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Temecula Valley’s Unsung Heroes ~ A Tribute to Those Working Behind the Scenes

July 23rd, 2020

Last month we did a feature on the rockstar tasting room staff of Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country. It was such a hit that we decided this month to focus on another group of movers and shakers of Temecula Valley – the “Unsung Heroes” who are behind the scenes ensuring that the region runs smoothly on all fronts. These Wine Country warriors are the ones our visitors don’t often get to meet; the ones who make the actual functioning of our wineries possible. While sometimes it’s the winemakers and winery owners who get all the glory, Wine Country wouldn’t exist without the folks who work tirelessly every day to keep the lights on and create memorable experiences for our visitors.

Let’s meet a few:

Brenda Ruocco

Brenda Ruocco, Director, Wholesale Operations for South Cost Winery

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Brenda has been in Temecula for the last 20 years with her husband and her “Animal family of dogs and horses.” Anyone who has purchased a bottle of South Coast wine from a local wine shop or grocery store has Brenda to thank for it being on the shelf.

TVWA: What does a typical day look like on the job?

BR: A typical day in wholesale includes meeting with domestic and export wholesale buyers; conducting wine tastings; making sales calls to box and liquor stores and restaurants; checking inventory; writing orders; working closely with the winemaking team; managing our warehouse and supervising our wholesale team of eight.

TVWA: Do you drink wine? If yes – any favorites?

BR: Yes, I love wine! Of course I’m partial to ours. Currently, I’m enjoying our 2019 South Coast Pinot Grigio, 2015 Wild Horse Peak Merlot and Vineyard Rose Sparkling.

TVWA: You have been in the Valley for a long time. Can you share any memorable Wine Country moments? Can you share your best, funniest or most memorable Wine Country moments?

BR: The best Wine Country moment was receiving South Coast’s California State Winery of the Year award with our winemaking team – ALL four times! My most memorable moment was opening South Coast Winery and being part of the original team. It was so exciting to watch the construction team build our winery. Also memorable was helping to create the “Rock The Pink” brand to support Cancer Awareness.

TVWA: Wow. You could probably write a book about Temecula Valley Wine Country! Speaking of books, do you have any hobbies outside of the winery?

BR: I love to travel, marathon running, cooking/wine pairing, reading and gardening.

TVWA: What makes Temecula Valley so special to you?

BR: I recall being mesmerized by the valley on my first visit in 1990. I was on a business trip from Washington, DC, and had an extra day after a meeting in Carlsbad. The hotel I was staying at recommended a trip to Temecula Wine Country. I drove through early in the morning and saw a handful of wineries and hot air balloons overhead and knew I wanted to live here. Five years later after meeting my husband, we rearranged our lives to move to Temecula. We are both Italian and see so many comparisons to Italy. I’m so proud to represent this region and the opportunity to educate people about our terroir and beautiful valley.    

Patricia O’Brien, Vice President of Sales & Operations for Danza del Sol Winery and Masia de la Vinya Winery

Patricia O’Brien

This Southern California native has been in Temecula Valley for 17 years. She is married to her best friend, Patrick, and together they have raised three kids: Mikayla age 25, Sean Patrick age 17 and Peyton age 9.  “I love my job,” she says. “But I have to say being a parent happens to be the best gig ever!”

TVWA: What does a typical day look like on the job? 

PO: My workday usually starts at 7:30 am with a review of sales reports from the previous day, answering emails and tackling my infamous to-do list.  You see, I’m a firm believer in setting a daily tasks list.  I never put more than 6 things on my to-do list, so I don’t set myself up for failure.  My days usually consist of analyzing traffic, sales, and wine club attrition and sign up reports, evaluating wine projections, label approvals, reviewing and overseeing monthly social media and marketing plan, as well as meetings with the Controller, Winemaker, tasting room and wine club managers.  

TVWA: Whew! We are exhausted just thinking about your day! You must like to kick-back at the end of the day. Do you drink wine? If yes – any favorites?

PO: Do I drink wine?! I’m passionate about wine. I love the process of growing grapes, harvesting grapes, and the art of turning those grapes into wine. I love wine so much, I enrolled in the WSET Level II class in Spring 2019 and passed the exam.  My favorite varietal is Old Vine Zinfandel but lately I’ve been enjoying Pinot Noir and dry rosé.

TVWA: Do you have a best, funniest or most memorable Wine Country Moment?

PO: I’ve been working in Temecula Valley Wine Country for 13 years. I have so many best, funny and memorable moments.  One of the best and funniest moments, is my initial interview with founder of Danza del Sol Winery, Bob Olson, almost 11 years ago.  I answered an ad for a job, and we met for breakfast at South Coast. It was the most casual interview I’ve ever had in my life. I basically ate breakfast with a complete stranger. When the interview ended, I called my husband and said, “That was the most chill interview I’ve ever had!” and by the time I made it home, Bob called to offer me the job. And the rest, as they say, is history! 

TVWA: If only all job interviews went like that! Got any hobbies outside of the winery?

PO: I’m an uber proud soccer Mom, (Go Legends FC Temecula Valley) who is obsessed with the art of charcuterie, a ferocious reader, and I love spending time with my family and friends.  

TVWA: What makes Temecula Valley so special to you?

PO: What makes Temecula Valley so special to me is that although Temecula Valley is a vacation destination, with farm-to-table restaurants, craft breweries, hotels, golf courses, and over 40 wineries, which I am proud to be a part of, it has also been a great place to raise our children and given us the opportunity to make friendships that will last forever.

Jana Prais, Sales Director, Maurice Car’rie Winery

Originally from La Mirada, California, Jana has been in Temecula for 32 years! It’s amazing that she has any time for work in Wine Country, given she also has four grown children, another starting her senior year at Temecula Valley High School, two dogs, one cat, seven chickens and seven grandkids!

TVWA: What does a typical day look like on the job? 

JP: No two days are the same for me and I love that part of the job. I usually start the day calling on stores and hand selling wine. I’ve been blessed to meet many wonderful people working in outside sales.

TVWA: We’re guessing you like to enjoy the occasional glass of wine, juggling a family of that size! Any favorites?

JP: Maurice Car’rie Sauvignon Blanc is my go-to wine. Although, our new Ultimate red wines are very impressive – the 2018 Tempranillo might be my favorite so far.

TVWA: You must have collected some memories during your 37 years in Temecula Valley. Do any stand out to you?

JP: Some of my fondest memories took place in the summertime at Cilurzo Winery.
Audrey would invite all 12 wineries to a pool party at her and Vince’s home. Everyone brought a dish and wine. She made the best cookies that paired perfectly with Cilurzo Petite Sirah. I think that kind of hospitality and those friendships are still happening today in Wine Country.

TVWA: Got any hobbies outside of the winery?

JP: I love meeting up with my wine country friends and enjoying a glass of wine!

TVWA: Hopefully you count us among those friends! What makes Temecula Valley so special to you?

JP: I’ve seen Temecula grow beyond what I could have imagined, but we still have that hometown feel and a great community. I’m proud to be part of Temecula and wine country. 

Dollie Pavlinch, Wine Society Volunteer Coordinator for Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association

Dollie Pavlinch

With the number events and fundraising efforts the TVWA is responsible for each year, it’s no wonder Dollie is a hero of Wine Country. Pouring wines & staffing events is hard work! Originally from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania by way of Arcadia, California, Dollie has spent the last 20 years in Temecula with her husband, Don, and their “furry dog baby, Miss Molly.”

TVWA: What would you say is your earliest or fondest memory of Wine Country?

DP: You know, our first memory of Wine Country was stopping by Wilson Creek. At the time, it was a tiny bar with Rosie and Jerry and us, talking about moving here from the same area. Times have certainly changed.

TVWA: Those were the days! Got any hobbies outside of work?

DP: Since retirement from ATT, I enjoy every day… and, yes, I enjoy drinking Temecula wines! I love to sit on our patio with a glass of wine, overlooking the wineries. It is an enjoyment Don and I look forward to

TVWA: We love to do that too! Do you have any favorite wines?

DP: Oh dear… I love them all! Especially the bubbly…

TVWA: What Makes Temecula Valley so special to you?

DP: I love the people in Temecula. I especially love the Wine Country atmosphere. I also enjoy our wines. We have exceptional winemakers, each of whom take pride in their product!

Ted Dorr, UPS Driver

Tedd Dorr & Mattie

Everyone who is anyone out in Wine Country has likely had the good fortune of having Ted show up at their door with package deliveries or for pick-up. He has been on his current UPS route in Wine Country for over 25 years, making him a true fixture of the region. He has been married to his wife Debi for 31 years – the same amount of time he has been a UPS driver – and has two kids, Travis and Lauren, age 29 and 26, as well as a blonde lab named Bailey.

TVWA: What does a typical day look like on the job? 

TD: A typical day usually starts at 7 AM. I bring a trailer out with me to use for pick-ups in the afternoon, depending on who’s heavy on pick-ups. I try to accommodate to the wineries’ needs. If they need an early delivery or a later pick-up, I work around them.

TVWA: Do you drink wine? If yes – any favorites?

TD: I enjoy drinking wine. It’s funny. Years ago, when I first started the route, I wasn’t much of a wine drinker. But I learned to appreciate it through the years. Love the reds, but I’ll drink the whites also.

TVWA: You’ve probably seen it all out in Wine Country! Got any memories to share?

TD: I have seen the Valley grow from just a handful of wineries, to present time and it’s amazing to see how it’s grown. The people in wine country are amazing. They have become like family. I really enjoy going to work and seeing everyone. 

TVWA: What do you like to do when you’re not traveling all over Wine Country for UPS?

TD: My hobbies are hanging out with my wife and family. I enjoy the beach. It’s my place to just get away and ride some waves. 

TVWA: What Makes Temecula Valley so special to you?

TD: I’ve been truly blessed to be a part of Wine Country all these years. The people are amazing. To be able share the growth in the valley and their friendships has been so rewarding. 

Juan Vazquez Gutierrez, Cellar Foreman, South Coast Winery

Juan Vazquez Gutierrez

Juan came to Temecula Valley all the way from Culiacá, in Sinaloa, Mexico a whopping 34 years ago! He is part of the dream team that has led South Coast Winery to receive the California State Winery of the Year title an unprecedented four times.

TVWA: What does a typical day look like on the job? 

JVG: It ranges from what the day brings. As of right now we have been busy with our bottling season and it is my job to ensure that everything runs smoothly from the tank to the bottle!

TVWA: Tell us about life outside the winery. Got family? Kids? Pets?

JVG: I have a 25 year-old son, and a 23-year old daughter. I have been married to my wife Blanca for 26 years this past April!

TVWA: Wow. You must drink a lot of wine then (we hear it is the key to a happy marriage!). Any favorites?

JVG: Yes I drink wine! I enjoy a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Syrah, or some type of dessert wine, which is my wife’s favorite.

TVWA: We’re guessing you’ve collected your share of memories over the past 34 years in Temecula Valley. Can you share any?

JVG: There was a time when I was unloading a Cherokee truck while working at Callaway. There was a truck driver who began to pull away from the location, but the pump was still connected to the truck! It’s funny now in hindsight, but at the time it was really scary. So now every time I see a Cherokee truck, I always remember that day!

TVWA: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working (or dodging trucks still connected to pumps)?

JVG: I love to go fishing with my family, which can be here locally at Lake Skinner, or at times going to fish off the Oceanside pier. I also love to play basketball with my son. Go Lakers!

TVWA: What Makes Temecula Valley so special to you?

JVW: Temecula Valley was the first place I came to after having left my hometown in Mexico. So, to me Temecula was my first home in America and I am grateful to have learned new things here. And, I’m proud to be a part of the South Coast wine-making team!

Huge thanks to all of the extraordinary people who work tirelessly every day to keep our region alive and well, especially those who contributed to this piece. Temecula Valley has been able to grow into the ultimate quality wine and hospitality destination because of you.

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RAMEN WITH ASPARAGUS, SHIITAKE, AND EDAMAME

July 23rd, 2020

Ramen with Asparagus

Everybody loves ramen. The noodles are slippery and satisfying, the broth nourishing, and it’s okay to slurp. Use this recipe as a template for your own inspirations. When asparagus is not in season, substitute spinach or mustard greens. If you can’t find edamame (soybeans), try green peas. A quivering six-minute egg continues to cook in the hot broth and adds richness. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Gewürztraminer or Riesling.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 3 1⁄2 cups (875 ml) rich chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1⁄2 cup (5 g) dried bonito flakes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1⁄2 pound (250 g) fresh ramen noodles
  • 2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
  • 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms, about 1 1⁄2 oz (45 g), stems removed, then sliced
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 1⁄2 cup (70 g) fresh or frozen shelled edamame
  • 2⁄3 cup (70 g) diagonally sliced asparagus tips, in slices 1⁄4 inch (6 mm) thick
  • 1⁄4 cup (65 g) white miso
  • 1⁄4 cup (30 g) minced green onion, white and pale green part only
  • Shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice blend), for garnish

Directions:

Bring the broth to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the bonito flakes, sprinkling them on the surface. Let them steep for 3 to 4 minutes, then strain through cheesecloth and return the strained broth to the saucepan.

Put enough water in a small saucepan to cover the egg generously but do not add the egg yet. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer so you can add the egg without jostling it. While the water is heating, prepare a bowl of ice water. With a large spoon, lower the egg into the simmering water, working carefully so it does not crack. Adjust the heat so the egg cooks at a gentle simmer. Cook the egg for 6 minutes exactly. Transfer the egg to the ice water with a slotted spoon. When cool, lift it out of the water and peel.

Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ramen noodles and stir well to keep the noodles from clumping. Cook, stirring often, until the noodles are al dente (the timing will depend on their freshness). With tongs, lift the noodles out of the pot and into a sieve or colander. Rinse with cool water and shake well to remove any excess water. Transfer to a bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil to prevent clumping.

Fill two large soup bowls with hot water from the ramen pot to warm them.

Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil in a small nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and set aside.

Return the broth to medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the edamame and simmer gently until they are almost tender, 3 to 5 minutes. (You can add frozen edamame without thawing.) Add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Put the miso in a small bowl and whisk in enough of the hot broth to make a smooth, pourable mixture. Stir the thinned miso into the broth. Salt to taste.

Drain the hot water from the soup bowls. Divide the noodles and mushrooms between the bowls. Top with the steaming-hot broth, dividing it evenly. Halve the boiled egg and nestle one half in each bowl. Garnish generously with the green onions and shichimi togarashi and serve.

Suggested Pairings:

Bel Vino Winery ~ NV Riesling – Extremely aromatic with intense fruity aromas of nectarine, ripe apricot and pink lady apples.

Danza del Sol Winery ~ 2017 Gewurztraminer – Green Guava, floral, and gingerbread spice.

Mount Palomar Winery ~ NV Riesling – The taste is full with apricot, peach, tangerine, lychee, star fruit and guava. 

South Coast Winery Resort & Spa ~ 2016 Dry Gewurztraminer – Exotic floral scents of roses, citrus, lychee fruit and bubble gum are balanced against the crisp acidity.

Recipe and photo courtesy of the Wine Institute of California

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PAN-SEARED SALMON WITH CORN AND POBLANO SALAD

July 2nd, 2020

Pan-Seared Salmon

Wild-caught California salmon is one of the culinary highlights of summer in the Golden State. A fresh corn salad with a Mexican accent is the perfect complement and would be just as compatible with halibut fillets, scallops, or shrimp. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Grenache Rosé or Sauvignon Blanc.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

Salad

  • 2 large poblano or Anaheim chilies 
  • 2 ears yellow corn, husked 
  • 1 cup (40 g) very coarsely chopped cilantro 
  • ½ small red onion, chopped 
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
  • Juice of 3 limes, or more to taste 
  • 1 large avocado, ripe but firm, diced 
  • 3 ounces (2/3 cup/85 g) coarsely crumbled queso fresco 
  • Kosher or sea salt 
  • 1 serrano chili, finely minced (optional) 

Salmon

  • 4 six-ounce (175 g) skin-on salmon fillets 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • Lime wedges for serving 

Directions:

Make the salad: Preheat the broiler. Put the poblano or Anaheim chilies on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil until blackened on all sides. Let cool, then peel, remove stems and seeds, and dice. Turn the oven to 425°F (220°C). 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Prepare a bowl of ice water. Add the corn to the boiling water and boil 30 seconds, then remove the ears with tongs and plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain when cool and pat dry. With a chef’s knife, cut away the kernels. You should have about 2-1/2 cups (350 g). 

 In a large bowl, combine the diced poblano or Anaheim chilies, corn, cilantro, red onion, olive oil, and juice of 3 limes. Add the avocado and queso fresco and toss gently.  

 Season well with salt and add more lime juice if desired. If the salad is not spicy enough for you, stir in some or all of the minced serrano chili.  

 Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a cast-iron skillet and put the skillet in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Season the salmon with salt. Place the fillets in the skillet, skin side down, and bake until they just flake when probed with a paring knife, about 10 minutes.  

 Serve salmon immediately with the salad on the side. 

Suggested Pairings:

Churon Inn Winery ~ 2019 Sauvignon Blanc – Well balanced with citrus flavors

Hart Winery ~ 2019 Grenache Rosé – With notes of cherry, watermelon and cranberry.

Leoness Cellars ~ 2019 CS Sauvignon Blanc – Rich citrus and stone fruit aromas are complemented by subtle hints of lemongrass and a crisp, lingering finish.

South Coast Winery Resort & Spa ~ 2017 Grenache Noir Rosé – Light in body, crisp in acidity and very dry, this rosé is the perfect wine for any cuisine and any festivity.

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Our Top Temecula Valley Wine Picks for Summer

July 2nd, 2020

Summer Sippin’

There’s something about Summertime sipping that just feels right. Maybe it’s the sensation of a breeze cooling our neck as the sun warms our face while enjoying a crisp glass of Pinot Grigio on our patio; maybe it’s the sun staying out just that little bit longer; or maybe it’s the amazing food that comes out during the warmer months – the smell of the grill, the sweet juices of peaches and watermelons running down our chins, fresh seafood, burgers, corn on the cob… Whatever it is, there’s just nothing like a great mid-summer glass of wine. But what to sip?

Here are some of our favorite go-to wines for the Summer months:

Sparkling

Not only does bubbly pair perfectly with just about any type of cuisine, it is a wonderful treat no matter the occasion. From milestone celebrations to simply feeling good on a Tuesday, it’s the ultimate refresher after a long day (or at the beginning of one – hello, brunch!).

Pair with: Literally anything. But bubbles and salty, fatty, fried, or crispy food is a match made in heaven. Think potato chips, calamari, tempura shrimp, truffled popcorn, cured meats and cheeses… we could go on… and on…

Some wines to try:

Thornton Winery NV Brut

Carter Estate Winery 2015 Blanc de Noir

Oak Mountain Winery NV Pinotage Sparkling

Leoness Cellars NV Brut

Crisp, Unoaked White

We all love a rich, buttery Chardonnay, but hot weather calls for something a bit more quaffable. Instead of those weightier whites like Viognier and Chardonnay, opt for something light and bright. Classic Italian and Spanish grapes like Arneis, Vermentino, Pinot Grigio, Albariño, and Verdelho are juicy and fresh, and act like a refreshing squeeze of lemon on your favorite Summer dishes.

Pair with: Seafood dishes prepared in a variety of styles, summer salads, and creamy pasta dishes.

Some wines to try:

Hart Winery 2019 Albariño

South Coast Winery 2019 Verdelho

Cougar Winery 2019 Estate Falanghina

Danza del Sol 2018 Vermentino

Rosé

There’s a reason “rosé all day” isn’t just a social media hashtag, it’s also a way of life: You can literally drink the stuff all day, every day. Rosé is a fantastic Summer sipper because it comes in so many different styles and hues, making it the whole package when it comes to food-friendly wine pairings. From pale pink and dripping with notes of watermelon and lime, to fuller-bodied and bursting with berry fruit, there’s a style to suit every palate, culinary creation, and occasion. And, it’s also pretty darn good on its own – unless you count your feet in the pool, a lazy swing in a hammock, or a sunset barbecue as part of your pairing.

Some wines to try:

Ponte Winery 2019 Pas Doux

Robert Renzoni Vineyards 2019 Lyric Rose

Doffo Winery 2019 Rosario

Akash Winery 2019 Parlez Vous Rosé

Light Red

Still craving that inky red wine, even in 100-degree weather? While Temecula Valley can be known for rich, full-bodied, luxurious wines, the region also produces quite a few lighter-bodied, fruity red wines, which are absolutely stunning on a warm summer day. Serve them with a slight chill to bring out the bright berry fruit. We promise you’ll thank us for the suggestion.

Pair with: Simple grilled meats and kabobs, tomato-based pastas, pizza

Some wines to try:

Fazeli Cellars 2015 Phel Phel

Baily Winery 2016 Cabernet Franc

Wiens Family Cellars 2018 Pinot Noir

Europa Village Bolero Cellars 2016 Garnacha

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Getting to Know Temecula Valley’s Rockstar Tasting Room Staff

July 2nd, 2020

We as wine lovers always like to hear how winemakers and winery owners got their start. We often think of them as local celebrities; their appearance in the tasting room is always met with hushed whispers and a great sense of excited anticipation – maybe they’ll sign my bottle! Or pour me a barrel sample! And they certainly deserve this rockstar status. However, there is another group of winery rockstars that equally deserve the spotlight – the tasting room staff who keep our glasses filled and hearts full.

Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country is known for its warm and welcoming tasting rooms. This is in no small part thanks to the remarkable men and women who bring their passion and engaging personalities to work every day, and to the stories they share with visitors about our region. Let’s meet a few Temecula Valley tasting room legends.

Walter Carter

Walter Carter, Director of Hospitality, Danza del Sol Winery & Masia de la Vinya Winery

This Temecula Valley rockstar is no doubt one of the best-known personalities in Temecula Valley. Not only is he the consummate wine and hospitality pro, being a Certified Hospitality Industry Professional (CHIP), a 2-time Xenia Spotlight on Service award winner, and a Certified Sommelier, his infectious personality is legendary in both the tasting room and across the region as a whole. Originally hailing from Tampa, Florida, he has lived in Temecula for eight years.

TVWA: Tell us about your family. Kids? Dogs?

WC: Jamie Carter is my wife, and we have a blended family of six kids.

TVWA: Wow – six kids! No wonder you love wine. Speaking of which, tell us about your first “a-ha!” wine moment?

WC: After working a shift in a restaurant in Florida, the chef prepared gorgonzola-crusted lamb chops, which he then paired with a Chianti. It changed the way I saw wine FOREVER! I describe this as my coming to wine (not Jesus) moment. The way the wine elevated the food, and vice versa, was something I’ll never forget.

TVWA: Do you have a favorite wine pairing?

WC: Gorgonzola-crusted lamb chops paired with a Chianti (of course), and 2009 Danza del Sol Syrah paired with blue cheese cheesecake.

TVWA: We think we may already know the answer, but do you have a signature tasting room style or move?

WC: The “Walter Pour” – an exaggerated long pour with a smile.

TVWA: Can you share one of your most memorable tasting room moments?

WC: Meeting my future wife. She was hired a couple of months after I was. I didn’t know it at the time, but she would end up being my best friend in the whole wide world.

TVWA: What does life look like for you outside of the winery? Got any hobbies?

WC: Golfing, and I love to cook. I love a good grill session, crock pot recipe, air fryer (just got one and I love love love it), you name it. I find it therapeutic when I have time to put together a nice meal for my family to enjoy. That is something that is very important to me.

Diana Geenen


Diana Geenen, Hospitality Operations Manager, Leoness Cellars

This Upland, California, native has been in Temecula Valley for the past 6 years. She is the proud mama of three dogs and a bearded dragon, and enjoys painting, cooking, exploring the restaurant and craft brewing scene, and gardening. She has also been part of the same book club for 11 years! Now that’s commitment!

TVWA: What was your first “a-ha!” wine moment?

DG: When I first heard of blind tasting. I was amazed this was possible! Ever since then, I really concentrate on the characteristics of different varietals and regions and try to commit them to memory. I really enjoy practicing blind tasting with my co-workers. 

TVWA: What is your favorite wine pairing?

DG: When I’m feeling extra fancy, Sauternes and Foie Gras. Though, nothing beats a ribeye steak and a beautiful bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon! 

TVWA: Do you have a signature tasing room style or move?

DG: One of my favorite things that we do at Leoness is side-by-side comparisons. For example, the same varietal but from two different vineyards tasted side-by-side can show the guest how a vineyard really influences the end result. We are so lucky to have our Vineyard Series wines. Guests have so much fun talking about the wine this way and can pick their favorite. It’s great to witness their A-HA! moment!

TVWA: Can you share one of your most memorable tasting room moments?

DG: I think the most memorable moment for me was Valentine’s Day 2019. We had the biggest storm in Temecula, and all the roads were flooded. I barely made it to the winery, and we were actually forced to close for the day, along with many other wineries, because the weather conditions were so unsafe. Water was coming into the tasting room and into our barrel room. It was truly a sight I’ll never forget!

Raymond Murgo

Raymond Angel Murgo, Tasting Room Manager, Falkner Winery

Raymond is originally from Anaheim, California, but has spent the past 9 years in Temecula. He married his high school sweetheart, Ana, with whom he has two daughters, Angelina (age 11) and Avani (age 8), as well as an English Bulldog named Coco Lola, whom he affectionately refers to as his “fur baby.”

TVWA: What was your first “a-ha!” wine moment?

RM: My first A-HA was when I worked for Buzz and Kimberly Olson at Tesoro Winery. I had just turned 21 and, up to that point, I’d tasted wine maybe twice at family gatherings. It was an ‘06 Merlot, blue label, with the vineyard’s decal. It was the fabled unicorn; when we had a bottle out, it was like a golden treasure. So, I opened up the bottle and poured glasses for Buzz and me, and I and remember looking at how beautiful the deep blue hue was. I began swirling the glass and watching, almost in slow motion, the wine glide from side to side. We raised our glasses and took that luscious sip. Black cherry and plum, finishing with a softness… the vanilla just rolled on the back of your palate. We talked for a great while, finishing that bottle, but I wouldn’t believe, at 21 years of age, I had found what my love and passion would be. 

TVWA: What is your favorite wine pairing?

RM: My favorite wine pairing has to be Falkner Winery’s Amante Super Tuscan paired with the Spanish Octopus we serve at our on-site restaurant, The Pinnacle. Chef Jason just knows his way with it to keep the tenderness, and the Amante accentuates the red plum, roasted pepper, and roundness. You would think I’d go with white wine, but no way! I learned with many of the dishes at The Pinnacle Restaurant that our Amante is a killer treat! 

TVWA: Do you have a signature tasting room style or move?

RM: So my family, friends, and wine club member have sent me some insightful characteristics when I asked them about this (and some direct messages that are strictly meant to stay in the tasting room… those had-to-be-there moments!). But what I have gotten mostly as feedback is that I make wine approachable to all visitors. I am able to tell a story about the world of Temecula Valley Wine Country with knowledge, ease, and laughter! It’s almost as though I bring them into the backyard, and we can just relax for those 45 mins… it’s home. 

TVWA: Can you share one of your most memorable tasting room moments?

RM: My most memorable moment had to be when Kyla Pratt, an actress who played in one of my childhood favorite movies called “Love & Basketball,” stopped by to visit. She was so fun; she even got behind the bar with me and started pouring for her party. It was just another one of those times that it felt like we were all friends and family hanging out. 

TVWA: What does life look like for you outside of the winery? Got any hobbies?

RM: Outside of the wine world, I’m a huge family man. With my Mexican-American lifestyle we have a party to go to every weekend, prior to COVID. I love taking my girls to family adventures. I can’t breathe without my Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe fanatic), and Anaheim Angels. I played almost every sport from the age of 7 years old and up. So, when I can rally the troops, we get together and play basketball. But, one of my hidden passions is that I love history and literature, especially historical fiction. I am currently writing a biography about my family and linking the social norms and experiences from the 1990s to present. It’s a whole lot of fun learning where you came from to practicing the foundation for your future grandkids. 

Laura Kessens

Laura Kessens, Wine Consultant, Robert Renzoni Vineyards

This Scottsdale, Arizona native has been in Temecula for a whopping 20 years! When not charming guests with her warm personality and wine knowledge at Robert Renzoni Vineyards, she spends her time cooking, going wine tasting, and hanging out with friends and family, especially her two daughters.

TVWA: What was your first “a-ha!” wine moment?

LK: Hart Winery

TVWA: What is your favorite wine pairing?

LK: A glass of wine and a sunset!

TVWA: Do you have a signature tasing room style or move?

LK: I’m not going to tell you what it is! You’ll just have to come experience it for yourself!

TVWA: Ha! Fair enough. Can you at least share one of your most memorable tasting room moments?

LK: Some guests asked me where I liked to go wine tasting. I told them. The next day, they came back to me with the wine they had bought and wanted me to sign a bottle for them… wow.

Danaé Wegner

Danaé Wegner, Tasting Room Manager, Peltzer Family Cellars

Even though Danaé was born in Lake Arrowhead, California, she definitely considers Temecula her hometown. This makes sense given she has been here for 25 years! Her love of wine infuses even her life outside of the winery. She loves to create lavish charcuterie spreads and host friends and family for what her friend and Certified Sommelier, Art DeCaro, has lovingly dubbed “Wine Family Dinner.” She also loves to snuggle her “big baby bear” (AKA a very large Newfoundland dog) named Amber Jean.

TVWA: What was your first “a-ha!” wine moment?

DW: For my 21st birthday, my wine-loving Aunt Georgi took my sister, Dara, and I out to the Mission Inn in Riverside to celebrate. We stayed up all night talking and drinking her favorite go-to everyday bottle, St. Francis Zinfandel. I realized that evening that wine creates moments, which create memories, and I was in love. 

TVWA: Do you have a favorite wine pairing?

DW: As a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 certification holder, I enjoy only the finest food and wine pairings, like Peltzer’s DOCG Prosecco and the Pizza con Rucola from our friends at Spuntino’s!

TVWA: Do you have a signature tasing room style or move?

DW: Reaching up on my tip-toes in order to pour a glass of wine across the bar for thirsty customers. Being 5 feet tall creates strong calves in this industry!

TVWA: Can you share one of your most memorable tasting room moments?

DW: While taking a group through a tasting, it seemed apparent that one of the younger gentlemen wanted to be sure that I knew he was wildly experienced in the world of wine. I asked if he had ever had our premium sparkling wine. No, he had not. Well, it is very exclusive and I would have to go ask my manager if I could pour it for him. 

Permission granted! I went into the back and pulled out our Non-Vintage Pellegrino. It was his favorite wine of the day, and his friends appreciated his slightly shorter wine snob stance. We keep in touch, and I attended his wedding in 2016.

Rebecca Barone

Rebecca Barone, Wine Server, Monte de Oro Winery

Although Rebecca was born in in Northern California, she has called Temecula home for the past 19 years. Her 21-year-old son and his wife are serving in the Air Force, and her 18-year-old daughter just graduated high school. She has been married for 29 years, and has an adorable little Chihuahua named Cheerio.

TVWA: Do you have a favorite wine pairing?

RB: My favorite pairing is a big red with some salty Manchego or Parmigiano cheese.

TVWA: Do you have a signature tasing room style or move?

RB: I would say my style is honest and authentic but also fun and knowledgeable.

TVWA: What does life look like for you outside of the winery? Got any hobbies?

RB: My hobbies – other than wine – are being with my family, reading, hiking, and being outdoors.

Huge thanks to all the amazing winery staff who contributed to this piece. Got a favorite Wine Country tasting room rockstar? Tell us on social media and we will give them a shout out!

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Great Grilling Wines for Dad

June 2nd, 2020

Grillin’ with Wine

Barbecues are a great way to enjoy the outdoors and celebrate the day with Dad.  And all that grillin’ just screams for a good red wine.  But if you’re thinking it’s too warm for red, think again!  With these few tips, finding the perfect warm weather sip won’t have to put your love of red on hold.

  • Chill out!  Pop your bottle of red wine in the fridge for about 30 mins – or in an ice chest for about half that – and you’ll be amazed at how much more refreshing it will taste.
  • No or Low Oak wines are generally fresher and fruitier.
  • Low to Moderate Alcohol levels usually equate to lower tannin levels for a wine that won’t weigh you down.
  • Light to Medium bodied wines tend to be easy on the palate, bright and light.

So, whether you’re in the backyard or on the beach – serving burgers and brats, or steak and grilled veggies – there’s tons of options for pairing your favorite Temecula Valley wine with whatever you’re serving up.

If the mainstay is red meat, a spicy Zinfandel or Syrah would be perfect.  If you’re looking for a more mellow choice, a fruit forward Merlot always works; it’s also great with chicken, pork chops or fish.  If your fave is a Cabernet, go ahead and drink what  you like.  But try not to shortchange your options.  Go for a nice red blend for the best of all worlds.  And don’t forget about a blush wine; there’s nothing a nice dry rosé can’t do for spicy ribs and coleslaw – or a plate of spicy hot wings!

A  few Temecula Valley wine suggestions for your next barbecue:

Danza del Sol Winery ~ 2014 Grenache – Black cherry, black pepper, dried herbs, and sweet spice.

Miramonte Winery ~ 2016 Four Torch GSM – Shows best at about 65 degrees. That’s roughly 15 minutes in your refrigerator before serving.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards ~ 2015 Big Fred’s Red – Aromas of blackberry, cherry and allspice with flavors of dark fruit, tobacco and caramel on the finish.

Oak Mountain Winery ~ 2014 Merlot – Offers flavors of chocolate, plums, licorice, black cherries, blueberries and blackberries as well as jam, with aromas of black fruits such as black cherry, blackberry and cassis.

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Welcoming Guests Back ~ Safely & Responsibly

June 2nd, 2020

Temecula Valley Wine Country

The safety of visitors, loyal customers and staff of Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country is our greatest priority. With the sudden global spread of the COVID-19 virus, we are trying our best to keep our guests and employees safe and appreciate your understanding of new policies and processes. We appreciate your patience while we navigate this “new normal.”

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors announced that the Governor’s office approved a variance that would allow “Dine-In-Restaurants” to re-open in our County. The Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) has defined that “dine-in restaurants” includes restaurants and brewpubs, as well as supplier licensees that permit tasting and/or private events (such as wineries, breweries, and craft distillers). While our wineries are still not allowed to offer any sort of wine tasting on property, they will be allowed to sell glasses of wine and bottles of wine, as long as their guests purchase a meal provided by the winery restaurant, a licensed caterer or a food truck. 

While this is much welcome news, many of our wineries will need some time to transition into this new way of doing business and to ensure that they are following the health and safety guidelines set forth by the State of California and Riverside County.  Many of the wineries have reduced their capacity and are requiring reservations. We will be keeping our website current with information that we receive from the wineries as to their operating hours at this time.  However, please contact the winery you wish to visit prior to visiting to ensure you’re aware of their policies and procedures. Please click HERE for a list and information on current winery operating hours and requirements prior to your visit.

Thank you, wine-loving friends, for your continued support of our Temecula Valley wineries and we look forward to welcoming you back!

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ALMOND MERINGUE TORTE WITH STRAWBERRIES AND RICOTTA CREAM

June 2nd, 2020

Almond Meringue Torte

Like strawberry shortcake but more elegant, this layered dessert needs to rest for a few hours before slicing to soften the crunchy meringue. It keeps for about a day so you can serve half for dinner and enjoy the other half for a decadent breakfast the next morning. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Muscat/Moscato or Riesling.

Serves 8

Ingredients
Meringue:

  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ cup (100 g) sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 6 tablespoons (45 g) finely ground toasted almonds (see Note)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour


Filling:

  • ¾ pound (350 g) whole-milk ricotta
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon brandy
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream, whipped to firm peaks
  • ¾ pound (350 g) strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon brandy
  • 1 tablespoon finely ground raw (unroasted) pistachios, for garnish
  • Mint sprig and sliced strawberry, optional garnish


Directions

Make the meringue: Preheat two ovens to 350°F (180°C) or position two racks in the upper third and bottom third of one oven. Line two heavy rimmed baking sheets with parchment and trace three 7-1/2-inch (19-cm) circles on the paper in pencil, two circles on one sheet and one on the other. Flip the parchment over so the batter will not touch the pencil marks.

In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip the egg whites and salt on medium-high speed until foamy. Add the sugar gradually, then the almond extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then raise the speed to high and whip until the sugar has completely dissolved and the meringue stands in firm peaks when the whisk is lifted.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. Gently fold in the almonds, then the butter, then the flour.

Divide the mixture evenly among the traced circles and spread into evenly thick 7-1/2-inch (19-cm) rounds. Bake until golden-brown and no longer sticky to the touch, 18 to 20 minutes. If you are using one oven, shift the position of the baking sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.

Remove the baking sheets from the oven and lift the parchment sheets onto a cooling rack. When the meringue tortes are completely cool, carefully peel away the parchment. Don’t worry if they stick a little bit.

Make the filling: In a food processor, blend the ricotta, sugar, brandy, and vanilla until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and gently fold in the whipped cream.

In a bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar, and brandy. Toss gently and let stand 5 minutes.

Place one meringue on a cake stand or platter that will fit in the refrigerator. Top with one-third of the ricotta filling, spreading it evenly to the edges. Arrange half of the berries in an even layer on top of the ricotta. Top with another and half of the remaining ricotta filling, spreading it to the edges. Top the ricotta with the remaining berries in an even layer, then place the third macaroon on top. Spread the remaining ricotta filling on top of the torte, then cover with a cake dome and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 1 day.

Just before serving, garnish the top with the ground pistachios and, if desired, with a mint sprig and sliced strawberry.

NOTE: Toast whole raw almonds in a 325°F (160°C) oven until golden inside, about 25 minutes. Let cool, then grind fine in a nut grinder or food processor.

Suggested Pairings:

Baily Winery ~ 2017 Riesling – This cool and crisp white wine is perfect on a summer day, enjoy it poolside with friends and family!

Europa Village ~ 2016 Muscat Canelli – Aromas and flavors of peach, apricot and orange blossom with a nicely balanced residual sugar.

Maurice Car’rie Winery ~ 2017 Moscato – 100% Muscat Canelli, shows delicious floral and fruity flavors of mango, peach and apricot.

Somerset Winery ~ 2019 Riesling – This beautifully light and aromatic wine is floral on the nose and offers notes of spicy cinnamon, baked apples, kiwi and pears.


Recipe and photo courtesy of the Wine Institute of California


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A Reflection on The Past Few Months And A Big Thank You to Our Consumers

June 2nd, 2020

As Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country begins the slow and careful process of welcoming visitors back to wineries and restaurants safely after this long break, we are all taking a minute to reflect on what the past few months have taught us, and what the future holds for our wine region.

Here are the top three things we have learned:

  1. Temecula Valley is resilient.
    From its humble start as a one-stop-sign town to its current status as one of the world’s top wine destinations, Temecula Valley has come through a lot in its relatively short 52-year history. The region has battled drought years, a near extinction thanks to a nefarious vineyard pest in the 90s, tough competition from other wine regions, and now a major shut-down that has been particularly hard for a place that relies on visitation to stay afloat.

    And yet Temecula Valley always seems to emerge stronger than ever. Much like the Pierce’s Disease situation that nearly wiped us out forced us to invest in the research and tools to transform vine planting, grape growing and winemaking in the region, so has the current situation surrounding the pandemic encouraged us to regroup and find new and creative ways to reach our customers.

    The people of Temecula Valley are light on their feet when it comes to pivoting, and it is one of the biggest keys to our resilience. Many of you have probably taken part in the dozens of virtual wine tastings our wineries have been hosting, or taken advantage of the great packages and partner offers that they have pulled together for customers. Many of you have watched as our winemakers and tasting room staff have taken their cameras and laptops to the vineyards and barrel rooms, offering virtual tours and the chance to get to know them better. This nimbleness is what has allowed us to keep your wine country alive through these challenging times.

    We know we will be faced with other obstacles in our future. And we know we will band together to come through them as we always do – stronger than ever.

  2. Our community is all heart.
    Almost without exception, the moment the stay at home orders were announced, our wineries started to not only figure out ways to support their employees in the face of layoffs and furloughs, but they found ways to give back to the community as well.

    South Coast Winery Resort & Spa and Carter Estate Winery and Resort contributed 50% of online wine sales to provide food and other provisions to furloughed staff members. Fazeli Cellars took 50% of the proceeds from bottles of their 2014 Mehregan and 2018 Norooz sold to go directly back to employees to help with expenses. Leoness Cellars and others created similar programs.

    Mount Palomar Winery not only did a social media promotion for healthcare workers, but they also donated bulk wine to several distilleries to create hand sanitizers.

    Robert Renzoni Vineyards, who had to furlough 40 of their 47 employees as a result of the shelter in place orders, began selling “Employee Support Packs,” with 50% of the proceeds going back to their employees. The Renzoni family also donated 50 generously sized hams for employees to pick up, along with a bottle of wine.

    Doffo Winery organized weekly grocery boxes for their team, while Palumbo Winery donated several cases to the Cocina Urbana group in San Diego and to Goat and Vine in Temecula to give to chefs and wait staff who had been furloughed.

    Wilson Creek Winery donated 50,000 wine tasting tickets (to the tune of $1.25 million) to healthcare workers in Riverside and San Diego for redemption once they are back open.  They also donated 1,000 bottles to Temecula Valley Hospital.

    Peltzer Family Cellars donated 300 bottles to the Temecula Valley hospital healthcare workers.

    This is just a handful of ways our community has stepped up and given back during the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter how tough things get, we always look out for each other, and other communities in need.

  3. Our friends and fans are loyal… and the only reason we are all still here today.
    These past few months have been tough on everyone. But your support – whether it was maintaining your wine club membership, joining us for virtual tastings, ordering wines online or over the phone, engaging with us on social media, or simply reaching out to say hi – has gotten us through this.

We cannot thank you enough for your ongoing loyalty to our wineries and the Temecula Valley region in general, and we cannot wait to see your smiling faces back in our tasting rooms and restaurants hopefully very soon.

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SHRIMP FRIED RICE WITH ASPARAGUS, LEEKS, AND ALMONDS

May 5th, 2020

Shrimp Fried Rice

California asparagus make this stir-fry especially colorful, fresh, and fit for spring. For a vegetarian version, substitute firm tofu for the shrimp. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio.

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 for a side dish

Ingredients

1 dozen medium to large shrimp, about ½ pound (225 g), peeled and deveined
Kosher or sea salt
1/2 pound (225 g) medium asparagus
4 tablespoons (60 ml) peanut oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten with ¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups (200 g) thinly sliced leeks, white and pale green parts only
4 cups (1 l) cold cooked medium-grain rice
1/3 cup (35 g) toasted slivered almonds
1 tablespoon Chinese sesame oil with red chili
1 cup (15 g) whole cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish

Directions

Season the shrimp with ½ teaspoon salt and set aside.

To trim the asparagus, hold each spear horizontally between both hands and bend it. It will snap naturally at the point at which the spear becomes tough. Discard the tough ends. Slice the spears on the diagonal about ½-inch (1 cm) wide, leaving the tips whole.

Heat a wok over high heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil and swirl to coat the wok. Add the shrimp and stir-fry until they just turn pink; leave them slightly underdone as they will cook further when stir-fried with the rice. Transfer the shrimp to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon peanut oil. When the oil is hot, add the beaten eggs. They should sizzle and puff without browning. Let them set for about 10 seconds, then push any cooked egg to one side of the wok and let the uncooked egg pool in the center of the wok. Continue cooking, adjusting the heat to prevent browning and pushing cooked egg to one side until all of the egg has just barely set. The eggs should be moist and slightly runny as they will cook more when stir-fried with the rice. Scrape them onto a plate, chop very coarsely with a spatula, and wipe the wok clean.

Return the wok to high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons peanut oil. When the oil is hot, add the asparagus and leeks. Season with salt. Stir-fry until the asparagus is almost tender, about 1-1/2 minutes. Return the shrimp to the skillet and give everything a toss, then add the rice. Season with more salt and stir-fry until the rice is hot throughout, about 1 minute. Add the cooked eggs, ¼ cup (30 g) almonds and the spicy sesame oil and toss briskly once or twice, then remove from the heat. Taste for salt. Add the cilantro and toss to distribute it, then transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish the top with more cilantro leaves and the remaining toasted almonds. Serve immediately.

Suggested Pairings:

Callaway Vineyard & Winery ~ 2016 Special Selection Chardonnay – This light, crisp Chardonnay opens with aromas of leafy pineapple and citrus fruits. The palate is lush with fresh tropical fruits, golden delicious apple with a tangy pineapple finish. 

Carter Estate Winery & Resort ~ 2017 Pinot Gris – Citrus notes are round and tropical, with delicate floral scents and ripe pear flavors: a wine of distinction.

Oak Mountain Winery ~ 2019 Chardonnay – You can pick up apple, pineapple, honey, vanilla, and roasted flavors that really fill the mouth. This chardonnay is lightly oaked with French oak imparting rich flavors of vanilla, butterscotch, creme brulee and caramel.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards ~ 2019 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Grigio – Flavors of ripened pear, Granny Smith Apple and lemon zest along with a crisp, rich lingering finish.  

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