“Take a trip up Happy Canyon”

Grassini Family Vineyard in Happy Canyon courtesy of Grassini Family
Westerly Vineyard Courtesy of SB Vintners

Westerly Vineyard
Photo Courtesy of SB Vintners

“Take a trip up Happy Canyon”  Yep, that’s how Happy Canyon got it’s name.  It was the place to sneak off to find a simple alcoholic beverage during Prohibition to “get Happy”, and the name stuck.

This AVA was established in 2009 and is the fourth to be established in Santa Barbara County.  It is on the eastern edge of the Santa Barbara region and being the furthest inland and warmest (average summer temps in the low nineties) it lends itself to Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Syrah.

The soil here has a high mineral level and is loam and clay loam.  The lack of nutrients in the soil creates smaller vines with lower yields.

Happy Canyon AVA

Happy Canyon AVA

The AVA itself covers 23,941 acres and includes 6 major vineyards:  Crown Point, Dascomb, Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards, Grassini Family Vineyards, Happy Canyon Vineyard and Westerly. This is the easternmost part of the Santa Ynez Valley and sits Northwest of Lake Cachuma.

The first planting was done in 1996 with the first vintage here in 2001.  The fruit here is limited but produce complexity and depth.  You get natural acidity as well as ripe fruit flavors creating balance.

So the alcoholic beverages from Happy Canyon are no longer simple as they were in the day when it got it’s name.  Now you will find complex and expressive wines.  Feel free to take a drive through the beautiful area and see the vineyards, but unfortunately, you will not find any tasting rooms here.  Never fear!  Many of these wineries have tasting rooms conveniently located in downtown Santa Barbara, Solvang or Sta. Rita Hills.

Grassini Tasting Room, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

Grassini Tasting Room, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

You can find Grassini Family Vineyards beautiful tasting room in Downtown Santa Barbara. Dascomb has a tasting room in Solvang.  Star Lane has it’s vineyards in Happy Canyon.  It’s sister Vineyard is Dierberg and you can taste Star Lane wines at their tasting room on their Sta. Rita Hills property on Drum Canyon Road.

 

As to the rest?  Well…the Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend will have them all available for tasting!  Or you can spoil yourself and plan to attend the Grassini Family Dinner Event with 6 wineries including Grassini, Sea Smoke, Margerum, Dierberg Estate, Kaena, Fiddlehead and Andrew Murray.

Grassini Family Vineyard Courtesy of Grassini Family

Grassini Family Vineyard, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

They have an incredible event planned for after the Grand Tasting on Saturday night with Dinner lakeside under the oaks out on their Happy Canyon Vineyard.  They will have passed hors d’oeuvres and a four-course meal and of course, wine!

Find out all the details about the Vintner’s weekend at http://www.sbvintnersweekend.com 

Grassini Family Vineyard Pond Courtesy of Grassini Family

Grassini Family Vineyard Pond, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

 

Or visit Santa Barbara Vintners for information on things happening year round in Santa Barbara’s Wine Country.

The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

It’s no secret, I’m in love with the Santa Barbara County Wine Region.  It is laid back with an incredible range of variety.  “Sideways” got it right.  This is the best up and coming wine area in our country.  Up and coming actually seems a little silly, the wineries and winemakers here have quite a history.  There are giants of winemaking here including: Richard Sanford, Jim Clenedenen, Bob Linquist, Richard Longoria & Bill Wathen. And the list of amazing winemakers continues to grow and the wines they are producing are varied and amazing.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Santa Barbara lies in a unique area that separated from the plates along the coast.  Over the past twelve million years this little section shifted and created a Transverse valley.  This means that the valley here runs east west as opposed to north south like all the other valleys on our coast.  The transverse valley and the microclimates within it lead to a place where you can grow an amazing variety of grapes in a relatively small area.  On the western edge the valley is cool and is perfect for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  As you move east the valley warms by a degree a mile!  This makes the middle section perfect for Rhone varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Roussanne and as you continue to the east side where Happy Canyon lies you have enough heat to support those Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc.

So if you are a wine geek like me…this is a great place.  But if you are not a wine geek and want to avoid the intimidation of wine talk and just enjoy a glass…well this is the right place too.

So…make your first stop in the Funk Zone near the beach in Santa Barbara on the Urban Wine trail.  Stop into one of the many great tasting rooms there.  Maybe hit Municipal Winemakers first and soak up some of the funky atmosphere.  Sit down at the picnic table and enjoy a glass of rose.

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Then if you are feeling like learning a little about where these wines come from head up the street to AVA Santa Barbara. Here you can taste wines from all the different regions in Santa Barbara County.  The entire wall over the tasting bar is a huge chalk mural by Elkpen that  shows the regions soils, microclimates and topography. The wines, by Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines are lovely and deliberately varied to feature the microclimates in this incredible area.

Au Bon Climate, Grassini, Margerum

If you head further North into downtown, you will find Grassini, Au Bon Climat & Margerum to choose between for a tasting.

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Head back through the downtown shopping district and stop at  Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro for lunch.  Then take a stroll on the beach and finally enjoy a nice glass of wine at Conway Family Wines – Deep Sea Tasting room on the Santa Barbara Pier while you enjoy the sunset.

 

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Oh, but my friend, you are just getting started in Santa Barbara County.  Tomorrow drive into Solvang, the adorable little Danish town and get some aebleskivers for breakfast at the Solvang Restaurant.  You can then stroll this town and taste at several tasting rooms that you can walk to, or drive a little further into Los Olivos where you will find over 35 tasting rooms to choose from!  And…I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a great place to dine at Side’s Hardware & Shoes.  Don’t miss Saarloos and Sons for a pairing with cupcakes from Enjoy Cupcakes.

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

They are there Thursday thru Sunday from 11-5 (or until they run out of cupcakes, so go early!) and one of my favorite tasting rooms, the tiniest one on the planet is across the street from Saarloos and Sons at Carhartt.  Carhartt stays open an hour later than the others and this often becomes quite the gathering spot on the beautiful but tiny back patio.

Are you overwhelmed yet?  There is more…I highly recommend Terrravant Winery Restaurant in Buellton for dinner and pairings.  They have an Enomatic wine dispensing system set up so you can try small tastes of many of the amazing local wines.  And the now World Famous Hitching Post II is also here in Buellton, made famous by the movie “Sideways”.

Avante Front Entrance

Avante Tapas & Wine Bar Front Entrance

Tomorrow morning you have more wine country to explore!  There are amazing wineries outside of Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley like Buttonwood Farms & Beckman.  Or travel up to Santa Maria through Foxen Canyon and enjoy the morning Vandenberg Fog.  Stop at Zaca Mesa and try their Rhones.  This place has been around a while and popped out some pretty amazing winemakers!  Further up the road, you can’t miss stopping at “The Shack” at Foxen.

Zaca Mesa chess set

Zaca Mesa Patio with the oversized chess set

And…then there is the Sta. Rita Hills. If you love Pinot or good Chard you want to drive through here.  Make an appointment and stop by Clos Pepe.  Wes Hagen has more vineyard and wine knowledge than you can imagine and a tasting with him is amazing!  Just past Clos Pepe is Hilliard Bruce.  John and Christine have an incredibly beautiful landscaped property and their vineyard management is state of the art.

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Keep driving down 246 to Lompoc and top into the Wine Ghetto.  Filled with small wineries working out of an industrial park you will find Flying Goat Cellars, Fiddlehead & Palmina as well as a host of others.  Check the hours though, because they are often just open on weekends for tastings.  Further into Lompoc you will find Brewer-Clifton, which again brought out my geeky side as we talked about stem inclusion and how they thin the vines to ripen the stems!

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Have I covered it all?  Not even close.  There is so much exploring I look forward to going back to do.  But…if you are short on time…The Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend will have all of these great wineries and winemakers in one place on April 12th.

Or at anytime for information visit Santa Barbara Vintners

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Sculpterra Wine & Art – Roaming the sculpture garden

Sculpterra Winery

Sculpterra is located on the East side of Paso off of Linne Road. This unique winery greets you with a magnificent sculpture garden.  Surrounded by gorgeous iron fencing by master black smith Robert C. Bentley the garden itself is filled with the beautiful sculpture work of John Jagger.

Dr. Warren Frankel bought this property back in the 1980’s and moved his family there in 1990.  Paul his son is the winemaker, a graduate of Cal Poly in Viticulture and Enology.  Paul is more than just the winemaker, he also manages the vineyards, deals with fruit and juice sales and occasionally can be found pouring in the tasting room.

As we were here on a Saturday, the winery was busy and had an accordion player playing live in the tasting room.  In addition to making their own wines, they also sell bulk fruit and juice to small independent winemakers.  They do a wide variety of wines here, including Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Mourvedre, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wines are lovely and it is a wonderful place to come grab a glass of wine and wander the sculpture garden for a little art fix.

Enjoy a virtual stroll through their amazing sculpture gardens…you’ll have to provide your own wine, I recommend a rose.

Wiens Reflection Vertical, wine tasting and pairings

Wiens Reflection Vertical

Wine is terrific, and when you pair it with food you can take it to another level.  Learning how to taste, decant and pair can be an exciting adventure.

The journey today is with a Vertical of three vintages of Wiens Reflections red blend.  There are differences because of the actual blends (they use different varieties of grapes each year), differences because of the climate in each year and then differences because obviously the older vintages have aged longer!  We taste the wines right out of the bottle and then decanted and watch as the flavors evolve. Then we pair them with meats cheeses and other foods and the flavors change again, enhanced (or not) by contrasting or complimentary flavors in the food.  It’s an exciting journey, join us and then try a tasting of your own! See original Post.

Reflection Tasting in Vertical from Wiens Family Cellars

Wiens Family Cellars was having a Vertical tasting of their Reflections red blends and we couldn’t go…so we put together a vertical of our own.  We had the 2008, 2010 and the 2011.  These are of course blends, so they are all a little different, so this a little different from a typical vertical.  Typically you would have a single variety of grape or a fairly set blend that you would be comparing from year to year.  You would get the differences in the climate and season that affect each year’s harvest.  You would also be able to see how the wine ages.  We were able to do those things, but the field for comparison was a bit more wide open.  Let me take a minute to give you the breakdown on these three vintages.

  • 2008 Reflection is 30% Sangiovese, 28% Barbera, 28% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot  with Alcohol 15.1  and Residual sugar .6%
  • 2010 Reflection is 63% Sangiovese, 14% Cabernet, 14% Syrah, 9% Zinfandel with 14.5 Alcohol and .5 % residual sugar.
  • 2011 Reflection is 42% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot, 14% Zinfandel, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Primitivo, 2% Montepulciano, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Dolcetto with 12.5 Alcohol! and .2 residual sugar

So as you can see this blend is Sangiovese based, but that’s about where the similarities end.  This makes for a brilliantly exciting tasting!  At the winery they are doing “Reflections of the Decades” and they are tasting 6 of these wines, 2006-2011. We somehow can’t find the 2009 so I must have already enjoyed it!  At the winery they are doing a decade theme starting with the 60’s for the 2006.  I perused their pairings and then went back to the suggestions with the wines. We picked up some Spanish meats and cheeses (yes I know, I could have picked up Italian!).  We did a tasting upon opening and then let them breathe for a bit and tasted each with the meats and cheeses.  For the pairings we went a little out of order and cooked them for each course.  I know it sounds tough, but…we have Trader Joes.  So here’s the run down for the pairings:

  • 2010 Reflection with a goat cheese and basil pizza, to which we added a little sage and thyme.
  • 2008 Reflection with Eggplant Parmesan
  • 2011 Reflection with meat lasagna and a spinach salad.

Then we had chocolate cake for dessert and tasted it with all 3.

 

We found that the wines opened up quite a bit over the course of the evening.  I had e-mailed the winery to ask decanting recommendations.  Bob was kind enough to get back to me and suggested decanting the 2010 and 2011 straight down into a decanter on the counter top to add as much oxygen as possible.  For the 2008 he suggested carefully pouring it down the side of a tilted decanter to give it some space to gently open up.   Thanks Bob!  Unfortunately, I do not yet own a nice decanter.  So…we took the advice the best that we could.  We opened up the 2008 and gently poured into glasses and let it air.  The other two we got the aerator out and poured them through to add oxygen.  On to the tasting!

 

Lumiere – a truly beautiful small winery

Lumiere Winery

Continuing on with our Wine country adventures, About a year ago a co-worker came back from a trip to Temecula Wine Country and told me that they had tasted at Lumiere Winery.

Lumiere Banner

Lumiere Banner

The friend he was traveling with knew the winemaker.  I, being a Temecula wine  junkie, researched the winery to find that they are very small, family run and the tasting room is only open on weekends.  Our last trip allowed us to be in Temecula on a Friday, so we took a chance and drove up to the tasting room, which is on the North side of Calle Contento Road.  There is a banner for Lumiere posted at the end of their drive.  It’s a beautiful drive up to the ridge that the tasting room and winery sit on.  The tasting room is a beautifully renovated 3-car garage.

Lumiere View from Tasting room

Lumiere View from Tasting room

It has windows on both sides looking out onto the vineyards.  We didn’t see anyone and stepped around outside to see the view outback, when a back door opened and a woman asked if we needed some help.  This woman is the owner, Martha Kleiner.  She and her husband bought the vineyard in 1987 from the Barlin Family who planted Sauvignon Blanc here in 1980.  Her son Andrew grew up coming out to the vineyard every weekend and is now the winemaker.  He and his mother run the entire place.

They are doing landscaping and putting in a small deli so people can grab something to eat on the weekends.

The tasting room view as you stand at the bar is through the eucalyptus trees and out onto the vineyard.  It’s really peaceful and beautiful. They have picnic tables on the patio, so it’s perfect for bringing a picnic and buying a bottle of wine.

Lumiere Cork Art on Wall

Lumiere Cork Art on Wall

The tasting room itself it beautiful with clean lines and beautiful woods and a lovely piece of cork art created by a local artist, that they submitted in the cork competition for the annual WOW (World of Wine) weekend.

Lumiere Winery Patio

Lumiere Winery Patio

We began wine tasting and Martha told us a little about the vineyard and the plans they have for it.  Being small, growth is slow.  As she told us about purchasing and working the vineyards back in the early 80’s I mentioned that I had just picked up a book on Temecula wine country.  She remembered writing and essay and giving pictures to the author.  Michael ran out to the car and brought the book back in for her to see.  At the time they started the vineyard, the valley was much smaller in a community sense and everyone knew everyone.  She knows Vincent and Audrey Cirluzo as well as Bud and Maurice Van Roekel.  They were all starting out at the same time.  Soooo much history here.  It was truly an honor to speak with her.

The wines are unique.  They have a Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc as well as a late harvest Sav Blanc.  Their “Bail out Blanc” was made in 2007 and has 1% residual sugar.  We also tasted their 2006 Merlot.  In making this wine they did punch downs by hand then it was 2 years in the barrel.  This is free run juice; the skins and seeds are not pressed.  They use barrels with French and American oak staves.  Their 2006 “Romantic Fantasy” is 90% Merlot and 10% Cab Franc.  It is hard pressed with the skins and seeds.  Their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is done in new American 70 Gallon Barrels.  It was the top choice in a blind tasting at a local vineyard meeting.

The 2006 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc was picked at 27 Brix and has 4.5% residual sugar.  It was fermented in steel at 29 degrees for 6 months and it has a lovely brightness.  The “Voulez Vous” their sparkling Sav Blanc has a nice tartness.

This is really a wonderful peaceful stop.  If you are in Temecula on a wine travel weekend, don’t miss it.  And tell Martha that we say hello!

Oak Mountain Wine, Music and a view

Oak Mountain Winery

Oak Mountain Winery sits high on the North side of the De Portola Wine Trail with great views of Oak Mountain. You can’t miss the entrance with it’s buckboard wagon emblazoned with the winery name.  This winery houses both Oak Mountain and Temecula Hill Wineries.  Temecula hills is way down De Portola and does not have a tasting room.

Oak Mountain patio Ent

Oak Mountain patio Ent

Every weekend they have live music in their Pavilion next to the tasting room.

Oak Mountain patio

Oak Mountain patio

Oak Mountain pizza

Oak Mountain pizza

We stopped by and the Pavilion was busy and enticed us in with the sign out front advertising gourmet pizza inside.

There was a duo playing and lots of 8 top round tables filling the space.  The band was at the front corner, backed by the great view.  We headed straight for the pizza which was made to order.  They also had a table set up with jewelry and crafts for sale.  Michael took a seat and I went to the tasting bar at the back.  The line was long and they had wines by the glass and wine margaritas in addition to the tastings.  All the wines here were reasonably priced.  We tasted through the 2011 Muscat, 2011 Zinfandel Blanc Noir, 2011 Savignon Blanc,  2008 Grenache Noir, 2009 Merlot, 2009 Tempranillo and a Durif.   We enjoyed our pizza, the music and the view.

In addition to their weekend music they have monthly events that include cooking classes or blending classes.

 

 


Pictures


Falkner Winery and Pinnacle Restaurant

Falkner Winery

Driving down Rancho California Road in Temecula Wine Country, there is lots to look at.  Beautiful vineyards, wineries on all sides, but you won’t be able to miss Pinnacle restaurant.  The rounded building sits on the hill top on just past Calle Contento Road.  The windows and patio will have you wanting to turn in and take in the view from the other side!  So make the turn and take the steep drive up to this stunning building.  Before you get there, you will find the winery and tasting room tucked into the trees behind the restaurant and I encourage you to stop in here and do a tasting before treating yourself to lunch and the view from Pinnacle.

Falkner Pinnacle

Falkner Pinnacle

The tasting room is open daily from 10-5 and the restaurant is open from 11:30- 3:30 for lunch.  If you get there after 3:30, never fear the gift shop at the tasting room offers food items to purchase and create a picnic to enjoy out on the picnic tables in the tree lined area outside.

You will find great lends such as their Amante which is a Super Tuscan style red with Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  They also do a Bordeaux style Meritage with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

The winery was founded in 2000 by Ray and Loretta Falkner. They opened the restaurant in September of 2006 and that gorgeous view is 1,500 feet up on the hilltop.  New to me as I researched was the “Wine Cave” below the restaurant.  This VIP room is a barrel shaped room with windows all around to see the barrels and case good that the winery has.  This space seats up to 20 people and is available for special events.

Pinnacle Lunch

Pinnacle Lunch

Michael and I tasted here on our very first trip to Temecula and then returned to have a stunning lunch paired with their wines on a later trip and the restaurant was busy!  When the weather is nice the patio is lovely for lunch.

They offer a monthly Wine Appreciation class with their assistant Winemaker and in-house sommelier.  This is a four hour class that includes lunch and is great for both novices and experts.  You should plan ahead and register in advance for these classes that happen on the second Saturday of each month.  They do have Public Tours available each weekend at 11 and 2 that are $10 per person.

Until you have a chance to get out to the winery and restaurant, you can enjoy a little at home by viewing their MAC and ME cooking classes online with Chef Mike.  Learn how to make Prosciutto wrapped asparagus at home or a wide range of other delicious things.

Monte de Oro – “Vines, Wine, People”

Monte De Oro depcicted in oil

This Temecula Valley winery is impressive as you drive up toward the end of Rancho California Road. The building sits on a rise and is expansive and inviting. In the early mornings there are typically balloons taking off from here making for picture perfect morning shots with their vineyards out front.

Monte De Oro Tasting Room Window View

Tasting Room Window View

The Monte de Oro winery is owned by OGB (One Great Blend) Partners, which is a collection of 68 family owners from across America, South Africa and the UK.

The Vineyards are located around the valley. The first, Vista Del Monte was planted in 2002 with 18 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. They added 18 acres at the DePortola vineyard and 23 acres at the Galway vineyard in 2003 planted with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Zinfandel, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat Canelli.

In 2007 they broke ground on the winery and in 2008 planted their 4th vineyard at the winery growing Cinsault, Mourvedre, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo.

Monte de Oro Underground Cave

Monte de Oro Underground Cave

Committed to sustainability the winery created a basement wine cave under the winery rather than building a barrel room above ground that would need to have a system for climate control. One of the most impressive sites in the building is walking across the glass floor that allows you to see down into the barrel room. They are also planning to build a gravity flow winery which reduces the energy needed to pump the wine as well as being gentler on the grapes, and they are looking to add solar panels to supply energy in the future.

The tasting room here is huge with beautiful views of the patio and beyond that the valley. They offer a variety of tours and private tastings that you can schedule in advance in addition to the Standard and Black Label Tastings available daily in the tasting room. Also open on the weekends is the MDO Bistro offering a Bistro menu Friday thru Sunday from 11-4.

Monte de Oro patio

Monte de Oro patio

When we visited the winery was busy and it was towards the end of the day. We tasted through a wide variety of their wines, most of which they produce about 250 cases each. All of the wines are very affordable running from $18 to $33 per bottle. watched a group head out for a tour while we were there and I would like to return to do a tour and learn a little more about their wines.

Adventures at Van Roekel

Van Roekel Sign

Van Roekel is the sister property to Maurice Car’rie.  It sits on the hill overlooking Maurice Car’rie and is where their winemaker Gus produces his more refined wines.  The winery complex is on a drive that includes the Van Roekel winery, a small wine country art gallery, the Temecula Wine Makers Association offices and the Van Roekel tasting room.  The tasting room has a sparkling wine menu and a regular menu.

Van Roekel tasting room

Van Roekel tasting room

The pourers in the tasting room were friendly and we had great conversation while we tasted the wines.  We began with the Gewurztraminer which was crisp and not overly sweet and is a great buy at $12.95.  All the wines here are very reasonably priced.  We also tasted their White Zin , and the Chardonnay which was very crisp and slightly sweet and very un Chard like to me, but fascinating enough that I took a bottle home.  On to the reds.  The 2011 Merlot had a bit of oak and spice and a light mouth feel with butter on the end and only a slight hint of tannins.  The Syrah was medium bodied with light silky tannings and pepper with a cooling bit of eucalyptus on the nose.  This felt very finessed for a syrah, not your big fruit bomb or barnyard style syrah.  The 2008 Grenache was full of plums and had higher tannins.  The Papa Red is a non vintage blend that gave you cooked berries on the nose and a variety of fragrances that my nose could not pick out. They were very well rounded and blended.  Bright tannins fill your mouth and there is a little hint of oxidations which is actually very pleasant and provides a depth of flavor.  There is a little bit of barnyard/wet dog on this that is very nice.  This wine is extremely unique.

Our afternoon here was very nice.  The wines, while not what I typically think of for the varieties were very enjoyable as well as cost effective.  These wines are an adventure and one that caught me by surprise and I enjoyed.

Wilson Creek, so much more than Almond champagne

Wilson Creek Sign Art in Oil

I will admit to a bit of snobbery.  I really had no desire to go to Wilson Creek in Temecula. I mean you find bottles of their Almond champagne in Long’s Drug Stores (well you did when they were around).  I figured how could they be creating wine I would like to drink?  Well… there is a lot more to them then the Almond champagne.

Wilson Creek is located at the far east end of Rancho California Road and it is rare that you will get there and find the parking lot not full.  While the grounds are huge and beautiful, a favorite for weddings and the buildings and event center large and impressive, this is still a family affair at heart.

Wilson Creek View

Wilson Creek View

Gerry and Rosie Wilson acquired the 20 acre vineyard in 1996 with the simple intent of running a fun family business and making great wine. With the entire family, children and grand children as well as 5 golden retrievers who can be seen often on property, they have succeeded in making this a family affair.

The Lower Garden is open to parties of 10 or less for picnicing. They just ask that you don’t come to camp!  No tents or shade covers, ice chests or animals and no outside alcoholic beverages.

The Creekside Restaurant offers a menu for lunch that can be enjoyed around the grounds.  You place your order at the Concert Stage and it will be delivered to you in the upper garden.  You can enjoy this in the lower garden also, but you will need to pick up your order.  The menu includes a variety of lunch items as well as a full wine list, beer and other beverages.

With their Event Center Wilson Creek stays busy with Corporate Events and private parties.  The Event Center includes 3 spaces that can accommodate 50-300 people each with a dance floor.  In addition they have two stages that can accommodate up to 400 guests.  Really this place can be party central for 6 or 7 large parties at time!

Bill Wilson is the son and owner.  He works with his Mom & Dad, Brother & Sister, Wife, brother in law & sister in law.  (Did I mention that this was a family affair?) Bill’s Mom and Dad can often be seen on the grounds with their two golden retrievers. They have 92 acres and grow 12 varieties on the estate and then source some grapes.  The varieties used in their wines include: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah and Zinfandel.  They also . When you listen to Bill you know that you are not dealing with a corporation, this is a joyful family affair.  They incorporated what they loved about the wineries they visited when they created Wilson Creek.  And it’s not just about their winery, they want to promote Temecula and encourage people to come and taste, enjoy and learn.  Listen to the great interview with him at http://www.temeculawines.org/videos/ and see exactly what I mean.

I didn’t think it was possible that Wilson Creek used Methode Champenois for their almond champagne, and I was right. There is no way they could do that and sell it at that price!  What I was surprised by, was that they do use the Charmat method which is fermenting the wine in bulk in stainless steel tanks!  The final method they actually refer to as “cheating” on their site.  In this method CO2 is injected into the wine.  Typically this method causes very large bubble that can cause Huge headaches!  They do not cheat at Wilson Creek.  They do, by the way have a wonderful section of their website on wine education called Wine 101 that Mick Wilson put together with fascinating information on Barrels, Port, Champagne, Wine Varietals and much more.  http://www.wilsoncreekwinery.com/Wine-101/Default.aspx

Wilson Creek Picnic View

Wilson Creek Picnic View

The next time you are in Temecula, drive all the way out Rancho California to Wilson Creek, taste some wine, stroll the grounds and say hello to the Wilson’s.  You will know them by the golden retrievers at their sides!

A family winery with Hart

Hart Winery
Hart Winery

Hart Winery

When you drive into Temecula Wine Country the very first winery you come across is Hart Family Winery.  In 1974  over the weekends Joe and Nancy Hart  and their 3 sons planted the first grapevines in their vineyard in Temecula.  In 1980 they built their winery and produced their first wines.  This winery has stayed small and focused and still produces only 5000 cases of wine each year.  Growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Syrah, Merlot Grenache, Sangiovese, Zinfandel & Sauvignon Blanc.

When we visited in early 2012 we were greeted at the door by “Bosco”.  He was resting on the rug at the door.  Inside you step into the coolness of the tank room, the tasting bar is just inside the door with a small area for gifts, beyond it you see the stainless steel tanks and typically Joe Travis Hart walking about checking the tanks.

While there we tasted the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Rousanne, 2010 Zinfandel, 2007 Merlot, 2007 Cabernet Franc, 2010 Blanc de Franc ( a rose of Cabernet Franc), 2008 Syrah, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Aleatico (an obscure grape native to the Puglia region in Italy) from the Palmador Vineyard which is a fortified dessert wine.

This small family run winery is well thought of in the community and respected for paving the way for Temecula Wine Country.