Bacchus and Beery Wine Blog had a chance to experience the Temecula Harvest Celebration during the first weekend of November 2011. This two day Bacchanalia of food, wine and happy sippers was well worth the trip.
We arrived in San Diego Friday morning and in a constant rain (it never rains in southern California) drove the hour north and east to the town of Temecula. After checking into our hotel near Old Town Temecula ,we headed across I-15 towards the wineries. Most of the nearly 40 wineries and 3,000 vineyard acres are located in a fairly confined area off Rancho California Road, just about 10 miles from the town center. Along Rancho California Road, the wineries are bigger, more commercial, and opulent though nothing compared to the palaces of Napa and Sonoma. Once you get away from Rancho California, the wineries are far more intimate and often the winemaker and/or owner is pouring in the tasting room.
Armed with winery recommendations from our Wine Blog readers and GPS, we were ready for some lunch and wine tasting. A surprising number of Temecula wineries have restaurants, many with outdoor seating to take full advantage of the area views. These venues also cater to weddings and bigger events. However, since it was still raining steadily, we chose the indoor medieval styled Carol’s Restaurant at Baily Winery. Our meals were very good as was the service. We both enjoyed glasses of their Cabernet Franc. Now fortified, it was time to do some serious winery visits.
We headed off Rancho California Road to hit some of the smaller recommended wineries. Our general impressions were: The tasting room staffs were friendly and knowledgeable. There was a wide selection of wines though reds significantly outnumbered whites. Tasting fees were fair and the pours, in many cases, were quite generous. The wines were a bit more hit and miss that in other wine regions of California but few we tasted were off-putting. Most wineries we found, had one stand-out wine that was superior to others. Wines with a touch of residual sugar, making them somewhat off-dry or slightly sweet are common. We asked a few winemakers about this and were told that visitors to Temecula like a touch of sweetness in their wines. Interestingly, when we spoke to a few frequent visitors, they agreed. I guess it pays to know your market.
On this day, some of the stand-out wines were:
Doffo Winery where we received a wonderful education of Temecula wines from winemaker Damian Doffo. Check out the cool collection of vintage motorcycles at the winery and in the tasting room. As for wines, our favorites were the 2009 Cabernet and Mistra blend of Cabernet and Syrah
Robert Renzoni Vineyards 2008 Fiore di Fano, a Super Tuscan blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.
The newly opened Chapin Family Vineyards offered two excellent Syrahs from 2006 and 2007. While the winery is new, Steve Chapin has been growing grapes on the property for some years.
The next morning we awoke to the bright sunshine the area is noted for. We were ready to hit the Harvest Celebration with zeal. We are no strangers to wine festivals and some are run better than others. In some cases the wineries just don’t seem “into” the whole concept. Not so in Temecula, the wineries were set up and ready to go for the harvest festival attendees as well as the many wine club events happening simultaneously. The wineries were packed, the attendees were having a good time, the pours and food portions were ample. All-in-all an excellent event.
Two day tickets for food and wine pairings ran $99 and you would have to work hard to not get your money’s worth. At breakfast, our hotel lobby was full of folks ready to hit the wineries. Many, we learned, were repeat attenders. There were plenty of cars, drivers and limos ready to keep it fun and safe for those who desired those services.
With 34 wineries participating, it wasn’t hard to find a new favorite. Each winery offered a special tasting for ticket holders, usually in a designated area so we didn’t have to fight the big tasting room crowds. The tastings consisted of 2-4 wines currently available and one yet to be released wine or barrel sample. Each winery also offered a food pairing or two, again with generous portions. Examples of the food pairings included braised bison short ribs, gourmet chicken mole street tacos, smoked salmon, beef wellington and our surprise favorite, Crows Pass Farm Kabocha squash soup with chipotle cream and crispy fried pancetta from Palumbo Family Vineyards.
One question we like to ask local winemakers is, “if you don’t drink your own wine, what local wine do you drink?” In Temecula, the same two wines came up over and over again. The first was the Super Tuscan blend from Robert Renzoni mentioned before. The other was the Merlot/ Syrah (75/25) blend from the squash soup kings at Palumbo. Both of these wines were excellent by any standards with rich complex flavors that demonstrated skill and art. Both were spared that bit of sweetness found in so many Temecula wines.
The bottom line is the Temecula Harvest Celebration is a great way to spend a wine-filled fall weekend. This wine region is an easy drive from San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles and Riverside.
Before I signing off, I would be remiss not to mention the great food and fun we had in Old Town Temecula. When in the area stop by for a glass of local wine at either the Lounge at The Edge or for tastes from some of the areas boutique wineries, try The Collective Wine Bar. We also had excellent meals at the The Edge and Public House.
Special thanks to our Facebook and Twitter Fans for providing some superb winery guidance and to the Temecula Winegrowers Association for allowing Bacchus and Beery Wine Blog to be your guest.