it is.

At the helm of this entire big picture change is the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association with Peggy Evans as executive director, Cori Cocca marketing communications and Krista Chaich, sales and membership.

I spoke to Evans, who has been with the association for five years, and who is orchestrating the sensational growth.

How long have you been working with wine in the valley?

I came to work in wine country in 1989, first for what is now Thornton Winery. After Thornton Winery, I went to Callaway in 1996 and stayed there for 10 years. In 1989 there were only 8 wineries in Temecula and a lot of dirt roads.

It seems like only recently that the fast growth has come. What do you think brought this on?

The big thing for Temecula’s future is the population base in Southern California. We have 22 million people in 5 counties, only an hour or so from our front door. Because of this and other reasons, people are looking to get into the wine business and we’re attracting long-term investors who are building a name for themselves.

Are there some wine varietals, or maybe one, that best expresses the area.

Temecula went from the market-following Chardonnay and Cabernet, to many Italian, French Rhone and Spanish inspired varietals. But we don’t want to put ourselves in a box. We can grow everything here. Lately we’ve been very excited about the tasting results of Malbec.

What keeps you up at night?

I think a lot about how to control the growth and make it of the highest quality. Our primary purpose is wine making and we want to make it the best experience possible for our visitors.

Temecula Valley Wine Country’s next event is the Harvest Celebration, Nov. 2 and Nov. 3 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visitors can go to 35 member wineries for a self-guided tour, taste food and wine samplings at each stop, as well as exclusive barrel and tank samplings. Prices start at $79. See You can also call (800) 801-WINE.

Wine Bytes

A Temecula Haunted Winery Tour is being staged at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, Oct. 26 through Oct. 31 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. This walking tour gets up close with “ghouls and goblins” in the vineyard, then in the winery. Cost is $45. Call (951) 587-9463.

A Harvest Dinner with winemaker Craig Larson & Executive Chef Mike Henry is planned at Callaway Winery, Oct. 26, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. This unique wine & five-course culinary feast is $120. RSVP at (951) 676-4001.

Gen 7 Wines is celebrating its Fall Release Party, Oct. 27, at 1 p.m. in Rancho Santa Fe. Five-courses of cuisine are paired with GEN 7’s five new wines. $65 before the date, $75 at the door. Visit

Vigilucci’s Restaurant in Coronado has an Italian Wine Tasting, Nov. 1 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Featured wines are from Feudi di San Gregorio, this year’s winery of the year in Italy. Cost is $25. RSVP at (619) 522-0946.

The Ramona Art & Wine Benefit Festival is Nov. 2 from noon to 6 p.m., at the Mt. Woodson Castle. Fine art, live music, Ramona wines, chef’s small bites, and a live auction of painted wine barrels. $60. Visit, or call (760) 787-1102.

Frank Mangio is a renowned San Diego wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web. View and link up with his columns at Reach him at



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