The Temecula Valley Harvest Celebration and Barrel Tasting got underway today. From the fun everyone seemed to be having, it would be a great way to liven up your Sunday, too. Sunday November 8th is the second and final installment of the wandering festival that celebrates the harvest in Temecula's wine country.
Today we got a bit of a late start and lingered some at each location. After all, why rush? Still we managed to squeeze in visits to four wineries along Rancho California Road: Callaway, Hart, Thornton and South Coast.
The tickets were waiting for us at Callaway, so we began there. They had turned their barrel room into a buffet area, serving the little pork belly samples and caper relish. That was a delicious start. At the wine table, they were pouring Chardonnay, Merlot and a barrel sample of a Cabernet Sauvignon. I tried the 100% Merlot and was quite impressed with its dark complexity and smoky character. The Cab had only been in the barrel 12 months and had another 6 to 12 months to go, so it was a bit young. Even with the "Cabernet Nouveau" taste, it was nice and fruity and hopefully will be wonderful when finished in 2010.
Next was a short backtrack to Hart. This little, rustic winery is one of the oldest in the Temecula Valley. And one of the best, I think. Through the facility and out to a back area, the Hart folks were serving Italian sausages with a spicy marinara sauce. To go along with that little plate, some really wonderful Cal-Italia wines. The Sangiovese and the Barbera were both excellent and paired quite well with the food. I wandered in to the tasting room hoping to find their wonderful Rhone-style blend, "Three." Alas, the blend has changed and no longer features Mourvedre. A loss for me, but a gain for Tempranillo fans, as the latest version contains that grape along with Grenache and Syrah.
Back on the road. At this point, it may be wise to point out that on this Temecula Valley winery tour - or any winery-to-winery, day-long excursion - one should either have a designated driver or do a lot of spitting. If you can't stand to spit out good wine, the DD is a requirement. A lot of people utilize limousine services to haul them and their parties around. There were a lot of long, black stretch limos on the roads. Whatever your solution, figure it out before you start.
Thornton was our next stop. In the tasting room, we were greeted with a rather sweet sparkling wine which my wife fell in love with and a NV Brut that had a fantastic nose. They were serving a delicious apple bread pudding and a pulled pork and risotto dish. Their Viognier was full of aroma and flavor and a barrel sample of Syrah showed it was nearly ready for bottling. We had planned on a late lunch at their Cafe Champagne restaurant, but things were a little busy there and we opted to keep moving and shoot for lunch in Old Town Temecula.
First though, our final winery stop at South Coast. This resort/spa/winery is huge and probably the biggest showcase in the Temecula Valley. In 2008 they became the first Southern California Winery ever to win the coveted Golden Bear Award at the California State Fair as "Best Winery in California." This summer, they won it again. As I wandered around the beautiful grounds, I couldn't help but notice the staff was set up for a wedding! As if they didn't have enough going on. The crowds certainly gathered around their serving table, with the smoke from an open grill full of rubbed beef providing the bait. A fairly delicious slice of meat was served with a Tempranillo sauce. Over at the pouring station, there was ample space to enjoy a sampling of a nice Grenache Rose and and an even nicer Tempranillo.
On your travels through the Temecula Valley you can expect to encounter wines that feature aromas and flavors of sage, eucalyptus and chapparal. It's said they have especially flavorful Chardonnays and Merlots. I can't speak for the Cards, but the Merlots I have tasted are full of depth and very tasty. The Dolcetto and Malbec wines come highly recommended and I found some lush Tempranillos and Sangioveses.
You won't find too many of these wines in stores, so you will want to plan on picking up a bottle - or twelve - of your favorites from the wineries.
The Celebration is a great excuse - if you need one - to get over to Temecula and enjoy a beautiful day and a burgeoning wine area that is primed to break out and claim its share of attention.