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Your Toughest Wine Questions Answered

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

Geek Out on All Things Wine with These Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country Rockstars

Grapevines at Sunrise

Wine can be intimidating. We’ve all stood in the aisles of our favorite wine stores scanning the backs of labels for hints of anything that might give us a clue of what the juice in the bottle tastes like. We’ve all donned the deer-in-headlights look when a sommelier asks us what type of wines we prefer. Who hasn’t felt a sense of dread during the daunting wine service ritual, where the server waits expectantly while you swirl, sniff, sip and determine whether they may pour the wine for your guests, all eyes on you?

While being a wine expert isn’t a requirement for kicking back and enjoying a glass or two of our favorite beverage, sometimes a better understanding of how a product is made allows us to appreciate it even more.

Which is why we have brought in some of Temecula Valley Southern California’s best and brightest wine stars to answer some of your most frequently-asked wine questions!

Q: The vineyards are starting to look so pretty this time of year! What is actually going on with the vines right now?

A. Greg Pennyroyal, Vineyard Manager, Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards

As April approaches the vineyard is leaving its dormant stage and entering its first vegetative stage of budbreak. Wine Grapes (Vitis vinifera) are deciduous meaning they lose their leaves in fall and go into a dormancy period usually starting in late October and ending in April. Grapes also need a minimum of 150 Chill hours, a summation of the hours below 45 degrees, to assure they do not bud out too early and get damaged by a late frost. In Temecula, our standard “Frost Free Date” is April 15, giving a positive spin to a date that is usually not so great.

The grapes’ dormancy period also coincides with the rainy season of our Mediterranean climate – wet in winter, dry in summer, with a coastal influence. Our historical rain average for this time of year would be about ten inches; however we are under four inches to-date. This will assist in delaying a budbreak that is too early, however will require that we irrigate and add fertility as the cover crops and soil biology have had less of an opportunity to increase soil fertility.

After budbreak, the vines will enter a vegetative state where initial growth is remarkably fast. If you visit a vineyard one weekend, the following weekend will look like a different vineyard. Following this growth spurt, the vines set flowers. Grape flowers are very small and inconspicuous. When the flowers emerge, they are wrapped under a small cap called, appropriately enough, the calyptra. When the flowers are ready for pollination a gentle brush will cause the calyptra to pop off and the flower will rapidly open before your eyes, great vineyard entertainment after a glass of wine. The flowers have both male and female parts, so they do not need bees to pollinate. White wines are the first to emerge from dormancy followed by red varietals.

Q: How do winemakers get those tiny bubbles in bottles of wine?

A. Sharon Cannon, Director of Operations, Akash Winery

Those fabulous bubbles that make Champagne or sparkling wine so wonderful are products of carbon dioxide (CO2), created during the fermentation process when sugar and yeast are added to a still base wine. There are three primary ways to make sparkling wine: 

Some winemakers choose a labor-intensive traditional method of trapping the gas in the bottle, which then “lay down,” sometimes for decades, producing high-quality sparkling wine (think Champagne). The most important part of this process is the secondary fermentation, which happens as mentioned, inside the bottle. During this process, the yeast consumes the sugar which is where the carbon dioxide is produced. The wine is then left to lay on their “lees,” (dead yeast cells) for a period of time. While this may sound gross, these yeast cells are what give traditional method sparkling wines their signature toasty, yeasty, brioche-like flavors. The bottles are gradually rotated and tilted until they end up upside down, so that all of this sediment makes its way to the neck of the bottle, which is dipped into a solution to freeze the solid contents, making them easy to remove. Bottles are then topped up with the “dosage,” a combination of sugar and/or wine, donned with a cork and wire cage, and then ready for you to drink.

The Charmat Method (or tank method) is where the winemaker will use a pressurized tank for the secondary fermentation process (think Prosecco). Here the liqueur de tirage (a mix of wine, sugar and yeast) is added to the pressurized tank of still wine, in which the secondary fermentation. The wine, once ready, is then filtered and bottled from the tank. These wines are generally youthful and easy drinking!

Lastly, there is just plain carbonation, where carbon dioxide is simply added into the wine (think of your Soda Stream injecting bubbles into your water). You’ll know this one if you’ve ever had it though, as the bubbles with dissipate very quickly! 

And remember, those bubbles you have in your fridge which you are waiting for a “special occasion” to open: The special occasion is today, friends!

Q. Speaking of stuff getting into my wine, sometimes I see things floating in my bottle? Does this mean the wine is bad?

A. Jim Hart, Winemaker, Hart Winery

There are a number of things that can cause “chunkies” in wine, some of them intentional and others maybe not so intentional. In so-called “natural wines” (so-called because there really isn’t a true definition for natural wines), a certain amount of sediment and haze should be expected, as these wines are usually un-fined and unfiltered. Additionally, these wines are often made without added sulfites, and can occasionally undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle causing haze and “floaties.” More conventional wines are sometimes intentionally bottled without filtration as some winemakers believe filtration somehow strips a wine’s character (not true), and are okay with some sediment in their wine.

The most common cause of stuff floating is with wines that haven’t been properly cold or heat stabilized. Wines that aren’t properly heat stabilized will throw small amounts of haze or, in extreme cases, what appear to be floating globs in the bottle. Wines that aren’t cold stable will, when chilled, lose tartaric acid which will look like crystals (sometimes called wine diamonds).

The good thing about all these things you might find floating in your wine is that none of them are really harmful; just be careful who gets the last glass! 

Q. I love rosé. But how is it made?

A. Nick Palumbo, Winemaker, Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery

Rosé wine has gotten a bad rap from wine drinkers over the last few decades simply because so much of it has been made to appease the palate of a generation of consumers that grew up on overly sweet, processed beverages. That said there are basically three ways to make a rosé wine which can be broken down into a not-so-great way, a good way, and the best way!

Many don’t realize that all grapes, white or red, have clear juice inside when they first come off the vine. It is the skin of the grape that contains the color; so, in order to get a red wine, the winemaker needs to keep the juice in contact with the skins of a red grape in order for the wine to develop its color, along with everything else that gives the wine structure and flavor.

Some inexpensive rosé wines are simply a blend of finished Red and White wines that in different proportions can make a wine that looks the part but rarely if ever tastes anything like a classic, well-crafted rosé.

Then there is the saignée, or “to bleed” method, which is a really a good way to make two different wines from a single lot of grapes. It is also considered a way of making red wine better or more intense by “bleeding” off some of the juice early in the process, resulting in two separate lots that can be made into both a red and a rosé. If the winemaker is serious about the rosé, a very good wine can be made. However, this rosé is often considered a biproduct of the red winemaking. The locals drink that, while the winery ships the more expensive reds off to market.

The last method is an approach that wineries employ when their sole intent is to make a quality rosé, which results in a rosé that is often superior to the above methods. This method, often called “Limited Skin Maceration” (LSM) is a process in which the grapes are crushed and left in contact with the skins for a limited amount of time. The color can start to develop within minutes for grape varieties with very intense color, or can take up to 48 hours in some cases. When the desired color is achieved, the juice is separated from the skins, and fermentation is started much like a white wine would be made.

I have made wines from both saignée and LSM methods with great success, but am really proud of our current Spring release of our Rosato Secco. This wine is an LSM version of Sangiovese that is perfect for sipping by the pool, pairing with a charcuterie board, or – even better – a classic bowl of moules frites (steamed mussels and French fries) served by a beach in Southern California within miles of our beautiful Temecula Wine Country. Drink Local!

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Winter in Wine Country

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

So, what exactly goes on in the vineyards when it’s winter time?  The annual growth cycle of Temecula Valley’s grapevines consummates in autumn with leaf fall followed by vine dormancy. After harvest, typically August-October in Temecula, the vine’s roots and trunk are busy storing carbohydrate reserves produced by photosynthesis in their leaves. Once the level of carbohydrates needed by the vine is reached, the leaves change from green to yellow and start to fall off the vines. Usually after the first frost, the vine enters its winter dormancy period. During this time, winemakers get a break from the bulk of their farm work as the vines sleep and start to prepare for the next wine season.

During this dormant period, according to Wiens Family Cellars winemaker Joe Wiens, the vines don’t need a lot of attention. Wiens puts on a little water to keep the roots moist and let them sleep. “We get to breathe a sigh of relief after the long hours of crush but have plenty of other things to keep us busy” says Wiens. Blending, barrel work, and bottling, in addition to brushing up on wine knowledge, new techniques, and attending winemaking seminars to continually improve are some of the things that keep him busy.

Nick Palumbo, winemaker and owner of Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery shares: “Winter time is busy! The good news is it gets cold here in Temecula, so the vines go into dormancy and that gives us a chance to get caught up in the cellar after a long harvest season. That means topping barrels, assessing previous vintages and getting ready for bottling as well as general maintenance. Mulching is done if needed and pruning all needs to be done just after the holidays. Weed and pest control (gophers etc) as well as going through the irrigation system and getting that dialed in for the spring are all on the to do list. We also don’t forget to prep for much needed rain events. We need to make sure if and when we do get rain, it doesn’t erode our soils and farm roads. Winter is a good time for winemakers to take off the cellar boots, put on the farm boots, and get out in the quiet cold mornings alone and start making next years wine which will be hanging on the vines sooner than we think.”

At Danza del Sol Winery, Art Villareal, the winery’s winemaker, stays busy during winter processing wines from the recent harvest. This includes filtration, cold stabilizing, racking, and placing wine into barrels. “There is no downtime in winemaking. We are always processing wine from the previous harvest and preparing for the upcoming bottling season” says Villareal. As far as vineyard maintenance goes, Villereal says patience is key and waits for the vines to go dormant and then prunes them back. He also states Temecula is special as the winter keeps the vines asleep only as long as necessary and ensures a longer period of time to mature the clusters during the growing season.

With all the activity in the valley during the winter, a visit to Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country is an entertaining winter option. Many wineries offer behind the scenes tours where guests can see some of the winter viticulture and winemaking processes happen in person. While visiting, guests can stay at one of the many local inns, hotels, or resorts.

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It’s Never Too Late for a Life in Wine!

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

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It is often assumed that winery owners were born with dirt under their fingernails and raised among the vines by families who have been making wine for generations. While Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country is certainly home to those with winemaking in their blood, a quick tour through the region also yields an entirely different crop of wine leadership – entrepreneurs who saw the promise of the region and left wildly different careers to build a life in wine.

One of the most iconic wineries in the region, Wilson Creek Winery, is home not only to great wines, but also to a diverse cross-section of skill sets. CEO Bill Wilson was a Series 7 financial planner specializing in tax-deferred annuities before answering the call of the vine, while Wilson Creek’s winemaker, Gus Vizgirda, was previously a self-described “cartoonist, weatherman, officiant, teacher and vineyard yoga guru.”

While owner & winemaker Robert Renzoni of Robert Renzoni Vineyards was actually born and raised in the wine business, he broke off early on to pursue music, touring with his alt-rock band “Absent” for 9 years before returning to his roots. The music never left him though, and today many of Renzoni’s wines are named for musical references, like the Pinot Grigio-Viognier blend, “Cantata” and the Super Tuscan-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, “Sonata.”

Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery owner and winemaker Nick Palumbo played in New York City post-grunge band “The Morning Glories” and was also a chef in both New York and San Diego, cooking for the likes of George W. Bush and Wesley Snipes, among others. His wife and winery co-owner, Cindy, was an insurance agent for 15 years prior to jumping into wine.

Wiens Family Cellars owner and general manager, Jeff Wiens, had to go through two previous careers before landing in wine, including a 10-year stint as professional drummer, as well as a Senior Industrial Engineer in the aerospace industry.

But Temecula Valley isn’t only made up of former rock stars. Careers in business before wine were also common. Briar Rose Winery owner Les Linkogle had a successful career in mortgage banking, while his wife, Dorian was an executive vice president at the Aetna Corporation for 25 years before the two followed their lifelong dream to produce wine.

Frangipani Estate Winery owner and winemaker, Don Frangipani was growing mushrooms for his wife, JoAnn’s family’s mushroom farm in Escondido, as well as for their own mushroom-growing business on Mt. Palomar, and cooking for one of her family’s restaurants, before launching his career in wine.

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Summer Whites for Every Palate

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

people-summer-garden-sitting

There are few better ways to cool off on a sunny summer day than with a cold, crisp glass of white wine. This season, Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country invites wine lovers to sip their way through the region’s stunning whites. With so many delectable selections—from those made from lesser-known varieties to unique blends—Temecula Valley vintners offers a refreshing bottle to suit every palate.

Viognier: This darling of the wine world is widely produced in the region, and is a great alternative to Chardonnay because of its traditionally rich, luscious mouth-feel.

South Coast Winery Viognier 2015, $20: An aromatic peach and nectarine bouquet with a rich, velvety finish, from the winery that just was just named the 2016 California Golden State Winery of the Year for the fourth time. No other winery has received the coveted “Golden Bear” four times in the history of the competition.

Van Roekel Estate Viognier 2014 (Maurice Car’rie Winery), $22: This award-winning, estate-grown Viognier boasts notes of apricot and Asian pear, with hints of citrus blossom.

Sauvignon Blanc: Always a warm-weather favorite, this aromatic varietal grows well in Temecula Valley terroir. Many local wineries offer bright, fruit-forward bottlings perfect for picnics and outdoor dining.

Monte De Oro Sauvignon Blanc 2015, $19: Made from 100% estate-grown fruit, this wine was selected as the white dinner wine for the 2016 Daytime Emmy Awards. Citrus and tropical fruits round out this well-balanced summer sipper.

Oak Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2015, $21: Succulent melon and grapefruit mingle together in this medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc. A light influence of French Oak adds unexpected complexity.

And now, for something completely different: Temecula Valley has a huge selection of lesser-known French, Italian, Spanish and even Portuguese varieties. Summer is the perfect time to get out of your comfort zone and discover a new favorite.

Palumbo Grenache Blanc 2014, $28: Wine Enthusiast Magazine gave it 91 points, describing it as “texturally grippy and tense, with flavors of yellow pear, lemon rinds and ever-so slight stone fruit, with tongue-tingling acidity deep into the finish.”

Ponte Vineyards Vermentino 2015, $31: This native Italian grape finds great expression in Temecula Valley. Notes of passion fruit, pink grapefruit and apricot give way to a crisp, refreshing, food-friendly finish. Casino.com

A little from column A, a little from column B: Temecula Valley offers not only stellar red blends, but some fantastic proprietary white blends as well.

Mount Palomar Shorty’s Bistro White NV, $19: This unusual, award-winning blend of Palomino (a grape commonly used in making sherry), Cinsaut (a red grape) and Viognier is bright and easy-drinking, with notes of pineapple, peach and honeysuckle.

Robert Renzoni Cantata 2015, $22: This blend of 60% Pinot Grigio and 40% Viognier offers a crisp bouquet of apple and pear on the nose with a hint of pineapple on the finish.

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Wine For The Holidays

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

holiday table
Grandma’s stuffing, Aunt Susie’s cranberry sauce and your sister’s sweet potatoes.  Menu: done!  But what about the wine?  Choosing a bottle (or two!) of wine to bring to the holiday table can be tricky.  Appealing to not only your menu, but to a cross-section of practiced palates and novice wine drinkers may seem challenging.  But don’t stress out over one of the simplest tasks of the holiday season. Make it simple.  Any wine you enjoy is a good wine!

One certainly doesn’t need to look to others to rate, score or direct you to make a particular wine choice.  Bring a wine you’re familiar with to the table.  Chances are it’ll be just fine – and maybe even sublime!

First and foremost, don’t worry about pairing with the herbaceous, the tart or the sweet accompaniments to your turkey, ham or prime rib.  It’s much simpler to match the wine to the main protein dish.  Here’s a few tried and true varietal selections for some classic holiday main dishes:

Wines to Serve with Ham
Ham just begs for a something lightly sweet.  Look for wines with a touch of residual sugar like a Baily Vineyard & Winery Riesling or a Maurice Car’rie Winery Gewurztraminer.  Both are lighter in style, a bit lower in alcohol and still offer plenty of food-friendly acidity and crowd-pleasing palate appeal.  If you’re looking for an easy to pair red, go for a lighter style like Tempranillo.  Great examples can be found at both Miramonte Winery and at Danza del Sol Winery.

Wines to Serve with Turkey
Although an array of whites work perfectly well, Sauvignon Blanc is an all-time, hands-down favorite pick that holds up well to turkey – and all it’s side dishes. Temecula Valley provides the perfect playground for growing this varietal, so you’ll find many great examples of it here.  Beautifully aromatic offerings from the musqué clone can be found at Hart Winery and at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa. Soft red varietals like Syrah also make suitable partners; you can find some fabulous ones at Falkner Winery and Leoness Cellars.

Wines to Serve with Prime Rib
White wines will have a hard time keeping up with the likes of Prime Rib, but there are so many reds to choose from that make impressive cohorts, you’re sure to find one you’ll all enjoy.  Choose an affable Cabernet Sauvignon from Callaway Vineyard & Winery, a food friendly Italian varietal like Montepulciano or Sangiovese from Cougar Vineyard & Winery or an amazing Super Tuscan blend, Due Rossi, from Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery.

Happy Holidays!

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Temecula Valley Wines on the Road

Monday, August 11th, 2014

ToM-Logo-300x284

On Tuesday, August 19, 2014, you’ll find Temecula Valley wines at the 25th Annual Taste of Mainstreet in downtown Encinitas. Representing the Temecula Valley at various storefront “Sip Stops”, Baily, Callaway, Danza del Sol, Europa Village, Falkner, Hart, Leoness, Monte De Oro, Vindemia and Wiens wineries will be pouring their award winning wines. Advance tickets are just $35, including food, wine and beer (for those 21+). Same day tickets (if available), will be $45. Click here for ticket information.

uncorked

And on Saturday, August 23, 2014, from 4-7pm, you’ll find us at the Uncorked Wine Walk at Westfield UTC. Here you’ll savor wines from 12 Temecula Valley wineries including Bel Vino, Callaway, Falkner, Hart, Leoness, Lorimar, Maurice Car’rie, Oak Mountain, Palumbo, South Coast, Vindemia and Wilson Creek while tasting bites from UTC’s newest restaurants. Tickets are still available; purchase them here. One of the best ways to go viral on tiktok is to buy tiktok followers , it is fast and secure and will help you boost your tiktok

We hope to see you there!

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