Once around Temecula Wine Country

Every so often, I like to get in my car, take the easy drive up to Temecula and knock on some doors in Wine Country. Strategically located within an hour of five heavily populated counties in Southern California, is a serene 5,000-acre, protected agricultural preserve with rolling hills covered with vineyards.
It has a warm, inland climate with just enough cool-down at night for growing quality estate grown grapes.
The number of wineries grows with each passing week — now up to at least 30, with many more backyard operations dotting the landscape.
The marketing association designed to market the area is gearing up for Califorinia Wine Month in September with two special events: Purchase a month-long pass to five of the over 30 member wineries of your choice and receive full tastings at each winery. The cost is $40, a considerable discount and good any time in September.
The second event is CRUSH, a one-day event held Sept. 10 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Monte de Oro Winery. All association wineries will participate and you can taste your way through over 100 of the latest released wines. Winery owners and chefs from wineries and local restaurants will be mingling with visitors. Cost is $65 per person. Get all the details on both events at (800) 801-9463.
David Vergari is a well-traveled winemaker, landing recently at Thornton Winery. His resume includes the top names in Napa Valley and time in Europe, Chile and Australia. His worldly experience comes to bear in Thornton’s new lineup of 2010 releases, which can be summed up as Mediterranean based varietals with a California style taste.
All grapes are grown in the Temecula Valley, which is a clear and encouraging trend for valley wineries. We evaluated some 15 new wines and I was very impressed with the 2010 Mourvedre ($22), a Rhone Valley grape usually used in blending with a Syrah and Grenache.
Finally unleashed, this earthy wine was truly delicious and nicely stood on its own legs. Here is a drink-now red, perfect for Temecula terroir. Chef Steve Pickell of Thornton’s Café Champagne stopped by our table and we sampled new menu items that paired nicely with the new wine list.
Over at Wilson Creek Winery, three new releases caught my eye and palate: the 2008 Estate Reserve Zinfandel, the 2008 Reserve Petite Sirah and the 2009 Estate Double Dog Blend (prices not available).
All had enriched fruit from the hand of Etienne Cowper, Wilson Creek’s veteran winemaker.
More excitement coming from the winery is the appearance of top jazzman Jeff Golub Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m., to climax a successful concert season. Tickets start at $49. Buy them at (951) 699-WINE.
Monte De Oro, the classic Tuscan style winery on a bluff with spectacular views of Temecula, has released its new 2009 Chardonnay and reports that bottles are flying off the shelves ($21).
You’ll taste traditional toasty oak with notes of peach, pear and pineapple. Classic California.
Their popular Happy Hour entertainment on Fridays has Brazilian Music, drink, food specials and a Cigar Lounge.
This Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 3 and Sept. 4, has Falkner Winery leading the special events with lunch specials in the Pinnacle Restaurant, free jazz on the lawn both days from noon to 3 p.m. and new release wines with a barbecue both days. Try the 2008 Cabernet, the 2007 Merlot, the 2007 Amante and the 2009 Viognier.
Oak Mountain Winery with Steve and Valerie Andrews just presented a beautifully produced 2009 Cabernet ($60). Luscious black cherry and plum deepens the tasting experience. This, like the others, is an estate wine, something you need to look for in your wine decisions.
On the De Portola Trail, Leoness Cellars Restaurant at Leoness Winery has unveiled fresh Italian and French selections to their menu. World-wise Chef Daragh Matheson promises seasonal, artisan style food, with most items under $20. Call (951) 302-7601.
Temecula Valley’s 15 hotels saw double-digit growth in occupancy for July so the word is spreading for Southern California’s Wine Country. See more at temeculawines.org.
Wine Bytes
— Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas presents Big, Bold Reds Sept. 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. $20 per person. Tasting notes and details at
— Viva Vino Spanish Tapas Wine Bar in Old Town Temecula has authentic Flemenco from DeRumba Sun. Sept. 4 from 8 to 11 p.m. Cover charge of $10. RSVP by calling (951) 506-5953.
— Wine, Women and Shoes benefiting Womens Health Services at Scripps Hospital Encinitas is planned for Sept. 8 from 3 to 7 p.m. at a private Rancho Santa Fe Estate. Sip, savor, shop and win. Men are encouraged to come also. Details at (858) 678-6349.
— A Wine Dinner with Aurelio Montes of Chile’s Montes Wines is Sept. 9 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., at The Bay View Restaurant in San Diego. A special five-course dinner has pairings of wine from the Montes Portfolio. Tickets are $60 each. Reserve your table at (619) 725-6388.
— Niner Wines from Paso Robles is coming to Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido Sept. 10 from 2 to 4 p.m. $10 charge. RSVP at (760) 745-1200.
— In Napa Valley, the Mt. Veeder Appellation has its annual Wine Tasting Sept. 24 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Hess Collection Winery. Two dozen wineries participate, with food pairings, live music and drawings. Visit mtveederwines.com for tickets.


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