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Cruising California's Compact Wine Country

by Peter May

Temecula Valley, conveniently placed between Los Angeles and San Diego, is easily reachable and well worth a day of anyone's time. It is hard to think of a wine region easier to get around. Vineyards spread either side of the road along the valley floor and wineries neighbour each other like plots on a suburban estate.

     Getting there is simple. Find interstate highway 15 from Los Angeles to San Diego and midway between is Temecula. Turn off onto Rancho California Road and drive for a couple of minutes passing pleasant new brick built housing estates and shopping malls until the vineyards commence. Second entrance on the left is Callaway Winery, largest in Temecula and an excellent place to start. They offer an informative free tour and there are panoramic views over the valley. Of course wine tasting is possible and you have to decide on a strategy as it's not physically possible to drink every sample of wine from every winery in Temecula, and there are few bins supplied to spit out wine. So either try one or two wines from many wineries, or all the wines from a few.

     Most wineries charge a tasting fee of between two and five dollars. This includes a tasting glass that you can keep. All the wine glasses are excellent quality, some are official ISO tasting glasses, and they all have the winery logo stamped on them for an instant souvenir. The only problem is that you end up with a large collection of delicate glasses, so ask at one of the wineries for an empty glass box to keep them safely in.

     Pick up a free map guide of the Temecula wineries - I visited almost every single one of them in a packed day, here are my highlights.

Calloway Winery
with its excellent free tour should be your starting point. This is the largest operation in Temecula and is owned by the international drinks giant Allied Domecq who intend to double production. Thus Callaway is the Temecula label you are most likely to see in your local store. Callaway have another claim to fame - they sell more Chenin Blanc varietal wine than anyone else in the US. Founder Ely Callaway went on to invent a successful new golf club.

     The tasting room can get crowded at times but when you get to the counter you can try Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc (white), Merlot, Dolcetto, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also make a late harvest Chenin Blanc named Sweet Nancy.

Thornton Winery
Impressive stone fronted building houses winery. This winery specializes in sparkling wines and the tour is useful to learn see how methode champenoise sparkling wine is made. However my guide spoke so softly I could hear little of what she said, and much of what I heard was misleading or inaccurate. There is a pleasant restaurant in the grounds, with indoor and sheltered outdoor seating. I enjoyed lunch there with a glass of their sparkling brut.

Hart Winery
This small winery is housed in a wooden barn and there's little to see but piles of barrels but the winemaker is present handing out tastes of their powerfully tasty wines in a friendly chatty atmosphere. They specialize in Mediterranean varieties, including Syrah, Mourvedre and Barbera (red) and Viognier (white). Their wines have a wholesome individuality about them.

Filsinger Vineyards and Winery
This homely winery is about the furthest from I15 but worth the trip. It's family run and the owner winemaker modestly pours the tastes. But it is no slouch, this winery exports to the UK. They make a wide range of wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo (red), Blanc Fume and Gewurtztraminer (white)

Keyways Vineyard and Winery
I loved the setting of this winery surrounded by horse paddocks. Its old wooden building, with hitching posts, outside has newspapers from significant dates pinned to the walls and a model railroad train runs on tracks over your head. You can browse antiques while tasting, or step outside to view the peaceful farmland. Wines produced include a tasty Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon (red)

     Visit the Temecula Valley Vintners Association web-site at www.temeculawines.org for information on the wineries, accommodation and transport.

    Tasting Temecula Wines by Vick Knight ($12.95 Aristan Press ISBN 0-931407-06-0) has profiles of the wineries and winemakers.

If you have been, thanks for reading.

Peter May at Callaway Winery
Peter May at Callaway Winery

© Copyright Peter May 2002.

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1 January 2002