Facebook

Blog

Get to Know the Rockstars of Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country

March 2nd, 2020

Five Temecula Valley Winemakers Share Their Story

With over 40 different wineries in Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country, there is a lot to discover. While the tasting rooms and world class wines are part of what makes the region so special, the people and personalities behind these wines are the true driving force behind this remarkable destination. Let’s get to know some of them.

Tom Stolzer Thornton Winery

Tom Stolzer, Winemaker at Thornton Winery

Tom dreamt about being a winemaker while studying biochemistry at San Francisco State University in the 1980s, eventually falling in love with everything wine-related while visiting wineries in Napa and Sonoma on the weekends. 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry and a LOT of wine from every region in the world later, Tom’s wife encouraged him to follow his dream of making wine commercially. He earned his winemaking stripes working alongside some of Temecula’s most iconic winemakers, including Wilson Creek’s Gus Vizgirda (then at Maurcie Car’rie), and South Coast Winery’s Jon McPherson and Javier Flores. Now the winemaker at Thornton Winery, he is working on defining his own style, with the goal of making “wines with pure fruit, balance and finesse…that reflect the character that Temecula Valley gives to the fruit.”

We caught up with him recently and asked him a few questions.

Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association: Why did you choose Temecula Valley as a place to make wine?

Tom: Initially, I chose Temecula Valley because it was the closest established wine region.  After moving to Walla Walla, Washington to continue in the wine business, I realized that my heart belongs in Southern California, for family reasons as well as for my appreciation of the Temecula Valley as a wine region.

TVWA: What do you see as the future of Thornton Winery?

Tom: Thornton Winery has a long history of producing quality wines.  First, it was a sparkling wine house, with 100% of production to Méthode Champenoise produced sparklers.  We are now about 40% sparkling with the rest being red, white and rosé table wines.  I hope to see Thornton carry on that rich tradition, while we pick up the momentum left by our past winemakers and continue to make better and better wines.

TVWA: What do you see as the future of Temecula Valley?

Tom: Temecula Valley has a great history and potential, and there are some wonderful wines being made here already.  I hope to see us focus on those varieties that are best suited to our climate and region, and become a destination for serious consumers who will come to the Temecula Valley for world class wines that they cannot find in any other region of California. 

David Allbright
Monte de Oro Winery

David Allbright, Winemaker at Monte de Oro Winery

Science always came easily to David. His love and passion for winemaking eventually came to life as he began to study and understand the interplay of biology, chemistry and geography in the world of wine and winemaking. He cultivated a particular interest in Oenology – the science of winemaking – and was able to build the various lab skills so essential in clean and precise winemaking techniques. He then got his official start as a winemaker under Tim Kramer of Leoness Cellars, working seasonally in the cellar and supporting the bottling crew.  David describes his approach to winemaking as “really straightforward.” He stresses the importance of “wine integrity,” believing that if we label the wine as Cabernet Sauvignon, then that’s what it should taste like. He calls this the “quality of being honest.”

Here’s what else he had to say:

TVWA: Why did you choose Temecula Valley as a place to make wine?

David: I like to think Temecula Valley chose me.  My first visit to Temecula Valley was in 1992 when I was a United States Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, and I decided to visit some of the Temecula wineries.  A few years later, after graduating from Texas State University, I returned to Temecula and began working at Callaway Winery in 2001 under Tim Kramer as the assistant tasting room manager. In 2018, Temecula Valley Wine Country celebrated its 50th anniversary of the first commercial vineyard starting in 1968. That’s my birthdate! Maybe there’s a connection!

TVWA: What do you see as the future of Monte de Oro Winery?

David: Although Monte De Oro just celebrated its 10-year anniversary as a winery, it is really only in its second phase of growth and construction.  The first phase was the planting of 72 acres of vineyard in 2002, followed by the building and completion of the beautiful tasting room and winery in 2009.  Lastly, we will complete the final phase of a full-on natural gravity flowing wine production facility.

TVWA: What do you see as the future of Temecula Valley?

David: I like to think I’m still a spring chicken in this winemaking community, so I truly believe the future belongs to the up-and-coming junior winemakers of Temecula Valley. These winemakers have been so fortunate to have learned from their mentors, and are now coming into their own in creating great, premium wines in their own personally-inspired style.

Justin Knight
Danza del Sol Winery

Justin Knight, Winemaker at Danza del Sol Winery

Like David & Tom, Justin was always drawn to chemistry and making things with his hands, which naturally led him to winemaking as a career path. His first job in wine was in the tasting room at Danza del Sol over 12 years ago, where he first developed an interest in the production side of the business. He then began to work under winemaker Mike Tingley and assistant winemaker Renato Sais, learning the ropes and further cultivating his passion. He eventually climbed the ranks from cellar hand to lab tech to cellar master and ultimately assistant winemaker under Arturo Villareal. In 2018, he was promoted to head winemaker for both Danza del Sol and sister property Masia de la Vinya, an achievement he credits not only to his education at UC Davis, but also to his three mentors, Mike, Renato and Arturo.

Justin describes his winemaking style as “an old-world approach, while incorporating new age techniques.” He aims to keep things simple, guiding the grapes to where they need to be in order to show best. “Simple yet elegant. Robust yet balanced,” he says. “Each varietal has its own story to tell; it’s my job to put it into words.”

TVWA: Why did you choose Temecula Valley as a place to make wine?

Justin: I consider myself a native to the Temecula valley, so to me the choice was easy. I’ve lived in Temecula for about 20 years, grew up playing soccer in this valley, and graduated from Great Oak High School. I wouldn’t want to be making wine anywhere else. Not only is Temecula my home, but its unique climate can produce some amazing wines.

TVWA: What do you see as the future of Danza del Sol?

Justin: This year marks the 10-year anniversary for Danza del Sol Winery. The future is looking brighter than ever. We have plans on increasing our acreage and expanding our new wine selection. Look forward to trying our newly bottled whites, including Albariño, Chenin Blanc, and Grenache Blanc, starting this Spring.

TVWA: What do you see as the future of Temecula Valley?

Justin: The sky’s the limit for the Temecula Valley, as more acres are planted, and more wineries built. The word continues to grow that this valley can compete with any wine region in the world. I recently heard someone say, “San Francisco has Napa, San Diego has Temecula.”  

David Bradley
Vindemia Winery

David Bradley, Owner &  Winemaker, Vindemia Winery

David and his wife Gail purchased land near South Coast Winery in 1999 to plant a vineyard and launch hot air balloons. After purchasing another vineyard, the couple started to learn how to grow wine grapes, ultimately inspiring them to make wine and open a winery. When asked about his winemaking philosophy, David says it’s not making wine in Temecula that’s difficult; it’s growing the grapes. “Our warm climate demands new techniques to produce age-worthy, well-balanced wines that have the potential to become really good wines. This requires ongoing education and experimentation,” he explains. “So Vindemia’s approach is not to stand still.”

So we cornered him and asked a few more questions.

TVWA: Why did you choose Temecula Valley as a place to make wine?

David: The choice of place was completely based on our hot air balloon business, California Dreamin’, moving from North San Diego to the Temecula Valley.

TVWA: What do you see as the future of Vindemia?

David: Vindemia’s goal has always been to produce estate wines that fit the potential of the region at the very highest quality. Our future is based on this production, and our willingness to invest in this goal with people and technology. We will grow as the quality of our wine grows.

TVWA: What do you see as the future of Temecula Valley?

Temecula Wine Country has experienced explosive growth. Wine regions seem to cycle and slow down over time to absorb new wineries and vineyard planting. To find a home for new small plot vineyards and expanded varietals, the quality of farming for these grapes will need to rapidly improve as lower quality vineyards are removed. Temecula Valley’s reputation is slowing and carefully growing into acceptance for producing high quality wine. Temecula needs more experienced and seasoned winemakers [to come join us out here].

Craig Larson
Callaway Vineyard & Winery

Craig Larson, Winemaker, Callaway Winery

Craig started his winemaking career as a cellar working in Washington State. His passion to create inspired him to become a winemaker, ultimately landing him at Callaway Winery in Temecula Valley, where he produces wine he describes as having “European influence – the expression of terroir and varietal character.”

TWVA: Why did you choose Temecula Valley as a place to make wine?

Craig: I chose Temecula Valley for the Southern exposure, and the opportunity to create wines from Southern grape varieties. 

TVWA: What do you see as the future of Callaway Winery?

Craig: I see Callaway continuing to pursue the research and development of unique grape varieties and wines.

TVWA: What do you see as the future of Temecula Valley?

Craig: I see more winemaking coming to the valley, and the development of viticulture here.

Huge thanks to these talented and passionate winemakers for taking the time to contribute to this story. Find out more about what’s happening in Temecula Valley at TemeculaWines.org and VisitTemeculaValley.com.

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

  • Categories

  • Archives

View Our Winery Map