taste | wine

Grape expectations


WITH A SIZZLING SUMMER in full force, and another grape harvest on the horizon, it's time to visit our wine-making friends of the vine in nearby Temecula Valley.

More than 30 vintners share the region's bright sunshine, crafting vintages in a beautiful 3,000-acre wine-growing area where novice and expert enthusiasts are warmly welcomed to taste, tour and talk wine.

Here's the juice on a handful of popular cellars:

Hart Family Winery & Vineyard
41300 Avenida Biona
(951) 676-6300

Hart Winery capitalizes on
the soils and climate at 1,500
feet above sea level to
produce premium varietals
Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Rose, Syrah, Sangiovese, Viognier, Zinfandel and a pair of Bordeaux reds: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

The renaissance of the California wine industry in the 1970s found Joe and Nancy Hart and their three sons planting the family's first vineyards. Hart Winery crafts small lots (5,000 cases), concentrating on the highest quality.

Winemaker Joe Hart places an emphasis on matching grape varieties with the soil, sun exposure, climate — everything that influences the grape. Numerous Gold Medals and Best of Class awards attest to recognition by industry peers as well as by the public.

Recommendations: Sauvignon Blanc, Rhone BlendThree, Viognier

Thornton Winery
32575 Rancho California Road
(951) 699-0099, www.thorntonwine.com

Thornton is an elegant French-style château overlooking the lush green vineyards of the Temecula Valley. From the beginning in 1988, the winery has used skills perfected in blending Méthode Champenoise sparkling wine/Champagne and then in 1993, added premium varietal still wines.

Owners John and Sally Thornton and their son, Steve, favor producing wines that are exciting for freshness, bursting with flavor and showcasing the distinct characteristics of the varietals. Don Reha serves as winemaker.

Winery features include Café Champagne, Fountain Terrace, a culinary herb garden, gift shop, tasting room, and the Champagne Lounge. The winery is the perfect venue for the popular Champagne Jazz Concert Series, which runs April through October. Renowned contemporary jazz artists perform on the beautiful Fountain Terrace, the winery's intimate outdoor setting.

Recommendations: Brut Reserve, Estate Syrah, Nebbiolo

Gino's dining spot
Carol's Restaurant at Baily Vineyard & Winery is the place for casual dining on the terrace or in the spacious Bacchus Hall.

A California and Mediterranean inspired menu is available with excellent wine and beer selections.

33440 La Serena Way, at the corner of Rancho California Road; (951) 676-9243.

Tasting room etiquette
>> Bring money. Most wineries charge a nominal fee for tasting.

>> Bring your manners. Winery tasting areas are not bars. Leave children at home. Silence your cell phone. And no gum chewing. Information: For details on Temecula Valley wineries, restaurants and lodging, visit www.temeculawines.org.

South Coast Winery Resort & Spa
34843 Rancho California Road
(951) 587-9463, www.wineresort.com

Jim Carter and company have built an exceptional winery in a picturesque vineyard setting. Offering finer selections from the South Coast Appellation, along with Carter's estate vineyard wines and sparklers, South Coast Winery Resort & Spa is the Temecula wine country's only full-service luxury resort.

Features include the spacious tasting room and gift shop, Vineyard Rose Restaurant, luxurious overnight accommodations in private villas, and GrapeSeed Spa, tucked away amid the vineyards.

SCW is more than a "pretty face." Producing more than 50,000 cases of wine each year since its opening in 2004, an impressive 300 awards and medals have been earned in competitions since last year — making it one of the most highly decorated wineries in the state. Jon McPherson is master winemaker.

Recommendations: Grenache Carter Estate, Gewurztraminer Carter Estate, Ruby Cuvee, Big Red Table, Elevation Sauvignon Blanc

Wiens Family Cellars
35055 Via Del Ponte
(951) 694-9892 www.wienscellars.com

Known for "Big Reds" and its delicious whites and sparkling Amour De L'Orange, Wiens Family Cellars, owned and operated by four brothers (Jeff, Dave, Doug and George), produces a range of gold-medal winning, estate-grown varietal wines.

Doug says the family mission is "to make the highest quality wine and provide it at a reasonable price. Our seal contains the words ‘quality, family and integrity.'"

The winery and tasting room opened in October 2006. Annual production is 9,000 cases. Features include an outdoor amphitheater, event pavilion and cellars.

Recommendations: Reflection — Super Tuscan, Sangiovese, Sparkling Amour De L'Orange, Tempranillo — Petite Sirah

Wilson Creek Winery
35960 Rancho California Road
(951) 699-9463, www.wilsoncreekwinery.com

This family owned and operated business is one of Temecula's most popular destinations. The beautiful grounds are a perfect location for weddings, banquets and business meetings. The new event center features the large Champagne Ballroom, intimate barrel room and meeting rooms.

Creekside Grille is a new restaurant offering gourmet lunches daily. Visit the popular tasting room to sample several award-winning wines and shop for gifts.

Enologist Etienne Cowper serves as winemaker. Private tours and tastings are available.

Recommendations: Mourvedre TemeculaValley, Sparkling Almond

And if there's time...

Leonesse Cellars
38311 De Portola Road; (951) 302-7601, www.leonessecellars.com

Keyways Vineyard & Winery
37338 De Portola Road; (877) 539-9297, www.keywayswine.com

- Gino L. Filippi is a fourth-generation vintner and previous vice president of J. Filippi Winery. E-mail: ginoffvine@aol.com.

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