Wine and jazz share equal billing at Thornton Winery

Wine and jazz are true soulmates. They are joined at the hip, are twin heaven-sent creations, and both make people very happy.
It’s always a friendly debate as to which wines are best, but when it comes to jazz, I know of no other venue that does it better than Thornton Winery in Temecula.
The jazz greats who play at Thornton make sure it is on their schedules every year. Most have received their big break at Thornton.
Champagne Jazz originated 23 years ago when owner John Thornton was looking for something that would keep wine customers coming back and at the same time draw music lovers in. He realized the magical fusion of the two attractions. John and his son Steve, who operates the winery and restaurant, have provided 21 total wine, food and jazz concerts this year, in an intimate, personal, garden patio environment.
The first concert begins at 4 p.m. May 1 with Spanish and jazz flamenco guitarist Jesse Cooke.  Mindi Abair and Bobby Caldwell follow at 7 p.m. May 7. You could not choose a more exciting 1-2 combination than these two; sort of like a Thornton California Champagne Brut Reserve, followed by an Estate Bottled Syrah. Mindi has broken open new jazz trends with a pop music path. She blows a mean sax and sings with a refreshingly unique crossover voice that’s brought her stardom. Bobby has this smooth Sinatra-like style, sprinkled with R&B and big band. Like fine wine, he gets better with age.
Other top music stylists on the bill include Boney James, Dave Koz, George Benson, Chris Botti and many more throughout the summer and on to Oct. 15. For the complete list and pricing, visit or talk to Tonya Wake, the brilliant events manager, now in her 17th year of managing the concerts. Call (951) 699-0099 for details.
Witch Creek, an urban cellar by the Sea
I really enjoy a winemaker with a gleam in his eye as he proudly pours his latest release, knowing he or she has hit it so right this time. Sitting across the table from winemaker Ryan Baker at Witch Creek Winery, on the Coast Highway in Carlsbad with the ocean air off-shore, was a vintage moment in time.
Last year I pointed him out as one of the four most interesting winemakers in Southern California. Baker grew up in nearby Olivenhain but had to go to Northern California to learn how to make wine. After studying at UC Davis and working in Sonoma, he settled at Witch Creek in 2005. Decisions were then made to commit to the Italian style of winemaking with most grapes coming from the Guadalupe Valley of Mexico and Clarksburg in Northern California. A wine menu from Witch Creek reads like an Italian map. Names like Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, Brunello, Primitivo, Teroldego, Montepulciano and Aglianico take their place alongside the more familiar Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot.
The cork popped on a bottle with no label and Baker had me smell the bouquet and taste the just-bottled 2009 100 percent Montepulciano. The ’08 was a winner with club members and in the tasting room at $21. It was showing the youthful fruit and had a wine baby’s-breath, but 2009 had been a really good year and expectations are high for this Italian varietal.
“I am allowing the spicy raspberry fruit to show itself in the taste,” he said.  “We’ll do 116 cases. I don’t think it gets any better than that.”
I thought so too … until we got to his 2009 Sangiovese. It’s all good at Witch Creek. Look it up at
Wine Bytes
— North County Wine Company continues their Friday fun April 22 from 4 to 8 p.m. with seven wines for $10, from new Chardonnays to Italian Brunellos. For more information, call (760) 744-2119.
— Belle Marie Winery in Escondido is planning a Winemakers Dinner from 6 to 8 p.m. April 22. It’s a five-course dinner paired with their wines, with the use of spice blends. The cost is $89 per person. Call (760) 796-7557 for details.
— San Diego Wine Company on Miramar Road has a Blind Wine Tasting from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. April 23 for $10. For more information, call (858) 586-WINE.
— DAOU Vineyards and Winery is featured at FLAVOR Restaurant in the Del Mar Plaza on April 26. Reception at 6:30 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. The cost is $95 each. Enjoy DAOU paired wines from Prosecco to Cabernet and Moscato. RSVP at (858) 755-3663.
— The hottest getaway will be up in Pebble Beach near Carmel/Monterey for the annual Food & Wine event. Seventy celebrity chefs, 250 world class wines, four days from April 28 to May 1. Call (866) 907-FOOD (or 3663) for tickets.
— Fast Forward Productions introduces its Wine Rave Series for young wine enthusiasts with the ice breaker at FLUXX Nightclub downtown San Diego on April 28.  More than 25 cutting edge wines, spirits and breweries for a viral tasting experience, with high energy deejays and delish appetizers. The cost is $45 in advance and $65 at the door. Visit or call (619) 312-1212.