Don’t Forget Temecula!


With almost all of California’s vineyards up in the northern end of the state, it’s easy to forget what’s happening wine-wise in Southern California.  It’s easy to forget Temecula.

This vibrant wine region is just an hour north of San Diego, and it has the balmy Mediterranean climate so perfect for Rhone varietals.  You might think it would be too hot for decent grape growing, but there are several factors that make its climate moderate.  Two gaps in the coastal mountains allow cool, moist marine air to drift in.   Also, situated at 1,500 to 2,500 feet above sea level, Temecula is surrounded by mountains ranging from 2,000 to 11,000 feet high. Cold air collects between the peaks and flows down into the valley at night, setting the stage for great acidity in Temecula’s wines.

If you’re thinking of visiting, don’t worry about time of year — with just 14 annual inches of rain, it’s unlikely you’ll get rained out.  Sunshine prevails.

Just as attractive as its climate is Temecula’s laid-back

Southern California ambiance.  And we’re not talking L.A.  How to describe it?  To us, it seems very South of the Border — the air has that softness you find in Baja, and the cacti you see on the hillsides, combined with birds like roadrunners, give that feeling of being 500 miles south of San Francisco, which you are.

Wherever wine country is, people tend to be in a party mode, but in Temecula, the party is combined with a special kind of warmth and relaxation that really seems to us to be unique to this wine region. It’s just incredibly easy to have fun at a lot of these Temecula wineries.

We’ve visited hundreds of winery tasting rooms throughout the Golden State, and have to say the most fun we’ve ever had was at Temeucla’s South Coast Winery and Resort.  It was one big party.  Not to mention great wine.  This winery has really led the way as far as offering a true resort wine country experience. Their guest cottages overlook the vineyards (and are very private) and their pool and spa are world-class.

A few miles away, Thornton Winery is another trend-setter in Temecula. It was one of the first to offer premium dining with its Café Champagne and has also been a pioneer among California wineries for its outdoor smooth jazz concert series.  They put on quite a show at Thornton where two generations proudly serve their own sparklers and roll out the red carpet for a never-ending stream of wine lovers.

During the past 10 to 15 years, there has been significant development in Temecula.  Many wineries are now much grander than they were (such as Mount Palomar).  Yet, most of Temecula’s 30 or so wineries remain family owned, where you might meet the  founder over a glass of Syrah or Cab or chat up the winemaker. Didn’t meet the winemaker today? Perhaps mañana, my friend.  Meanwhile, have another taste of wines like Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Tempranillo, or a Rhone Blend.  Welcome to Temecula.

What Makes A Successful Winemaker Dinner?

lobster bisque

Have you ever been to a Winemaker Dinner?

A winery will team up with a local chef or restaurant to create special meal to show off their wines.

Ed Skupien, Vice President of Frank Family Vineyards in Napa, was telling us about a recent Frank Family Vineyards event at Johnnie’s restaurant in Chico, California:

They did a lobster bisque with butter poached lobster in a puff pastry to pair with Frank Family 2012 Carneros Chardonnay. It was sublime.

You know when a chef nails a pairing as soon as they bring the food to the table.

People are talking and all of a sudden, it gets quiet. They’re so into the wine and the food.

That’s what happened.

Sounds like success! Sorry we missed it.

We can help make your holiday gift giving a success, too!

The Winemaker’s Challenge


We were chatting with winemaker Joe Otos the other day, who in addition to his own Willowbrook brand, helps up to 30 other winemakers “if they get in a jam” at the wine production facility he helps manage.

We asked him the winemakers’ most frequent mistake.

They second guess themselves too much. Instead of going with their gut instinct, they tone it back and end up going half- way between styles.


What’s behind that? Worry, stress. They’re thinking, ‘My whole financial calendar year is behind this.’ They start redoing trials, exhausting their palate.


With wine, you have one harvest and one bottling and that is all.

ONE harvest a year (unless they’re globetrotting across hemispheres)! No pressure, right!?

It’s something to remember the next time we uncork a bottle of wine!

Knowing Your Vineyard Makes For Great Wines

wine grapes

Many individuals have tiny production wineries. They own no vineyards and buy their fruit from the best producers they can find.

This “own no vineyards” trend is huge and here to stay.

It makes sense. Tending a vineyard is a complicated undertaking – pretty much year-long, involving many worker hours and expenses.

So what’s the upside of the “traditional” winery model where you do own an estate vineyard?

Jarvis Estate, producer of an upcoming Signature Series feature, is situated 1,000 feet above southern Napa Valley. This small, premium winery is focused on Bordeaux varieties, all produced from its 37-acre vineyard.

Winemaker Ted Henry offers these insights about the advantages of the estate vineyard:

I remember when working for larger wineries, sometimes driving 40 miles to a vineyard. The key thing about owning your own estate is you have immediate access to your vineyard – it’s right there. You learn that every vineyard row has its little quirks. This one closer to the hill ripens earlier than that one, things like that. Jarvis has its own team to tend the vines so they are very familiar with the vineyard. We harvest into small 30 lb. bins, and we put them on a tractor, not in a truck, so no crushed grapes lead to premature oxidation.

Read more about all of our wine club levels.

Tobin James – Paso Robles, Ca

Touring wine country just never gets old for us.

In fact, we often have to remind ourselves that it has been 22 years since we started the club. Twenty-two years. Wow.

This isn’t just our business, this is our life. And we love it. It is still a thrill to hop in our car, or take a short flight to explore off-beaten paths of wine country from Temecula, Santa Ynez Valley, Paso Robles, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and even all the way to the Sierra Foothills.

On a cool Fall day we filled our thermos with coffee and pulled out of our driveway at 8am sharp.

Heading north on 101 we were able to skip the rush hour crawl through Santa Barbara and cruise the 3-hour drive comfortably to Paso Robles.

We must have hit several pockets along the way with no cell service, because around noon as we drove up to Tobin James’ winery  we got a voicemail message from Toby.  He had been trying to reach us to reschedule .  Hmm…no traffic was a good start to the day, but not having Toby there would be bad.

We were sorry to hear Toby had to go out town but rather than turn around and head home, we decided to stay and tour the winery anyway.

Turns out, we didn’t miss a thing. Oh we missed seeing Toby, but his signature was  everywhere and there was no doubt that present or not, this was Toby’s place…starting with the Wild West style winery.

When Toby came to Paso Robles in his early 20s, saloons were the name of the game, not wine bars.  And even today,  the region itself is still very country, so combine that with Toby’s laid-back attitude and you’ve got an Out West winery.

It wasn’t just the décor that said Toby—it was the attitude of the place –rockin’!

After a quiet morning together in our car, we were (frankly) momentarily overwhelmed by the loud music, and loud talking. Once we joined the people crowding up to the saloon bar and got to tasting some of Toby’s 20+ wines… we relaxed. After all, this was the real Tobin James experience, and we loved it.

The Tobin James wines we ending up choosing for the club were the ’08 Titan Hills Fiasco, and the 2010 Radiant Chardonnay.

According to Toby, this Chardonnay is most popular among the burly cowboy-type that pull up to the saloon.  After hanging with the Tobin James bar crowd…we kinda’ believe him.

Cheers for now,

Bruce and Pam