The region produces 15 award-winning premium wines. Most vineyards
have tasting rooms, so visitors can sample their wines after
a tour of the grounds. “My very first wine taste was at the
Thorton winery,” said Vivan Frankel, a frequent visitor of the
Temecula region, where local wineries produce excellent Chardonnay,
Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, and more recently Viognier, Syrah,
and Pinot Gris.
“I was intimidated at first because I didn’t know the etiquette
of wine tasting, but the people in the tasting rooms were very
warm, and they showed me where to start and what to look for.
I think it’s the only place people are allowed to spit. As matter
of fact, it is encouraged,” Frankel said.
Frankel breaks wine tasting into three simple steps. “Wine
tasting consists mostly of ‘look, taste, and smell.’” She continued,
“You can tell much about a wine simply by studying its appearance.
The wine should be poured into a clear glass and held in front
of a white background, so that you can examine the color.
“The next thing is to smell the wine. The two main techniques
that wine tasters use are first, to take a quick whiff and formulate
an initial impression, then take a second deeper whiff.
“The third step is to taste the wine.” Frankel explained that
the initial taste (or first impression) is where the wine awakens
your senses and your taste buds respond to sensations. Next
the taster should slosh the wine around and draw in some air.
This allows a perception of the body—the fullness or heaviness
of the wine and its texture—rough or smooth or in between. The
final experience is the aftertaste: “The taste that remains
in your mouth after you have swallowed the wine.” Each of these
separate experiences are difficult for a novice to distinguish
said Frankel. However, she reassures that after trying many
wines, one will become able to notice similarities and differences
in the wines.
The Temecula Vinicultural Region was first discovered by the
legendary wine genius Jean Louis Vignes and saw its first commercial
plantings in 1843. Prior to Prohibition, this region produced
an estimated 10,000 gallons annually. Prohibition shut it down,
but in the 1960s the grape-growing and winemaking industry was
reborn and it is thriving today.
Temecula then has just been “rediscovered” as an ideal climate
and soil zone for wine. Nonetheless, Temecula wineries, although
youthful in comparison to their Napa Valley counterparts, use
their technical skill and unique growing conditions to make
outstanding wines. While many of the wineries use traditional
barrel aging to create classically styled wines, many showcase
the Temecula fruit, with less focus on barrel flavors.
In 1999, Temecula was devastated by Pierce’s Disease and its
carrier, the glassy-winged sharpshooter, an insect native to
the southeastern United States. The sharpshooters spread a bacterium
responsible for the fatal vine malady. The problem was first
identified in 1997, and by 1999, the insects and the disease
were rampant. To date, about 840 acres of vines have died or
been ripped out.
Temecula was not the only area affected by Pierce’s disease.
There are now six “generally infested” counties in southern
California, and another nine “partially infested” counties,
including Santa Clara and San Jose. Since 1999, Temecula growers
have applied the techniques that have benefited vintners in
the rest of California. They have embarked on an aggressive
campaign of spraying pesticides and insecticides, ripping out
nearby citrus groves where the insects winter and lay their
eggs, removing infected vines on which the insects feed and
then further spread the disease, and replanted with more resistant
varieties. The end result has been a significant reduction in
the number of glassy-winged sharpshooters and cases of Pierce’s
“After I bought the winery in June of 2000, I saw 20 percent
of my vineyard collapse,” said Ray Falkner, owner of Falkner
Winery. As if that weren’t bad enough, he added, “there was
a rumor that our region was finished.” Although Temecula is
ground zero for Pierce’s Disease, most of the region’s growers
are now expressing guarded or wholehearted optimism about the
As a matter of fact, Falkner is expanding annual production
from 6,000 cases to 15,000 cases and building a new 10,000-square-foot
Some vintners, however, started buying additional grapes from
other regions such as the central coast of California (Santa
Barbara and Monterey counties). Callaway was particularly hard
hit—close to 40 percent of its vines were gone—because its vineyards
are heavily planted with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes,
highly susceptible to Pierce’s Disease. Last summer, the company
changed its brand name to Callaway Coastal, reflecting the change
in grape sources. That move has been interpreted by some in
Temecula as Callaway’s attempt to disassociate itself from the
region’s problems. But a Callaway spokeswoman said that the
winery is purchasing grapes from outside Temecula so it can
expand production to one million cases.
No one seems to be certain of Temecula’s future. In August
of 2000, a survey of the area found that on average, more than
half of the vines were infected. However, most vintners are
not ready to give up. Falkner said, “We’re finding ways to cope
with the disease and we remain optimistic.” And he cited the
2002 edition of The U.S. Wine Market: Impact Databank Review
and Forecast, which reported that total wine consumption in
the United States increased 1 percent in 2001, to 231 million
cases. “If there is a demand for our wines, we will continue
to meet that demand,” Falkner said. “Many times, adversity and
opportunity are flip sides of the same coin.”