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THURSDAY THORNS
06/01/2017
What’s The Matter With The Temecula Valley
          ~~And Why It Matters

By Charles Olken

If you were a wine region with some 20 million people living within driving distance on a nice sunny, or even a rainy day in winter, you might want to count your blessings because you could probably sell most of what you produce out of the winery tasting room. And you might, if you were big enough, want to reach out a few miles to Los Angeles and San Diego and places in between for some distribution of your long-production items.

And chances are that, regardless of wine quality, people with money to burn would be looking at you as the possible site for their new winery, hotel, restaurant and spa all wrapped into one nice package. Why not? Packed tasting rooms on weekends and being able to sell most or all of what you produce at full retail price, along with big fees for weddings, business events and every other gatherings, would make a rich person richer.

Such is the good fortune of the Temecula Valley. But those truths have caused some of the folks there to worry about their reputation for quality and where the next twenty million visitors is going to come from. I don’t know anything about the latter concern, but I do have a few comments about where Temecula wine quality stands today and where it can go.

Let’s start with reputation. I mentioned to a winery owner from Paso Robles, a perfectly fine area whose wines are definitely on the upswing, that I had been paying a little more attention these days to Temecula and he reacted as if I had lost my mind. In essence, he dismissed the Temecula Valley as the playground of wine know-nothings who were more interested in good fun than in serious wine enjoyment. And he cited the inarguable truth that Temecula, for all of its ability to sell wine, sells less per tasting room visitor than most other regions.

Okay, there are reasons for that, including the fact that the Temecula Valley is still trying to figure out what it is going to be. Some regions get lucky. Think the western portion of the Russian River Valley. It got it right with Pinot Noir in one try. Of course, it was building on years of experience in nearby regions and the belief that Pinot needed to move to cooler growing regions. It took the Napa Valley considerably longer to become Cabernet Sauvignon-centric. Not that good Cabernet had not been produced in Napa for decades going onto a second century.

The Temecula Valley has no such specialization at this point and will need to go through the pains of experience, replanting and maybe finally a growing reputation for something. And then there is the big winery vs. small winery tension that exists in Temecula. The best wines I have tasted from the area come from wineries so small that their wines rarely are sold anywhere but at the winery. Does it matter that Leoness makes very good Syrah and sells it for prices that would make most North Coast producers swoon with delight? Well, it does to me, but it does not to a world that rarely sees those wines.

Will it be Syrah that leads the way? Or how about Sangiovese? Robert Renzoni’s version of that grape is impressive. But neither Syrah nor Sangiovese from California are in great demand these days. Can Temecula build into those varieties? What about whites? There are some decent aromatic whites coming from this warm growing region, but can they be produced in larger quantities and reproduced when lots of folks try their hands at them?

The bottom line is this: The Temecula Valley reminds me a little bit of Livermore. There are a couple of big wineries in Livermore (Wente and Concannon to name the two most prominent), but there are only a handful of wineries with reputations for high quality. Temecula deserves a better reputation than it enjoys, and it is likely going to get it. But earning it is not going to be easy until the lessons of the first generation get translated in second and third generation plantings, and even then, only if quality continues to grow across the board. It’s early days for the wineries there, and they are restless, but the wine business is a slow-improvement industry. Fortunately, for the Temecula Valley, there are those twenty million folks who can visit on not much more than a moment’s notice. They pretty much guarantee that Temecula wineries are not going to be strapped for customers.


 

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Comments

Temecula
by Donn Rutkoff
Posted on:6/2/2017 10:00:52 AM

It may be early to you but it isn't early. Temecula wineries have been around long enough. Ely  Callaway was there 20 plus years ago.  The quality ought to be higher but maybe the night time temperature is just too high.  If you can find a warm to hot nighttime grape, let them know.

Early Days
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:6/2/2017 11:04:38 AM

CGCW was among the first to review Callaway wines, but the existence of that winery and others that followed close along does not change the equation that things happen very slowly in wine country. 

The Temecula Valley has much learning and growing to do. Your reference to grape choice is one of them. What to plant there that will make a qualititative statement beyond what is happening now is a question that is going to take time to solve. So is the question of where to plant. 

And, it is not so much a question of high night time temps. There is an enormous diuranl swing in temps and that allows acidities to stay up more than one might expect.

But, like most places, Temecula is still learning about hilltops versus slopes versus northern and southern exposures.

And that, among other things, is why it is "early days". There are vast swaths of plantable land, there are differences from east to west, etc, etc, etc, and the folks there have lots of learning ahead of them--learning that will take years and decades and maybe a generation or two.

The future of Temecula
by Bob Henry
Posted on:6/13/2017 10:29:40 PM

From the Los Angeles Times . . .

Then (August 26, 2011):

"Temecula Valley, winegrowing region or party destination?"

Link: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2011/aug/26/food/la-fo-temecula-wine-country-20110826

And now (Apr 23, 2017):

"Here's why Chinese money is pouring into Temecula's wine region"

Link: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-temecula-chinese-investment-20170417-story.html

 

 

Temecula Valley Wine
by David Price
Posted on:7/3/2017 6:03:04 PM

For each of the last eight years we have spent a week in the Temecula area, and I have visited every winery for six of those years and now just visit most.  The ones I don't visit any more are the ones that produce average or slightly above red wines which are priced at or above the same varietals from Napa.  Yes, they have a captive audience, and on the weekends the tasting rooms are very crowded, and they sell a lot of sweet whites, less of the reds I think.  The only wineries which seem to be significantly improving their quality are Leoness, Wiens, and Carter, a new player, owned by the Carter who also owns South Coast Winery and its resort.  Carter is across the traffic circle from South Coast and  I think their wines are now the best in the valley, while priced significantly more reasonably than the others.  Carter's tasting room, which looks out on the nearby mountains, is tastefully done and offers a tasting opportunity which is well worth the time and money. 

As long as most wineries sell almost all of their wines out of the tasting room or to their wine club members, and feature many whites with a lot of residual sugar, they must figure they do not need to put more capital into their vineyards or growing sites and methods. 

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