Check in every month where we feature a new interview with a Temecula Valley winery owner. You’ll learn where they came from before settling in Temecula, CA – and what keeps them passionate about the sometimes not-so-glamorous life of a winery owner.
Our ongoing series this month features John Thornton, of Thornton Winery, one of the valley’s “first”, which opened for business way back in 1988. Learn why, after almost 30 years, “Mr. T”, as he’s lovingly known to us, still lives and breathes wine.
Why – or how on earth! – did you get into the wine business? And why was Temecula your chosen region?
Well, Sally and I used to travel extensively on business and everywhere we’d visit, we’d try to eat and drink local. We loved the social aspect of food and wine together. We thought, “Hey, we can start our own place and offer food and wine and it’ll be easy.” Boy, were we WRONG! At the time, Ely Callaway was marketing Temecula as the perfect place to make wine and although the area had a small wine industry, we did some research and it did appear to be a “natural” fit for a wine country and poised for growth.
Running a small family winery – even one that’s been around for awhile like Thornton has – must present a unique set of challenges. What keeps you up at night? And what gets you up in the morning?
I think some of the same things that keep most business owners up at night; but for us it’s how to sell our wine, what wines to make, how to keep our customers happy, cash flow….but Steve works this part of the business, so I sleep pretty darn good! What gets me up in the morning? I get excited about the challenges in the business actually. Challenges can be opportunities and we can take a challenge and turn it into something positive.
What do you MOST love about the wine industry?
What I love most about the wine industry is the people. There are some of the nicest and most genuine people in this industry. Another thing about this industry that is so great is sharing food and wine with friends; it’s a wonderful thing. You add music to that, and you’ve got the perfect combination.
Speaking of music, Champagne Jazz has been a staple in the music industry – and at Thornton – for almost 30 (!) years. Are you proud with its effect on our little wine country?
When we started Champagne Jazz, we never expected it to be what it is today. It’s had a long life and it’s taken years and a lot of hard work to formulate. It’s a continuous challenge to combine a food, wine and musical experience that will appeal to a broad audience. We’re really proud that we’re bringing in some of the best jazz performers in the world. cheapigfollowers.com
Cafe Champagne was THE first restaurant in wine country. That must present its own unique opportunities and challenges?
Our biggest challenge was learning the food business. It’s a tough business. You’ve got to do a lot of research and make sure that you’ve got what people want. You’ve got to come up with menus that appeal to customers and you’ve got to make the prices competitive in order to bring the people in. The restaurant was originally “high-end”, but it’s now more casual. Steve’s been teaching me that it isn’t always about what I want! The customer is always right. We’ve got to listen to them, try to pair the food and wine well, and make them happy. We’ve got a lot more competition with our neighbors now, and while this is inevitable, it just keeps us planning and adapting. We’re watching the valley get better and better and it’s exciting to watch!