Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Temecula, CA: Not founded by the Germans

While slumming out on the left coast, I figured that being an hour or so from the Temecula Valley obligated me to visit. Besides, my winey-senses (similar to "spidey-senses", but less super heroish and more likely to cause weight gain and staining of the teeth) were going bananas. And on that note, I hoped the wine I was seeking wouldn't smell too much like bananas, a sign of ancillary products of fermentation- namely esters- giving those aromas...

...yeah, you've just been bamboozled into a little education on fermentation. Zing!

Anyway, I wanted to do a little research on the area before I arrived. Temecula's just not on the map like Napa, Sonoma, or Central Coast. However, nearby visitors from Los Angeles and San Diego frequent the tasting rooms, much like Atlanta visitors do with Dahlonega wineries on the weekends. Oddly enough, due to its proximity to San Diego, I was surprised to hear that Temecula and its wine industry was not founded by the Germans. Actually, some of California's first wine grapes were grown to the west in Mission San Juan Capistrano. In the 1960's, modern grape growing and winemaking began in Temecula (at the south end of the Temecula Valley, which runs northwest up to Riverside). Now, there are over 20 wineries in the area (but unfortunately for Mr. Burgundy, not a freshly-made glass of Scotch in site).

Energized by the nourishing fat coursing through my veins from an In-N-Out Double Double, Animal-Style, I mustered the energy to visit three local wineries, all recommendations sourced to me by SoCal natives: Ponte Estate, Baily Winery, and Hart Winery, all situated off the same stretch of Rancho California Rd, east of the town of Temecula. No matter what the wines ended up being, the scenery was worth the visit. A view panning up from the twisted old vines (some 50 or more years old) showcases the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas. I had to remind myself that this is the same nation where I live; everything is so different from the East Coast.

As for said wines, there were a few pretty consistent themes: big, ripe, tannic, and uncomplicated. There were a few funkier numbers, including Hart's Tempranillo (the main grape in Spanish Red Rioja, a leather and farm funk explosion) and Mourvèdre (a grape of France's Rhône valley, known for its tobacco nuances and earthiness). Baily also had a pretty serious Meritage (a Bordeaux-style blend, meaning a red that must be comprised of only Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and/or Malbec; and only the first three in this case). However, most were heavy on fruit aromas and flavors and 14%ish alcohol levels, indicative of a hot climate. That being said, the acidity was pretty good in many, suggesting that the cooling patterns at night from the high mountains and breezes from the Pacific clearly do their work to keep the grapes from over-ripening. In the vineyards, many grapes fatten up, but the most prevalent seemed to be Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, and some Italian varieties, including Sangiovese and Barbera.

In the end, having successfully spit out over 20 different wines from 3 different producers (the roads heading through the coastal ranges are no place for a wine-buzz behind the wheel), I determined that Temecula was worth the visit. I'm sure many readers of this blog (okay, both readers of this blog) get out to Los Angeles metro or San Diego for business or pleasure, and as I'm a believer in drinking local, I recommend taking the quick trip to this area. They're doing what they should be doing: making fun, accessible wines that cater to a heavy tourism business, and pricing them (for the most part) within reason, meaning almost all under $30 a bottle. They're not trying to be Napa; they're not trying to be Bordeaux. The winemakers of Temecula are producing from what the soil, the climate, and the weather provide (aka, the terroir), just like the best producers in Napa, in France, in Georgia, and- yes- in Germany, too. Prost!

blog comments powered by Disqus