Santa Barbara! No, Temecula! Temecu-what? Temecula! 90 miles south of Los Angeles, is a new (“new” is relative)developing wine region in southern California situated in what is essentially a desert. Santa Barbara would certainly have been more scenic but the Santa Barbara wine region—made famous by the movie “Sideways”--is a very spread out area with a fairly low concentration of wineries in any particular locale. So, in light of our limited time, we went to Temecula where the wineries are pretty well situated on one thoroughfare.
We stopped at Hart winery—the first one you come to on the approach to this wine region. It is pretty much a barn with a tasting counter about eight feet in length and a room that is simply a space off the actual production area of the winery. It was much too small to accommodate the number of people that were trying to get to the tasting counter.
Since we tasted about 25 wines in all this day, I will hghlight only a couple standouts, and simply give an overall assessment at the end. Where the Hart winery shone above the rest we visited, was that with their $10 tasting (they have a $5 tasting as well) you get their reserve wines and a souvenir 19 oz. Spieglau Bordeaux tasting glass. Nice!
Our next stop was Churon winery which is built in an elegant French Chateau style architecture and beautifully appointed. The tasting room is spacious and beautiful. The wines were unremarkable and way overpriced.
We stopped for lunch at Maurice Car’rie winery which was a very nice and very popular place to stop. They have the only free tasting of all the wineries and it was well attended yet, the tasting area and shop was spacious and comfortable. As you enter the winery, you could order a sourdough loaf with baked brie which would be ready for you in 15 minutes. We availed ourselves of this and it was ready and warm and wonderful to eat on the picnic grounds outside. For $14, it was a cheap lunch for five people.
The attendant serving our tasting was pretty well clueless about the wines but very friendly. This was the first winery we had visited that tasted like they had actually been making wine for a while. Heather’s Mist—a blend of Muscat Cannelli, Chardonnay Riesling and something the pourer didn’t remember, was very pleasant and would be great chilled on a hot summer day. ($9) Of all the wineries, this was the most fun.
We would make our way to two more wineries which were off the beaten path and although not far, it was awkward getting to them due to some major construction on roads in the area and what seemed to be development of this burgeoning wine area.
We found Filsinger Winery with some work and walked in to the small tasting room/shop and was overpowered by the unmistakable aroma of urinal inserts—the blue or bubblegum pink tablets you find in toilets to mask the smell of--uh, other things... A meaningful tasting was out of the question with the stench and we left immediately.
Last on our agenda for this quick trip was the Keyways Winery, again out of the way, dirt parking lot, but a good atmosphere, some of the best wines of the day we had including a Late Harvest Zinfandel which was remarkable. It is a great dessert wine with chocolate aromas and flavors. They served it with a few chocolate pieces and the pairing was astounding. Serve this wine with chocolate cheesecake for a taste of heaven.
In Summary—we only visited five out of the 13 wineries in this up and coming region. Overall, the wines were disappointingly marginal. With the exception of the Heather’s Mist (Maurice Car’rie) and the Late Harvest Zinfandel (Keyways) the wines were almost all very blah, with light bouquet’s only hinting at the grape type. The reds tended toward overwhelming alcohol aromas and light on fruit. The prices of some of these wines were in the $25-$30 range. One Old Vine Zinfandel we had smelled like toluene (airplane glue) and even the better reds were just "okay," all with a lackluster finish.
My impression was, either the winemakers need to go back to school, or the quality of grapes being produced in Temecula just isn’t cutting it. It was a nice day—a great day—but the wines and some of the tasting rooms need a lot of work.