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Getting to Know Temecula Valley’s Rockstar Tasting Room Staff

Thursday, 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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May’s Official Wine Days

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

As if we needed a day to drink wine, May 25th is the unofficial, official National Wine Day (not to be confused with National Drink Wine Day held in February each year).  And, if that’s not enough, we also celebrate International Sauvignon Blanc Day, World Moscato Day and National Chardonnay Day in May!

Wondering how did these days come to be? Actually, official wine days are pretty unofficial. They are usually a movement started by a variety of individuals or organizations with a passion for juice. Based on our research, National Wine Day started in 2009 and, since then, a variety of wine appreciation days have popped up in the calendar. So, now you know how easy it is to make an official wine day!

First up on the calendar, #SauvBlancDay is on May 5th. Originating in the Bordeaux region of France, the grape is also widely planted throughout New Zealand – and grows with ease here in the Temecula Valley. An acidic wine that displays a citrus-y, grapefruit-like quality, it’s a pleasing choice for a warm summer day. A very versatile vino, Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with shell fish, grilled vegetables (even asparagus!) and cheeses. It’s the perfect picnic wine!

Some Temecula Valley stand-outs are from Hart Winery, Danza del Sol Winery and Peltzer Winery.

May 9th is #MoscatoDay.  The day was introduced here in the US by Gallo Family Vineyards back in 2012 to celebrate the rising popularity and sky-rocketing sales of the varietal. If you know nothing about Moscato (or Muscat/Muscat Canelli), it originated in the Piedmont region of Italy where it’s a favorite due to its sweetness, lightness and affordability – and is popular as a sparkling wine. You’ll find Moscato table wines in white, red or rosé styles, and they make an especially delicious dessert wine. With it’s bouquet of peach, honey and citrus, a delicate sweetness and fresh acidity, it’s perfect served with a plate of fresh cheeses.

Try the Muscat Canelli from Callaway WineryCarter Estate or Oak Mountain Winery.

And then there’s the day to pay homage to the old standby, Chardonnay. #ChardonnayDay is sharing it’s special day with National Wine Day this year on May 25th.  The world’s most planted white wine grape varietal is enjoyed by fans all over the world. Generally dry to medium-dry with pear, apple, tropical or citrus fruit flavors, Chardonnay is grown in virtually every wine-producing region. Watch hot Girl Alone shows on live sex chat Girls from all over the World. . Online blonde webcam chat rooms sorted by categories. Hot amateur porn videos and best free sites. Crisp and fresh with little to no oak aging, or creamy and buttery with extensive oak aging, there’s a Chardonnay out there that will make just about anyone smile!

Enjoy the Chardonnay from Masia de la Vinya Winery, Thornton Winery or Wiens Family Cellars

But, who needs a National Day to enjoy a glass of wine or two?  That’s certainly not how we roll here in Temecula Valley, Southern California’s beautiful wine country.

#drinktemecula

Reference: Wine Folly

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Welcome New Temecula Wineries!

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

We’re excited to announce the opening of three new Temecula Valley Wine Country wineries!  We’ve been out to visit all three and can say that we were both impressed and enamored with them.  Here’s a brief introduction:

avensole4Avensole Winery:

Situated on the hilltop above Rancho California Road, Avensole is Temecula’s newest winery. Formerly Van Roekel Winery, this hilltop estate has long been known for its old-growth vines producing some of Temecula’s finest grapes. The property was purchased by the Lytton family in 2014 and has been extensively remodeled, includes a new restaurant, a marketplace with both wine and craft beer bars, a tasting room, a new indoor-outdoor wedding venue, and park-like setting with pond.  The Lytton Family is committed to using the property’s premium fruit to produce some of Temecula’s finest, premium wines. Their grand opening is on Saturday, April 9th…be sure to stop by!
34567 Rancho California Rd. Temecula, CA 92591

Fazeli Profile OrigFazeli Cellars:

Back in 2001,the Fazeli family decided to visit the Temecula Valley. It was just a relaxing day trip to explore the local wine country and at the time, no one realized that this was the beginning of what was to become a life changing adventure. The Fazeli’s fell in love with the Valley and purchased land to grow some grapes and maybe make a little wine. But BJ Fazeli doesn’t know how to do little! What started out as a hobby soon became the passion that resulted in the creation of Fazeli Cellars. They started with a small tasting room in Old Town Temecula and soon broke ground on their new winery on the De Portola Trail in Temecula Valley Wine Country.
37320 De Portola Road, Temecula, CA 92592

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Masia de la Vinya:
Located in the beautiful valley of Temecula, California. This picturesque property is owned and operated by Bob Olson, who also owns Danza del Sol Winery. Masia de la Vinya, (roughly translated ‘manor house of the vineyard’) has a heavy Spanish influence in the wines and a Southern California ambiance, beautiful panoramic views and a friendly and knowledgeable staff. Formerly Masia de Yabar, Masia de la Vinya offers quality wine with a Spanish influence, affordable pricing , stunning views, and a casual wine tasting experience like no other in the valley.
39788 Camino Arroyo Seco, Temecula, CA 92592
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