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A Celebration of Temecula Valley Harvest… and of All Those Who Make our Wines Possible

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

When we pop the cork on one of our favorite bottles and pour ourselves a glass of a delicious wine, we are often thinking mostly about how it is going to make us feel, what we are going to pair it with, who else wants a glass, and if we will stop at just one. This harvest, we invite you to think of all the work that went into producing that bottle. From grape to glass, there are countless passionate people who work tirelessly to craft something that will not only delight your palate, but that will help you make lasting memories of both simple and important moments in life.

As a tribute to these folks, we are highlighting a few of the best and brightest from Temecula Valley’s vineyards and cellars. These men and women are rarely in the spotlight, but their talents shine in every bottle of Temecula Valley Southern California Wine that graces your table.

Ryan Hart

Ryan Hart, Assistant Enologist, Thornton Winery

Originally from Carlsbad, Ryan has been in Temecula Valley for four years now. And, if the name sounds familiar, it should. Yes, he is that Hart – Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country pioneer Joe Hart’s grandson – so you can say winemaking is definitely in his blood.  

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

RH: There really isn’t much of a typical day! That’s what makes this job so exciting, but in general I spend mornings tracking current ferments or making sure all the chemistry checks out with wines being held in a tank or barrel. I usually spend the later half of the day assisting Nick, our cellar lead, outside.

TVWA: What is your favorite thing about harvest?

RH: My favorite thing about harvest is the spontaneity. Every day is different. Situations arise and your skills at problem solving and risk management are often put to the test. 

TVWA: What makes Temecula Valley special to you?

RH: Temecula Valley has such a deep place in my heart. My earliest memories are of my climbing in fermentation tanks at my Grandfather’s winery, late night drives with my dad and brother to find grape boxes to pick grapes in (behind what seemed like every grocery store within 50 miles) and talking to my uncle Bill from behind the tasting room bar, the winery behind it a mystery.

TVWA: Can you share any funny or memorable moments or anecdotes from a past harvest (or this one)?

RH: Last year I was in the midst of harvest at South Coast Winery. I couldn’t remember a weekend, let alone what day of the week it was and I was discussing this and the rigors of harvest with their enologist Emily and she told me she always liked harvest because it always felt so much like Summer camp. The more I thought of it, the more it really struck home. We see our coworkers often more than our families. We spend so much time together and the days can oftentimes seem endless but the memories we hold with us will last a lifetime. 

Nick Marsolino

Nicholas Marsolino, Production Lead, Thornton Winery

Nick is originally from neighboring Murrieta, and has been in Temecula Valley for 13 years. He works closely alongside Ryan Hart at Thornton.

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

NM: A typical day for me is when I first come in Ryan and I do morning pump overs and punch downs. We are a sparkling house at Thornton Winery, if we have wine on our riddling racks Ryan and I riddle. After our morning work we meet with Tom [Thornton Winery winemaker] and we go over what need to be done which varies each day. After we finish our tasks Ryan and I finish the day with afternoon pump overs and punch downs.

TVWA: What is your favorite thing about harvest?

NM: One of my favorite things about Harvest is watching the evolution from grape to wine. Being a part of that process is special.

TVWA: What makes Temecula Valley special to you?

NM: Temecula is special to me because my family is here. I also see a lot of potential in Temecula valley as an AVA.

TVWA: Any standout harvest memories?

NM: This my second harvest so last year’s harvest is very memorable. This one incident happened where I was mixing one of our wines with a machine called a Guth, where you put its propeller through the racking valve and it mixes the wine. Well, when it was finish mixing, when I took off the Guth, I forgot to close the valve and got baptized with wine. Tom told me that I’m officially in the wine making business.

Reed Brady

Reed Brady, Vineyard/Winemaker Assistant, Palumbo Family Vineyard and Winery

Reed is born and bred Temecula Valley, and has lived here for all 25 years of his young life.

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

RB: This can vary quite a bit, but on an average harvest day I will drive the tractor at night and pick leaves from the bins. Then I will rush home and try and get a few hours of sleep. The next morning, I will destem all of the fruit picked that evening and do my punch downs or help out in the tasting room… whatever is needed for the day 

TVWA: What is your favorite thing about harvest?

RB: The work. I love how challenging and how much work is required. I believe there are two types of fun: There’s the roller coaster ride that is fun for the moment but is always a fleeting type of fun. Then there is the long, hard days that really make you work for it. That’s the type of fun that lasts a life time, and you can look back at and talk about with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

What makes Temecula Valley special to you?

RB: Being raised here in the Temecula wine country I have seen this valley grow a lot since we moved here in ‘95. It may have grown a lot, but it still maintains such a small-town feel. 

TVWA: Can you share any funny or memorable moments or anecdotes from a past harvest (or this one)?

RB: Sitting in a 55-gallon trash can filled with water while pressing merlot in 100 degree heat. Everyone else thought it was very funny; I thought it was cool.

Billy Bower

Billy Bower, Director of Agriculture, Stage Ranch Farm Management

Originally from Kirkland, Washington, Billy has spent the past 33 years in Temecula and is a celebrated fixture in Wine Country. Billy was, sadly, recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. As with all things that he does, he is facing it with as much strength, perseverance, and humor as he can. Billy’s family has created a Go Fund Me account to help raise money to put toward treatment and non-covered care. Please donate here if you are able.

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

BB: Overseeing 450 acres of wine grapes and, at times, up to 35 employees makes for a busy day. I oversee all the new development, daily farming, along with any problems, diseases, and any other issues that might develop in the vineyards. August through October is harvest time, therefore we work 6, sometimes 7 days a week to get the harvest in. Harvest time is both rewarding and challenging. As of late, more challenging due to labor issues and changes in our weather pattern. Lately it’s been getting hotter and hotter which speeds up the harvest, which can affect the quality of our wine. 

TVWA: What is your favorite thing about harvest?

BB: My favorite thing about harvest is seeing all the hard work during the growing season finally coming to an end – the end being a beautiful, bountiful harvest. I also have the opportunity and privilege of working with 8 different wineries in Temecula, and to see them produce great quality wines from our Temecula Valley, and knowing that it’s coming not only from myself, but also our hardworking team. 

TVWA: What makes Temecula Valley special to you?

BB: I moved to the Murrieta/ Temecula Valley area in 1987 as a teenager and fell in love with the slower paced family atmosphere, along with its great location being so close to the ocean and the mountains. I knew I wanted to make this my home. 

TVWA: Why did you decide to make Temecula Valley home?

BB: Agriculture was really secondary. I moved here to be in construction as a general contractor. But the recession in the late 80’s early 90’s caused me to get involved with agriculture. My family ended up moving back to Washington State for work, but I fell in love and didn’t want to leave. So I married my beautiful wife Kaijah and had two wonderful children, Jevon and Kelsey. After a couple of classes at UC Davis and lots of hands-on experience in the field I was happy to make agriculture my vocation in the Temecula Valley. 

TVWA: Can you share any funny or memorable moments or anecdotes from a past harvest (or this one)?

BB: Harvest of ‘94 was very memorable because our first-born son was born September 8th, right in the middle of harvest. At those times husbands or men did not get to stay home and bond with their baby –haha! I had to sleep in the walk-in closet where it was cool and dark and I wouldn’t be disturbed by our newborn baby because I was working at night and sleeping during the day, opposite of my wife and baby’s routine. Needless to say, that was a difficult harvest.

Joe Vera

Joe Vera, Cellar Master (AKA “Cellar King Rat”), Wilson Creek Winery Years in Temecula

Despite hailing from Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico, Joe has been in the Temecula Valley for a whopping 54 years! And, more importantly, 2020 marks Joe’s 50th harvest in Temecula Valley!

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

JV: It’s a juggling act.  My regular day consists of compliance, cellar management and maintenance, training, weighing and harvesting… and a lot of head shaking.

TVWA: What is your favorite thing about harvest?

JV: I love watching the grapes come in and weighing and crushing them. 

TVWA: What makes Temecula Valley special to you?

JV: The valley is special to me because I came here as a teenager when Temecula had a population of 42. I’ve loved watching the growth (to whatever population it is now).  But the most special is the people I have met along the way.  My dad brought me here and put me to work.  As an adult, I had a great job at Callaway (I was there for 32 years) and never wanted to leave. [I ultimately] married and raised kids here in the valley.

TVWA: Can you share any funny or memorable moments or anecdotes from a past harvest (or this one)?

 JV: This is serious stuff!  Probably the most memorable was two years ago when we broke a record here at Wilson Creek of harvesting 474 TONS!  It was crazy! There used to be a time where harvest was just a small group of us in the valley. We had lots of fun, we all worked close together and enjoyed the camaraderie.  Everyone knew everyone.  This valley is so big now and there are so many people I don’t know!  It’s become some serious business!  There is a small group of us that still get together every Friday and share our stories over a beer or two. This valley is very special.

Brian Marquez

Brian Marquez, Assistant Winemaker, Wiens Family Cellars

Even though he has been there since 2007, Brian is one of the few at Wiens Family Cellars who isn’t actually related to the Wiens family. But that hasn’t stopped him from being treated like a blood relative… for better or for worse!

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

BM: I start my morning flying hot air balloons Over Temecula. Then I get to the winery, and manage all of the fermenting lots. I also organize pressing and racking and bottling, because we bottle through harvest. I then question [winemaker] Joe [Wiens] on everything because that’s how we push each other. 

TVWA: What’s your favorite thing about harvest?

BM: That it’s acceptable to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon at 9 am! One of the things I look forward to is when all the white wines are done fermenting and we have new wines in the tanks to finally taste. Also, I get to bring my kids with me and they love helping with punch downs 

TVWA: What makes Temecula Valley special to you?

BM: I grew up in Temecula and had the opportunity to help build up this region. I have been making wine here for 13 years, and have been getting attention from all the older guys that have been doing it for years before us, and being told I’ve got what it takes to help put Temecula on the map mean a lot. This is my home, where I was raised and where I raise my kids. 

TVWA: Got any funny or memorable moments or anecdotes from a past harvest (or this one)?

BM: Joe and I constantly saying, “Theoretically it should work.” We are professionals…but we never went to school for this.

Kaitlin Murray

Kaitlin Murray, Wine and Viticulture Intern/Server, Peltzer Winery

A SoCal native from Mission Viejo, Kaitlin has only been in Temecula for two months, but already feels right at home.

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

KM: When I started at Peltzer I was an intern. We were about six weeks away from harvest. I would get to the vineyard early to collect berry samples for brix testing. During this time, I really got to know the vineyard and it became one of my favorite parts of the day. A lot of time is dedicated throughout the day planning for things needed for harvest like bottles, storage and cleaning supplies. Once harvest started it was over in the blink of an eye. This was my first harvest so everything was very exciting and new. It definitely was a lot of work, but I’m really glad I was able to be a part of such an important time in the wine’s life.

TVWA: What is your favorite aspect of harvest?

KM: My favorite thing about harvest is just how fast-paced the whole process is. It’s definitely a thrill and you always have to be on your toes. 

TVWA: What makes Temecula Valley special to you?

KM: I’ve only been in Temecula for 2 months now, but I’m already in love. The location is absolutely beautiful, but it is really the amazing people that have made this place so special to me. I love the passion and commitment that the people have for creating delicious wines!

TVWA: Can you share any memorable moments in your winemaking journey so far?

KM: This is a tough question for me because this was my first harvest and the whole process will forever be cherished. But one thing that I will think about and look forward to for next year are the early mornings in the vineyard. Standing in the middle of the vineyard I am surrounded by the plants that give our wines life. I can only see the vines and the sky which is usually filled with hot air balloons amidst the rising sun. There is a crispness in the air that jumpstarts me for the day. Everything is so peaceful and calm.  It is pure tranquility.

Gregorio Retana

Gregorio Retana, Cellar Master, Robert Renzoni Vineyards

Originally from Mexico, Gregorio has been in Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country for 21 years.

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

GR: My day to day is always different depending on the season; harvest, bottling, cellar, or vineyard practices to name a few. From barrel work and racking a tank in the cellar, to discing the vineyard or bottling our wine, my typical day ranges.

TVWA: What is your favorite thing about harvest?

GR: My favorite thing about harvest is experiencing the whole process of grapes being turned into wine and enjoying it with my family and friends.

TVWA: What makes Temecula Valley special to you?

GR: From working with Stage Ranch for years planting vineyards across Temecula Valley, and now becoming the cellar master at Robert Renzoni Vineyards, I have met a  lot of people through the Valley who I’ve become close friends with. I’m so happy to have made Temecula Valley my home and feel lucky to have played a part in almost every vineyard in this region.

TVWA: Can you share a memorable moment during your time in Wine Country?

GR: A memorable moment here at Robert Renzoni Vineyards is simply how we all treat each other like we are family. I’m glad to call this place my second home.

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