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It’s Official: Harvest is Here!

Wednesday, September 1st, 2021

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at What Goes on in the Vineyard and Winery Before, During, and After Harvest in Temecula Valley

Evening Harvest

Equipment has been washed and sanitized. Bins have been readied. Summer vacations have been enjoyed, bodies rested and refueled for the work to come.

And then it begins. That perfect brix reading on the refractometer, telling winemakers and vineyard managers that the sugars in the grapes are where they want them to be. A quick sampling of a few berries straight off the vine indicate perfect phenolic ripeness – the grape skins have lost unpleasant, bitter flavors and have softened into something that will produce delicious, balanced wine. It’s go-time – the official kick-off of harvest. And it’s all underway in Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country right now.

This is a busy time in the vineyard and the winery, and no day is the same. We caught up with a few Temecula Valley winemakers and winery staff to check in on how it’s all going, and what a typical day might look like at the winery during harvest. We also asked them if they have any superstitious, pre-harvest rituals and found out that winemaking isn’t all science and agriculture… it’s also a little bit of magic as well.

THE PREP

For the team at Peltzer Farm & Winery, the days leading up to harvest contain an energy shared by all. “Harvest season is usually an exciting state of limbo,” says Tasting Room Manager Danae Wager. “The grapes tell US when they’re ripe, so we wait on the sidelines in anticipation as the season begins. Typically, farmers wait until dark to pick the fruit, which preserves the sugar and acid levels needed to curate the desired end result that ends up in the bottle.” 

Oak Mountain Winery owner Valerie Andrews paints a picture of the days and weeks leading up to the big moment when harvest officially begins:

“Oak Mountain’s harvest routine is to hurry and bottle everything in the tanks so we will have room for harvest. Next, we wash and test all equipment, as it has been sitting all year. Steve, by this time, has ordered yeasts and supplies so we are ready when Mother Nature says ‘go.’ We check last year’s timing of when we picked grapes and start testing sugar levels, then cross our fingers that we can get pickers to pick when we are ready. Fortunately, it always works out! Now it’s time for a glass of wine.”

Nick Palumbo, owner and winemaker at Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery, compares prepping for harvest to getting ready for a busy night of service at a restaurant.

“[It’s like] Mise en Place,” he explains. “This is a French term often used in professional cooking that roughly translates into ‘Get your act together!’ But what it really means is, before you get started, gather all you will need, do your prep work and make sure everything is in place. The best run restaurants as well as wineries know this well and plan ahead. Harvest is and can be unpredictable, chaotic and fast-paced but if you are ready it can also be smooth and predictable.”

Some pre-harvest rituals are more superstitious. “We bury 11 pennies in the ground on the first day of harvest,” says Sharon Cannon, Director of Operations for Akash Winery. “It’s an Indian good luck tradition that [Co-owner] Mrs. Patel started for the winery.”

Or they’re just plain sensible:

Says Joe Wiens, winemaker at Wiens Family Cellars: “We don’t really have any pre-harvest rituals besides stocking up the fridge with beer!”

THE REAL WORK

So once all of the pieces are in place, what does an actual day of working harvest look like?


Joe Wiens shares a snapshot of what the day-to-day can look like during this exciting time in Wine Country:

“We typically get in at 6 or 7 AM.  One of us will start with turning caps on our fermenting reds, while the other weighs the newly delivered fruit.  We taste the fermenting reds (not the most fun thing in the world at 6am!) and decide if anything is ready for pressing.  The remainder of our workday entails racking settling wines, pressing and processing, and running lab analysis.”

While it’s exhausting work, Joe credits the sense of community and shared responsibility for getting them through it. “Our team has been together for years, and everyone is trained on many of our responsibilities from processing, to preparing yeast additions, to lab analysis and data entry,” he says. “We get the music going early and all work really well together to make the long days feel shorter.”

“Our days here at Palumbo start as early as 2 am and can last well into the night,” shares Nick Palumbo. “Then off to sleep for a few hours before starting again. We are a small, family winery so everyone gets involved. We are in the field sorting leaves out of the bins, then off to the crush pad for processing, fermenting, pressing, and barreling. There is a lot to do but somehow, we get it done each year. As we have always said we don’t have a choice; it will get done somehow.”

“A typical day consists of early morning vineyard visits to collect grape samples for analysis, brix and temperature readings on all fermenting wines, smelling the top of each fermenting tank to make sure there are no ‘off’ odors or nutrient deficiencies, and most importantly, tasting each lot daily,” explains Olivia Bue, Winemaker at Robert Renzoni Vineyards.

“And, once the reds come in, the real harvest bootcamp begins, with pumpovers three times a day, with at least three hours off in between. This involves sanitizing all hoses and pumps before and after each lot. As the reds approach the end of alcoholic fermentation its time press the wine off the skins… Each day consists of a lot of cleaning and scrubbing.”

Olivia says the hardest part of her day is when the alarm goes off at 3 AM. It’s also incredibly rewarding with moments of beauty as well. “[I love] processing the grapes as the sun rises,” she says. “I also love when the last lot is pressed out – not because harvest is over, but because I can look back and feel proud of all the blood, sweat, and tears put into the vintage.”

She also loves the team building that happens over their traditional 9AM happy hours.

Over at Wilson Creek, the day-to-day looks similar. And they get ready for the mammoth task ahead by going out for pizza and beer the Friday before harvest begins.

“We start picking at 10 PM and, depending upon the varietal, we finish with the harvest crew at 3 am,” says Wilson Creek Winery winemaker Gus Vizgirda. “The cellar crew kicks in on the crushpad at 4 AM. Whites are crushed and pressed and put in the tanks. Reds are crushed and put in the tank for two weeks for fermentation.”

With a total of 140 acres to harvest, this goes on for about 2.5 months, with two crews of twenty people working seven days a week. This hard work is recognized and rewarded in two ways. First, Gus arrives every morning at sunrise when the grapes are on the crushpad, and he plays the bugle for everyone – including the grapes.

Head on over to Lorenzi Estate Wines and you will see their crew at 3 AM, planning the day, taking readings, doing pumpovers, and picking crop starting around 4 AM, with the goal of being done by lunchtime so that they can avoid that Southern California midday heat in early Fall.

At Gershon Bachus, the dawn patrol continues, with the picking crew arriving around 3AM as well to pick the fruit and drop it at the winery’s production area.

“Our team arrives by 7AM,” explains Gershon Bachus owner Christina Falik and winemaker Dakota Denton. “For our hillside vineyards, we have a team picking out the leaves and bad clusters as the grapes take a ride on the elevator. The winemaking staff secures the connections to our concrete tanks where the fruit will go through fermentation.  Then the pumpovers begin in order to make sure the must stays wet. This is done twice per day, until fermentation is done. Harvest for us goes fast, and is intense, as the fruit tends to ripen at a similar pace.”

What many people don’t realize is just how physically demanding harvest and winemaking are, requiring long hours, heavy-lifting, and early starts. “On a complicated day you can crush/destem, pump over, press, and move wine into barrels,” continues Christina. “This is not a day for the weary.”

The excitement – and work! – of harvest isn’t limited to those working in the vineyards or cellar. Oftentimes, the experience is shared by everyone at the winery.

“We love to gather and watch or participate in picking the fruit and making memories together,” says Danae at Peltzer. “Seeing the process firsthand and learning exactly how each grape is processed reignites our passion for farming and high-quality winemaking. We typically order pizza and invite the families of our staff to join in the festivities and ask as many questions as possible!” 

THE AFTERMATH

And when it’s all over? At Wilson Creek, once harvest is complete, the team has a huge – and well-deserved – harvest party among the vines.

And they’re not the only ones celebrating a job well done. “Our end-of-harvest ritual is a PARTY,” says Christina. “Since our season is so short, it precedes the holiday season and is just as festive.”

Photo courtesy of Matthew Burlile- Instagram: @temeculaphotography

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Move Over, Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc is Here and it is a Must-Sip From Temecula Valley

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

National Sauvignon Blanc Day is officially May 7. While we find ourselves asking, “Who creates these ‘days’ anyway?” we love any opportunity to celebrate the grapes that thrive in Temecula Valley’s warm, Mediterranean climate. So, in honor of this deeply important holiday, we sipped through a whole lot of Sauvignon Blanc in order to come up with a round-up of some of our favorites from Southern California’s Wine Country. We also chatted with some Temecula Valley winemakers who shared their thoughts on what makes Sauvignon Blanc so special in the region.

Akash Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $36

Akash Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc

This lush yet refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, produced from 100% estate-grown Akash Vineyards fruit, is sure to win you over with its juicy pineapple, peach nectar, and orange blossom aromas. Warm days and cool nights allow the grape to ripen slowly and evenly, offering crisp natural acidity to perfectly balance the ripe guava and grapefruit flavors. An incredibly versatile white that’s a treat for any occasion.

Europa Village Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, $27

Flintiness and bright acidity balance a lovely richness of body highlighted by yellow apple and white peach. Pairing with grilled fennel crusted oysters or a Wine Country Salad topped with a dollop of creamy Chevre serves to even further enhance the sensory experience this wine delivers.

“Sauvignon Blanc shows its beauty in its diversity,” explains Matt Rice, Director of Tasting Rooms at Europa Village. “A top example from the Loire Valley might show a bracing acidity and flint character where a compatriot from Bordeaux might show creamy pear and a silky soft texture. It is always an excellent choice for Temecula Valley, as the warm days allow the variety to deliver a unique ripeness and rich body. This intertwines perfectly with the bright acidity the grapes attain due to the cool nights made possible by the Rainbow Gap letting in cooling afternoon and evening winds.”

Oak Mountain Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $26

Only 85 cases were produced of this Sauvignon Blanc, which opens with complex aromas of lime leaf, pink grapefruit, green apple, lemon grass, honey-suckle, and wet stone. Refreshing, forward, zesty flavors of lime, lemon, grapefruit, white peach, and passion fruit follow with bright acidity.

South Coast Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $18

South Coast Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc

Produced from the Musque clone – a hybrid cross of sauvignon blanc and muscat that offers the best characteristics of both varieties – this wine has the floral, spicy nature of Muscat tempered by the grassy, citrus character of Sauvignon Blanc, resulting in a wine that is a cornucopia of flavors and aromas: sweet kiwi and lime, gooseberries, pears, passion fruit and wildflowers. A crisp acidity is delicately laced throughout the wine, giving a zesty, clean finish. Harvested from Carter Estate Vineyards, this wine emulates the Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre and the Menetou-Salon regions of France. 92% is fermented in stainless steel, resulting in a fruit character that is very upfront and clean. The balance was fermented in two-use French oak and that portion was blended back prior to bottling.

“Utilizing a split harvest, where parts of the vineyard block are harvested at different levels of ripeness yields flavors that range from grassy green to tropical ripe,” explains South Coast and Carter Estate Winemaker Jon McPherson. “Also, using different yeast selections and fermentation regimes, we build layers of complexity into the wine which all add up to a Sauvignon Blanc with rich character, depth and dimension.”

Falkner Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $35

This delicious straw-colored wine has wonderful favors of white peach, ripe lime, and floral notes of almond blossom with a nice, lingering finish.  This wine is great for just sipping or enjoying with food, especially as the weather warms.  The wine pairs well with seafood (shellfish in particular), chicken, and cheeses.

“Here at Falkner Winery, we pride ourselves in producing high quality wines from whites to reds. Our Estate Sauvignon Blanc is a premier wine that our wine club members have enjoyed for many years,” says Raymond Murgo, Falker Winery’s Tasting Room Manager. “We feel that Temecula Sauvignon Blanc presents a fresh, aromatic bouquet, with wonderful fruit-forward flavors and a strong, lingering finish.”

Hart Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $28

This 100% Sauvignon Blanc is all estate grown using 65% Musque clone and 35% traditional California clone. Produced using all stainless and no oak, it shows crisp acidity, intense aromatics, citrus, tropical notes, and hints of grass.

Fazeli Cellars 2019 Boland Rooz, Temecula Valley, $30

Fazeli Cellars 2019 Boland Rooz

The Summer Solstice heralds the beginning of the season and the longest day of the year. To commemorate the occasion, Fazeli Cellars has chosen Sauvignon Blanc, harvested from owner BJ Fazeli’s estate vineyards, for its dry, crisp, and refreshing taste to celebrate the hot summer days. This 100% Sauvignon Blanc is mouthwateringly fresh, with a nose that is sweetly grassy with a hint of citrus.

“The diurnal temperature swings of hot days and cool nights epitomize what is great about Temecula vineyards,” explains Fazeli Cellars Winemaker Allen Kim. “Often times in the morning when you visit the vineyard, located at an elevation of 1800 feet, the grapes are sitting in a cloud of fog or even above the fog layer. The cold air that comes from the Pacific Ocean just miles away from us allows the grapes to retain important natural acidity as well as cooling down the temperature of the vines. Acid is so important in our Sauvignon Blanc because it gives the vibrancy and life to the wines. We are lucky that following this period of cooling, our days are characterized by great sun exposure that allows the vines to completely dry out and achieve ripeness.”

Wiens Family Cellars 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, Riverside County, $26

Wiens Family Cellars 2019 Sauvignon Blanc

This Sauvignon Blanc has aromas of Tropical Fruit, and Fresh Herbs, with Kiwi and Green Melon on the palate, and a refreshingly crisp finish. Additionally, this wine has been aged on the lees (sur lie), giving the finished wine a creamy custard note to help balance the crisp acidity. 

“Depending on when its harvested, Sauvignon Blanc can either be light, with grassy, boxwood, and gooseberry notes, meaning it’s less ripe, or have luscious honey and tropical fruit notes in a riper style,” says Wiens Winemaker, Joe Wiens. “We appreciate both styles of Sauvignon Blanc, so we harvest in two stages.  This allows us to meld the crisp, light character of less ripe fruit, with the tropical guava notes of more ripe fruit, giving us a perfectly balanced, complex Sauvignon Blanc.

Danza del Sol 2018 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $34

This fierce white wine is playful and full of zest, bursting with notes of kiwi, green pineapple, and a lingering finish of apple skin shavings and key-lime zest.

“Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite estate varietal we produce for both Danza Del Sol Winery and Masia De la Vinya Winery. At nearly 50 years old, our five acres of vines are still producing very high-quality fruit, and are extremely resilient, surviving the pierce disease outbreak of the 90s, and never succumbing to pests or diseases,” says Justin Knight, Winemaker for Danza Del Sol and Masia de la Vinya Winery. “With great natural acidity and early ripening time in the season, the options are endless. I’ve made several different styles including a grassy yet elegant New Zealand style; a tropical, more robust new-world style; and even late harvest dessert wines utilizing our Sauvignon Blanc. The versatility speaks to the Temecula Valley as a whole and the great environment we are lucky to have.”

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Easter in Temecula Valley Wine Country

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

Easter Weekend in Wine Country

FALKNER WINERY – EASTER SPECIAL CHAMPAGNE BRUNCH MENU – Because of Covid-19 concerns, this year’s Brunch will be plated dishes rather than buffet.  This year the menu will be à la carte and include many Mediterranean style food offerings.  The brunch will consist of both breakfast and dinner. All guests over 21 will receive a complimentary glass of Champagne. As the name implies, Champagne will be part of the meal along with other beverage options including discounted wine by the glass and several specialty cocktails. Live entertainment will also be provided.  Special Easter gifts will be given to all children upon arrival. 

When: Sunday, April 4, 2021

Duration: 10:00am -3:00pm

Price: A la carte menu. For full menu visit www.falknerwinery.com

Reservation info: Reservations should be made by calling 951-676-8231 ext. 4 or online at their website of www.falknerwinery.com.   Reservations are available from 10 am–3:00pm. 

CALLAWAY VINEYARD & WINERYMeritage Restaurant at Callaway will be offering their new Spring menu along with special menu items for Easter such as a braised lamb shank with rosemary honey, mashed potatoes, baby carrots, and smoked salmon deviled eggs plus a whole lot more!

When: Sunday, April 4th

Duration: 11am to 5pm

Price: A la carte

Reservation info: (951) 587-8889 or visit callawaywinery.com

THORNTON WINERY – Easter Served Buffet Champagne Restaurant. Full Easter menu available for viewing at www.thorntonwine.com.

When: Sunday, April 4, 2021

Duration: 10:00am – 4:00pm

Price: $64.95 plus tax and tip, 12 & under $19.95

Reservation info:  Please visit www.ThorntonWine.com, www.OpenTable.com or call 951-699-0099

OAK MOUNTAIN – Easter Special Brunch Menu. To view full menu, please visit us at www.oakmountainwinery.com or call 951.699.9102 to request for the menu.

When: Saturday, April 3rd and Sunday, April 4, 2021

Duration: 11:00am – 5:00pm

Price: Individually priced brunch menu items.

Reservation info: Reservations highly recommended by calling 951.699.9102

EUROPA VILLAGE – Celebrate Easter Sunday with exclusive Spanish-style three-course Easter Brunch. Tempt your tastebuds at Bolero Restaurante with a delicious Roasted Carrot and Coriander Bisque, a Honey Glazed Ham or Slow-Roasted Prime Rib and a decadent Carrot Swirl Cheesecake or Chocolate & Hazelnut Torta.

When: Sunday, April 4th

Duration: 11:00am – 3:00pm

Price: $69 Adults | $39 Child

Reservation info: Reservations can be made at https://www.europavillage.com/bolero/restaurante/#reservations or by calling (951) 414-3802

AVENSOLE WINERY RESTAURANT – Easter Weekend Specials

MENU: Eggs Benjamin, Lamb Burger, Rack of Lamb. FESTIVE SIPS: Seasonal Mimosas

LIVE MUSIC 5-8pm, Friday – Michael Edon, Saturday – John Evans

When: Friday 4/2 & Saturday 4/3 5-8pm, Sunday 4/4 11am-5pm

Duration: Friday & Saturday

Price: prices vary – view our Easter Menu on our website

Reservation info: www.avensolewinery.com/restaurant

CAROL’S RESTAURANT AT BAILY WINERY – 3 course meal with choice of 3 appetizers, 5 entrees and 2 desserts with one complimentary Mimosa.

When: Easter Sunday 11:30 to 3:00.

Price: $39.95 ($20 per person No-Show Charge)

Reservations: Call 951-676-9243 for reservation

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From Valentine’s Day to The Big Game: Your Temecula Valley Wine Guide for All of February’s Celebrations

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

Wine is our love language!

February is full of wine-drinking occasions, from marking the end of Dry January (you know, if you’re into that sort of thing), to Valentine’s Day, to the Super Bowl, and everything in between. Whether you are planning a romantic night in with your honey, a night of yelling at your TV screen and high-fiving your family over touchdowns, or just stocking up after a month of nothing but diet soda and sparkling water, we’ve got your guide for what to drink for all occasions this month.

BUBBLY

It doesn’t matter if you’re toasting your love or the winning team, sparkling wine is a great option for a celebration or for sipping with just about anything you’re eating, from game day food to fancy dishes to an entire box of Valentine’s Day chocolates (no judgement).

Your Valentine’s Day Selection:

South Coast Winery Ruby Cuvée Sparkling Syrah, $20

Everyone loves to pair chocolate with wine, but the two often go together like a Taurus and a Leo – in other words, not so well. We have, however, found an exception. Pop a bottle of this crimson-colored red sparkling wine, bursting with juicy, red berry fruit, and dip into that box of Valentine’s Day chocolate for the perfect, indulgent treat.

Your Game Day Selection:

Carter Estate 2014 Blanc de Blanc Brut, $40

This crisp, clean, bone-dry bubbly is made in the méthode Champenoise, AKA how they do it in the most famous sparkling wine region of the world, Champagne. It’s light and complex, with tiny bubbles that will totally upstage any frosty game day lager.

WHITE WINE

We know sports spectating usually calls for frosty beers, but why not opt for a cold, crisp glass of white wine instead? These selections are refreshing and equally at home with a spicy plate of nachos as they are with that house-made Fettuccine Alfredo from your favorite Italian take-out spot.

Your Valentine’s Day Selection:

Oak Mountain Winery Chardonnay, $26

Valentine’s Day Dinners are often decadent affairs – lobster tails dipped in butter, juicy roast chicken with creamy mashed potatoes, bacon-wrapped scallops (is your mouth watering yet?)… This lightly oaked Chardonnay is rich yet balanced, with bright green apple, lemon curd, and crème brulée, and will be the perfect accompaniment to your romantic dinner for two.

Your Game Day Selection:

Danza del Sol Vermentino, $34

This fresh, juicy Vermentino, a grape that is equally at home in Temecula as it is in Sardinia, Liguria and Tuscany, will have you feeling like you’re watching the game from Italy. Notes of ripe, fleshy stone fruit, lime zest and white flowers give way to a clean, oyster shell finish. The very definition of “quaffable.”

ROSÉ

Real sports fans drink pink. And, nothing says romance like a glass of ballet-slipper-hued nectar. If you are someone who loves the cool, crispness of a great glass of white wine, but are also looking for something with a bit more oomph, rosé is the perfect option.

Your Valentine’s Day Selection:

Ponte Winery “Pas Doux,” $30

“Pas Doux” translates to “not sweet,” a descriptor that lets the drinker know this wine, made from Sangiovese, was intentionally made in a classic, dry, Provençal style. This juicy rosé is bursting with strawberries and rose petals – in other words, all the ingredients of a romantic encounter.

Your Game Day Selection:

Robert Renzoni Vineyards Lyric Rosé, $29

This is a wine we refer to as “crushable,” meaning that you could drink it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So, if you’ve got a long day of watching sports ahead of you, snag a bottle of this baby pink, dry rosé, with notes of white peach, guava, lime zest, and melon. It will pair nicely with that killer seven-layer dip you make. 

RED

Given the cold, wet weather over the past few weeks, we’ve found ourselves wondering if we really do live in Southern California! Fortunately, we’ve found solace in the plush, full-bodied red wines that our Temecula Valley wineries are known for to keep us warm. Snuggle up with your significant other or curl up on the couch to watch the Big Game with one of these hearty selections.

Your Valentine’s Day Selection:

Baily Winery Cabernet Franc, $35

You can close your eyes and pretend you’re having date night in Bordeaux… or better yet, among the gorgeous rolling hills of Temecula Valley. Baily Winery is known for their traditional, Old World take on winemaking – in particular Bordeaux-style blends – and this Cabernet Franc is no exception. Ripe berry and plum mingle with exotic spice and black pepper and a touch of forest floor. This is a wine to linger over now with your partner, or put away for several years until your next big anniversary.

Your Game Day Selection:

Europa Village Barbera, $42

We love this bright, fresh Barbera, produced from vine cuttings that trace their heritage all the way back to Italy’s Piedmont region, from which the Barbera grape hails. It’s juicy and packed with tart cherry and berry fruit, and just a touch of spice, making it a heavenly match for a big pot of spicy game day chili.

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What’s Better Than Delicious Wine? Delicious Wine With A Side Of Adorable Wine Country Pets!

Friday, October 30th, 2020

Meet Some of Temecula Valley’s Favorite Furry (and Feathery!) Friends

Let’s face it. We could all use a bit of levity right now. Since everyone loves animals, we decided to shine the spotlight on some of Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country’s real celebrities – the furry friends that capture the hearts of our guests with their wet noses, wagging tails, and big hearts. Here are a few of our favorites:

Wilson Creek Goldens

Wilson Creek Winery

Visitors to Wilson Creek Winery may have met the many resident Golden Retrievers, including ten-year-old Tipsy, who loves to chase stray cats and hunt for other winery creatures. While Tipsy considers herself brave, she still heads to the closet to hide behind clothes if the smoke alarm goes off. We don’t blame her – those things are loud! Tipsy grew up around the winery and absolutely loves people. She often comes down to the winery to visit with staff, many of whom she knows have hidden treats. Smart girl.

Reddog

Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery

There are lots of animals to visit over at Palumbo at any given time, from chickens to pigs to dogs. However, the most notorious of the bunch is probably their seven-year-old Australian Red Heeler-Pit Bull mix rescue, Reddog. Anyone who follows the Palumbos on social media will no doubt have seen a picture of Reddog in his favorite state: chasing rabbits. He jumps the fence and catches at least one rabbit a day. Lucky tasters on the patio are occasionally gifted with one of Reddog’s bunny conquests, and the tasting room has, on occasion, been evacuated on account of the gas Reddog gets from eating too many rabbits. When Reddog isn’t chasing poor bunnies, he’s either sleeping or thinking about harvest, his favorite time of year. In fact, every year when harvest is over, he goes into a bit of a depression. Who can blame him? It’s the most exciting time of the year in Wine Country!

Little Richard

Let’s not forget about Palumbo’s star rooster, Little Richard. This one-year-old spitfire loves to cock-a-doodle-doo all day long, while walking the winery fence and hitting up the tasting patio to visit with guests. When we asked if he had any weird habits, owner Cindy Palumbo told us, “He is a rooster, so everything he does is pretty weird.” We’ll drink to that.

Bordeaux

Baily Winery

Fans of Baily Winery will likely have met their resident rodent control officer, Bordeaux. This eight-year-old Tiger Cat loves people, greeting visitors and looking for attention from everyone who comes into the winery. Bordeaux is such a famous fixture at Baily that he was
featured on the label of their 2017 Sangiovese.

Duke

Peltzer Family Cellars

If you haven’t yet played a game of soccer, wine glass in hand, with Peltzer’s black and white Border Collie, Duke, you are missing out. This five-year-old pup loves to challenge guests to a match in front of the Crush House. In fact, he is such a natural at footie, that instead of retrieving balls with his mouth during a game of fetch, he rolls them back with his nose, Pelé-style. Duke sits outside of the Crush House all day greeting and visiting with guests, just waiting for someone to challenge him to a Wine Country World Cup.  

Buddy & Bandit

Oak Mountain Winery

Brothers Buddy and Bandit are the inseparable sibling duo over at Oak Mountain. These ten-year-old Queensland Heelers also love to chase rabbits (no word on any tummy troubles though) and sniff the grapes to see if they are ripe, no doubt a useful skill at a winery. While they make great watch dogs, they’re not so great with other animals. That doesn’t stop them from hanging out over at the Oak Mountain production facility, keeping everyone company and playing in the water when the team is washing out tanks.

Brodie

Akash Winery

Visitors to Akash love their one-and-a-half-year-old Goldendoodle, Brodi. This big, happy fluffball loves to chase the lizards that sunbathe on warm Southern California days, and is guilty of occasionally breaking guests’ wine glasses with his enormous, constantly wagging tail. Because he spends so much time hanging out with Akash’s Aussie Director of Operations, Sharon Cannon, some say Brodi is starting to bark with an Australian accent.

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Harvest is Here! Discover the Unique Tools and Techniques Temecula Valley Winemakers Use to Produce Some of Your Favorite Wines

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020

Winemaking is equal parts agriculture, science, and art. This magical combination has allowed for infinite permutations and possibilities for different styles and flavors of wines, and captivated wine lovers all over the world.

While many may assume that wine is simply fermented grape juice, from soil to grape to cellar to glass, there are, in fact, many, many options available to the winemaker when it comes to crafting a unique product. Some are more common – like aging the wine in small or large oak barrels. Other techniques are less traditional, and may be linked to a winery’s signature style, a winemaker’s preference, or a desire to experiment with something new and different.

Since harvest in Temecula Valley has officially begun, we thought it would be fun to pull back the curtain on some of this magic that happens in the winery. So, we caught up with a few Temecula Valley winemakers who shared with us some of the offbeat techniques and traditions they use to create the region’s world class wines.

Nick & Cindy Palumbo
Owners, Palumbo Winery

Palumbo Vineyard & Winery

In addition to only farming their own grapes, which allows them to pick precisely and by slope and orientation based on ripeness, Palumbo does all fermentation in open bins as opposed to tanks. Owner and winemaker, Nick Palumbo, feels this offers a much more hands-on approach.

“Oxygen is our friend during fermentation and punching down, and stirring of the active fermentation helps in a lot of ways,” he says. “Healthy fermentations, the efficient dissipation of heat (without costly, energy-hogging cooling units), and the binding, or ‘locking in’ of various flavor and color components are just a few reasons we do this.”

Palumbo also works with whole cluster pressing of their Viognier (grapes are neither destemmed nor crushed), resulting in more delicate, less astringent white wine due to the limited contact with skins and stems; and, hand-sorted, whole berry fermentation on their reds. Here, grapes are destemmed but not crushed, allowing the berries to more or less crush themselves under their own weight and begin fermenting with the addition of yeast. Winemaking in this way slows the release of tannin and color in order to give more control over the vinification process.

Steve Andrews
Owner, Oak Mountain Winery

Oak Mountain Winery

In addition to having the first 104-foot subterranean wine cave in Temecula Valley, boasting more than 400 barrels of wine, a kitchen, banquet and tasting room, Oak Mountain is also home to a new, cutting edge piece of machinery, called “The CUBE.”

This vibrating grape destemmer ensures the gentlest possible process of removing grape berries from their stalks, and allows for raisined and overly mature grapes to remain on their stems so that they can easily be removed as waste. Only fruit free from defects is then recovered for fermentation, ensuring the resulting wine is clean and high quality.

Somerset Winery

Kurt Tiedt
President, Somerset Winery

Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Rome, Georgia…Temecula? What’s old is new again! Temecula newcomer Somerset Winery is making wine in Amphorae – giant vase-shaped clay vessels – a winemaking technique that originated thousands of years ago.

Winery president Kurt Tiedt, and winemaker David Raffaele, were intrigued by these vessels while attending the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in early 2020, and felt that they could be the key to taking their winery to the next level.

Since then, they have acquired three uniquely different amphorae – a classic Terracotta “Rotunda,” a “Terracotta Cigar,” and the “Opus 17” – a behemoth that stands over nine feet tall, has a six-inch thick interior, and weighs more than 8,000 pounds. All are imported from Italy.

These ancient vessels have seen a resurgence in recent years in many well-known wine regions because of their unique ability for winemakers to produce a wine that is somewhere between oak and stainless steel aged. While stainless steel tanks – being totally free from oxygen during fermentation – preserve the primary fruit characteristics of a wine, oak does the opposite. The porous nature of wood allows for plenty of oxygen and imparts other aromas, flavors, and additional tannin to the wine. Clay takes the best of both worlds – it, too, is porous and allows for the oxygen that is essential for giving a wine texture; but, it is neutral, so it also preserves the purity of aromas and flavors of the grapes, perfectly amplifying them in the case of quality fruit.

Somerset’s first Amphorae Syrah was just released, and is full-bodied, with mineral and earth tones and a creamy, smooth finish.

Jim Hart
Winemaker, Hart Winery

Hart Winery

Using Mission grapes from the Cazas and Hunter vineyards planted sometime between 1882 and 1905 on the Pechanga Reservation – by far the oldest wine grape plantings in Temecula Valley – Hart Winery produces a fortified Angelica wine made using the original winemaking techniques of the Franciscan missionaries. Angelica wine dates to the Mission period in California, and its name is thought to have been taken from the city of Los Angeles.

According to family history, the Hunter vineyards were planted from cuttings of original Mission Grapes taken from Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside. Once extensive commercial vineyards, these two small remnant vineyards are still farmed by the descendants of the families who planted them well over 100 years ago.

DNA testing of the vines done by U.C. Davis confirms that these vines are original Mission rootstock – genetically identical to grape vines originally brought to California from Spain by Spanish Missionaries.

“[We at] Hart Winery are proud to work with the families who have preserved these heritage vineyards,” says Owner and Winemaker, Jim Hart. “We are honored to work with this exceedingly rare, ancient old vine fruit.”

Thought to be one of the first wines made in California, Angelica wines are fortified with brandy and aged for many years. Hart chooses to age their Angelica for over two years in old wine barrels, set outside in the warm Temecula sun, where the wine reacts with the heat and oxygen to develop deep caramel, hazelnut, root beer, and toffee notes. The barrels are never topped, and the heat plus the extended exposure to oxygen in un-topped barrels, ultimately changes the wine from its original light red to a brownish color as is typical for Angelica wines. It’s a rich, layered wine that makes for a decadent after-dinner drink with (or as!) dessert.

Akash Patel
Owner, Akash Winery

Akash Winery & Vineyards

Sometimes unique winemaking methods take the form of superstitions and traditions!

Akash Patel, Owner & Director of Akash Winery & Vineyards tells us they bury 11 pennies in the ground on the first day of harvest. According to the family, it’s an Indian good luck tradition that Mrs. Patel started for the winery. We’ll drink to that!

Happy Harvest!

Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press Enterprise/SGNC

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Our Top Temecula Valley Wine Picks for Summer

Thursday, 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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Summertime Sipping!

Friday, June 1st, 2018

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 summer 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:

Baily Winery ~ Rosé of Sangiovese: fun, fruity and full of character

Danza del Sol Winery ~ Grenache: the color is light, but the aromas are bright

Maurice Car’rie Winery ~ Cody’s Crush: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Sirah blend

Oak Mountain Winery ~ Merlot: berry, raspberry, blackberry, plum, and abundant smokey oak

Robert Renzoni Vineyards ~ Big Fred’s Red: ripe blueberry and black cherry, hints of caramel

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Wine Country Recipe ~ Moroccan Chicken with Roasted Lemons and Green Olives

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

Meaty chicken thighs are braised and crisped in an aromatic broth infused with roasted citrus and North African spices. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, about 2 pounds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large lemon, cut into 8 wedges, seeded
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup chicken stock
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
20 pitted green olives

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large, deep skillet with lid or Dutch-oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Brown the chicken, skin-side down, then flip and cook 2 minutes; transfer to a plate.

Add the lemons to the same skillet and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes; transfer to a separate plate.

Pour off the excess liquid from the skillet, add the onions and 1 tablespoon oil and cook over medium heat until the onions are soft and golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes, stirring frequently and stirring up any brown bits. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, then add the cumin, coriander, paprika, ginger, and turmeric and cook about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the stock, cinnamon stick, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, then nestle the chicken, skin-side up, in the stock, making sure the skin is left exposed.

Cover the skillet, transfer to the oven, and bake 20 minutes. Remove the lid and scatter and tuck the lemons and olives around the chicken, leaving the chicken skin exposed. Continue to cook, uncovered, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and the skin is golden and crispy, about 20 minutes.

Serve the chicken in shallow serving bowls with couscous.

Suggested Pairings:

Callaway Vineayard & Winery ~ 2015 Special Selection Sauvignon Blanc – Pairs with scallops, oysters, prawns white lighter textured fish and wine & cream pasta sauces.

Danza Del Sol Winery ~ 2016 Sauvignon Blanc – A mouthwatering balance of fresh fruit and acidity. Opens with aromas of white blossoms that lead to white peach, melon and ripe citrus. Flavors of crisp apple and lime.

Hart Winery ~ 2016 Sauvignon Blanc – Citrus notes of guava and tangerine, a subtle herbal undertone and a clean peach finish. This alluring dry white wine is produced from Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in the Hart Family Vineyard and Temecula Valley’s Huis Vineyard.

Oak Mountain Winery ~ 2016 Sauvignon Blanc – Succulent melon and grapefruit mingle together in this medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc. A light influence of French Oak rounds out this crisp, aromatic wine

Recipe and photo courtesy of the Wine Institute of California

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Get to Know Merlot!

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Considered one of the most food-friendly and approachable wines on the planet, Merlot surged to popularity in the United States in the 1990s. Now wine-lovers can find great Merlot and delicious Merlot blends from all over the world – from South America to France to Italy to right here in Temecula Valley, California.

Here are five fun facts about Merlot!

Sourced from Snooth/Wikipedia

1) Did you know the word “merlot” translates to “young blackbird” in French? The name was thought to have been given either because of the grape’s beautiful blue-black color, or blackbird’s fondness for grapes.

2) Merlot’s flavor profile fluctuates within the sweetness spectrum. Cooler climates bring out hints of berries, plum, and even tobacco. Merlot grown in hotter climates might mimic flavors found in fruitcake or chocolate.

3) A bit about Merlot blends: When Merlot first arrived in California, it mostly sold as single varietal bottlings (100% Merlot) until winemakers began blending it with other red grapes in the French Bordeaux tradition. Now, California’s Meritage wines are a signature of the state and always include Merlot as one of the essential blending grapes.

4) Merlot is so popular because of the grape’s ability to please all palates. Wines can range from very fruity simple wines to more serious, barrel-aged bottles.

5) Merlot has a high sugar content and low acidity, which makes it a very food-friendly wine, able to be paired with a variety of dishes. For example, Cabernet-like Merlots pair well with grilled meats. Softer, fruitier Merlots go well with salmon, mushroom-based dishes and greens. Light-bodied Merlots pair well with shellfish like prawns or scallops, especially if wrapped in bacon or prosciutto. Snake River Farms is a company that sources high-quality American Wagyu cuts, prime rib, filet mignon, Kurobuta pork, and other premium roasts. Though their products aren’t quite cheap, you can notice the difference in texture and taste of their meats over their competitors. Read full snake river farms review at Grilliam.com – Snake River Farms (SRF) is a premium meat brand that’s used at Michelin-starred restaurants and sold at select retailers and online. It sells not Japanese Wagyu, but American Wagyu — the result of imported Japanese Wagyu cattle crossbred with traditional Angus cattle breeds.

Looking for a great bottle of Temecula Valley Merlot?  Check these out:

Baily Winery 2012 Merlot

Bel Vino Winery 2013 Merlot

Falkner Winery 2013 Merlot

Leoness Cellars 2014 Vineyard Selection Merlot

Oak Mountain Winery 2013 Merlot

 

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