Wine columnist Frank Mangio, center, samples a Zinfandel blend from the new Avensole Winery with Hospitality Manager Jennifer Capps and Marketing Manager Stephanie Swinton. Photo courtesy Frank Mangio
Community Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Lots of wine open spaces in Temecula

The Temecula Valley Wine Country’s special occasional events are always full of value and offers visitors focused knowledge about wineries of their choice.

Its recent two-day Barrel Tasting Event offered a “drop-in to your favorite winery” format with a passport ticket for admission to a number of wineries of your choice. There, you could be assured of visiting with the management team or the winemaker, with tasting from barrels as well as newly released bottles.

This wine country was the first I covered as a newly minted wine journalist some 12 years ago.

Joe Hart was my first interview.

I threw him a few softball questions about his winery and some 30 minutes later he was still engaged in convincing me that Temecula had a lot going for it. The Wiens brothers had just come in and set up a trailer while they tended their new crop of vines and John Thornton was operating the best and most successful Champagne Jazz Concert series in Southern California.

He still does with his son Steve, now the president of the winery, and his long-time special events manager Tonya Wake.

And 12 or so years ago, Robert Renzoni, then a sales manager for Leoness Cellars, convinced his father Fred, that the time was right for their own winery in an area that would later be called the De Portola Wine Trail, an important link with the Temecula Valley wineries.

My entourage and I had planned this day with a set number of wineries  to visit, topped by the “newest kid on the block,” Avensole Winery, occupying what used to be Van Roekel winery, then La Cereza.

In 2013 the Lytton Family saw that the property was for sale and purchased it in 2014, naming it Avensole.  It’s a word comprised of “aventura” (Italian for adventure), and “sole” (meaning one of a kind).

Avensole has been open since April 2016 and its first bottles are a fascinating potpourri of wine varietals:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat Canelli, Gewurztraminer, “new vine” Zinfandel and “old vine” Zinfandel, plus some relatable blends.

Avensole’s energetic marketing and business development manager is Stephanie Swinton, who pointed out that the vines are still young with the important exception of the old vine zin.

“We can trace their origins to the hills of Croatia,” she said, pointing to the 2013 Aventura, a robust wine with 95 percent, Zinfandel and 5 percent Syrah.

“We have them on the property because some of the early pioneers in the late ‘60s planted them, along with Muscat Canelli and Cabernet Sauvignon.”

The 2013 Aventura ($46.95 at the winery) is a classic old vine zin and I recommend you enjoy a bottle. The newest release should be out this spring.

Visit the winery first on line at It also has a full service restaurant, marketplace, with a beautiful terrace and pond with occasional live music.


Sonoma’s Ferrari Carano has Wine Dinners at Seasalt and La Gran Terraza

Fume’ Blanc, SIENA and Tresor — these are household names at Sonoma’s best-known Ferrari Carano, due in large part to the efforts and hospitality of Michael Hurst, the voice for this winery in Southern California.

“Fume’ Blanc ($12) is our biggest seller by far,” Hurst pointed out. “Tresor is a deluxe Bordeaux style blend ($34) that sits 18 months in a barrel before release and SIENA is an Italian Sangiovese-based red blend with supple tannins and a delicious strawberry jam flavor ($16).

The SIENA label is really unique.  It was designed by Rhonda Carano.  She took the red soil of Sonoma and artfully swirled it across a label.  The latest vintage is the 2014.  It pairs beautifully with Italian food. Leading restaurants like Seasalt in Del Mar and La Gran Terraza in San Diego have great success on the wine menus and at the bar with this label.

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Wine Bytes

The Barrel Room in Rancho Bernardo, in the RB Plaza, will present Laird Family Estate of Napa Valley in a feature wine dinner, Feb. 22 from 6 to 9 p.m. Rebecca Laird, owner-winemaker, will preside; $80 for five-courses and seven tastings.  Phone (858) 673-7512 for an RSVP.

Carruth Cellars Urban Winery in Solana Beach has its annual Barrel Party Feb. 25 and Feb. 26 from noon to 7 p.m.  Cost is $30 for 10-barrel samples.  Taste wines from the barrel before it gets bottled, and you can order  “futures.” Live music and Red Oven Pizza.  Call (858) 846-9463.

A Grgich Hills Estate wine dinner is being planned for West Steak & Seafood, in the West Room in Carlsbad, Feb. 28 at 6 p.m.  This is a five-course sit-down dinner with wine pairings.  Cost is $125. RSVP at (760) 930-9100.

Carnevale comes to Il Fornaio, Feb. 28. It’s an evening of celebration featuring Italian Venetian menu specials, live music and costumed performers at the Coronado restaurant location, directed by Executive Chef Maurizio Mazzon.  Reservations a must.


Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web. View his columns at and reach him at  Follow him on Facebook.