This year, Temecula Valley Wine country celebrates it’s 50th anniversary from its very start of commercial wine vineyard back in 1968. Late pioneer Vincenzo Cilurzo and his wife Audrey stumbled upon the beautiful valley of Rancho California to what is known as Temecula today. As the Cilurzo planted their first vines, a Petite Sirah and Chenin Blanc, many argued at the time Temecula was too hot to grow red wines. That included Ely Callaway of Calloway Wines, who started growing only white varietals. Both Cilurzo and Callaway help paved the way of commercial vineyards in the Temecula Valley to what is known today.
In 2004, the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) renamed Temecula’s verticultural area from Temecula AVA to Temecula Valley AVA at 33,000 acres. Because it’s “slightly angle” to the sun, temperatures and soil intensity here are more extreme than other areas. During the night, the cool mist draws inland making this an ideal area for wine growing. Hence the origin of the name Temecula being translated in native Luiseño Indian language, “where the Sun breaks through the mist”
Temecula’s hotter climate is suited for Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel but not so much for cooler climate grapes such as Pinot Noir. Some of my favorite intense red wines has included Belvino’s Tempranillo, Chapin’s Montepulciano, Lorenzi’s Zinfandel, Wien’s Domestique GSM, and Monte de Oro’s Syrah.
Fast forward to today, there are now over 40 licensed wineries producing over 500,000 cases.
As more and more producers of wine in the region, more storing vessels were needed. Of course, barrels were used for the aging process. When asked about what type of barrels, just about everyone here uses a combination of American/French Oak. French Oak is typically used for more subtle flavors while American oak has more intense flavors. Cost wise, American oak is cheaper than that of French Oak.
For barreling, Oak is popular for many reasons. It’s softer and easier to shape than other woods and it’s also more abundant than other woods. By storing wines in barrels, it produced a softer and smoother wine and often better tasting. The aging process developed additional scents such as vanilla, cloves, cinnamon and when drunk it often added flavors such as caramel, toffee, and mocha. The porous nature of Oak was also a deciding factor to impart the aroma and concentrated taste due to the slow evaporation and oxygenation from the wood.
How long each wine age in barrels is highly dependent on the varietal. Typically a lighter body wine like Pinot Noir would spend less time in a barrel than that of Cabernet Sauvignon. But the end result is ultimately what the winemaker’s vision would be. When asked, the wineries I’ve visited would age somewhere between 12-24 months in the barrels.
Every year, Temecula’s hosts the Annual Barrel Age tasting event at the end of January. I have attended this event every year for the past four years and it has grown in popularity much like the demand for it’s wines. This two-day event featuring 36 of Temecula’s finest features unfinished barrel and tank tastings along with delectable bites from the wineries. During this weekend, wineries typically would share a white wine, a red wine, and a barrel age future wine that would be released typically a year later.
Grapeline Wine Tours and other private transportation tours are available for those who choose not to drive during this event. For those people who are designated drivers, a food tasting only ticket was also available.
Today, as wineries grow, they were faced with the challenges of production and expansion. Temecula Valley Winery Managment (TVWM) was established to help with production, compliance, and of course wine barrel storage. Today Leoness Cellars, the founding partner for TVWM, has helped with many local wineries to expand to the size and their target quality making Temecula one of the great wine destinations in California.
So the next time when you’re in town and not gambling at a casino nearby, make a stop at one of the wineries on the trail and taste the half a century progress that is Temecula.
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