Although it doesn’t have a long history of growing a massive amount of grapes, Temecula Valley has been a flourishing region on the rise since the 1970s. Located 60 to 90 minutes away from San Diego, Palm Springs, and southeast Los Angeles; the original grapes were planted in the region by Spanish padres in the 1820s. But over the next 150 years, the main source of income in agriculture within the region was citrus. So it wasn’t until 1968 that Vincenzo and Andy Cilurzo planted the first commercial vineyard.
In 1974, real growth began when Ely Callaway established Callaway Winery, the first production winery in the region. Callaway would later go on to make a fortune in the golf industry, which helped attract eager new investors to the area. As vineyard plantings expanded, the Temecula appellation was granted in 1984.
Approximately 22 miles from the ocean, vineyards are planted on decomposed granite soils at an average elevation of 1,500 feet. The region is extremely dry with warm daytime temperatures that cool down in the late afternoon with breezes that flow through the Rainbow Gap, and Santa Margarita Gap over ridges that represent the western edge of Riverside County.
In 2004, the name of the AVA was changed to Temecula Valley. Today, the region is comprised of 33,000 acres. Currently, there are 1,300 acres of grapes planted in the valley and some of the vineyards are located within the 5,000 acres of “protected” land known as the Citrus/Vineyard Zone.
Whites: For many years, the “bread winner” grape variety of the region has been Chardonnay. With the passing of time, a much wider range of white grapes have been planted, including Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, and Viognier.
Reds: Due to warmer inland climate, the region is not cool enough to grow Pinot Noir. Instead, the focus is put on Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc; Spanish varieties of Garnacha/Grenache, and Tempranillo; and red Mediterranean grapes that include Sangiovese, Syrah, Zindandel and Primitivo.
White Wines: Overall, the white wines are pleasant, charming, and enjoyable. Chardonnay typically has notes of ripe tropical fruits; including some nice examples that are un-oaked. The Sauvignon Blancs are often very citrusy, with notes of lemon, lime, and grapefruit. Riesling tends to be more aromatic; Gewürztraminer is spicier; while Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc are light, fresh, and crisp. While the Viognier often have all these characteristics wrapped into one. For that reason, this aromatic Rhone variety has does extremely well in the region, and the finished wines show well against the best professional wine competitions have to offer in California.
Red Wines: Due to the steady warm temperature, notes of dark berries, plum, currants, and layers of spice typically highlight the flavor profile of Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlots are full-bodied with notes of ripe red fruits, and mocha. And many of the producers use these two varieties, and Cabernet Franc, to make expressive Bordeaux-style blends. For the Mediterranean varieties: Syrah often features notes of dark fruit, olive, earth, tar, and savory spices; Grenache is more focused on blue fruits, berries, and cherries; Zinfandel and Primitivo are peppery and spicy, and Sangiovese and Tempranillo are well-structured wines with loaded with fruit and spice components.
Temecula is a great tourist destination. Aside from the beautiful landscape and vineyards, many of the wineries have restaurants, picnic areas, and large-scale event space on their estates. Thus, the focus of the wines made in the region works well with the styles of cuisine being served. At Callaway, for instance, the Reserve Chardonnay is served with Crab/Saffron Risotto Fritters, with Roasted Pepper Coulis & White Anchovy. While down the road, another winery might be hosting a wedding reception and serving Sauvignon Blanc paired with passed oysters, spring rolls, and chicken skewers with a tangy mint-yogurt sauce. Same is true with red wines that are often paired with everything from fancy sandwiches and brick-oven pizzas; to bigger courses like spaghetti with mussels and clam, surf n’ turf and smoked pork chop; and the more hearty dishes like roast lamb or a big juicy grilled steak with fresh Chimichurri sauce.