A stone’s throw from the millions of people who inhabit Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties, the Temecula Valley sits in western Riverside County.
On a hot August day in the late 1960s, Eli Callaway, a very East Coast businessman, was being driven on what is now Rancho California Road when he came upon a very pregnant woman working in a small family vineyard.
“It must have been over 100 degrees,” said Audrey Cilurzo, who with her husband, Vincenzo, had planted the first commercial vineyard in the region.
Dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit and wearing white shoes, Ely Callaway wasted little time.
“He walked up to me and said, ‘My name is Ely Callaway and I’m the CEO of Burlington Industries and I only have two hours to learn all there is to know about the wine business.'”
Fifty years later, much has changed in Temecula.
Temecula’s Wine Country, a dream of a handful of pioneers five decades ago, has grown in both size and prestige having been named one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” by the prestigious Wine Enthusiast.
Ely Callaway and John Moramarco met on a dirt road in what is now Temecula’s Wine Country when Callaway was looking for property to buy.
In 1967, Moramarco who descended from a long line of viticulturists had been hired by Brookside Winery of Rancho Cucamonga to come to Rancho California to plant 1,000 acres of grapes. Brookside and the Cilurzos were the first to plant commercial vineyards in the valley.
Callaway asked Moramarco where a good location would be for a winery. Moramarco pointed to the spot where the winery sits today.
In 1968, Callaway bought 150 acres. Soon after, he hired Moramarco away from Brookside to plant grapes and manage the vineyard.
The next year, Moramarco planted 105 acres of grapevines, including 40 acres of sauvignon blanc, 40 acres of chenin blanc, and 25 acres of white riesling.
In 1973, Callaway sold 25 tons of grapes to Robert Mondavi Winery, keeping just enough of his harvest to determine whether he should build a winery in Temecula.
After heading up giant textile manufacturer Burlington Industries, but being passed over for its chief executive officer position in 1973, Callaway “retired” to Temecula to oversee the vineyard. In January 1974, he began building the winery, with plans to crush and bottle the first Callaway wines that September. Moramarco served as the vineyard’s manager. The first wines were sold in October 1975.
Eli Callaway sold the winery to Hiram Walker & Sons in 1981 and went on to gain fame and fortune in the world of golf with his namesake company, Callaway Golf.
You can find almost every familiar variety in California here, from Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, and Merlot. There are also some grapes that aren’t so common, like Vermentino, Falanghina, and Counoise.
Red blends are popular including classic styles like Rhône and Bordeaux blends. Grapes that originate in warmer climates, like Sangiovese and Tempranillo, also do well.
The rather warm region is cooled by Pacific Ocean wind and fog that sails through the “Rainbow Gap” of the Santa Margarita Mountains. Today, thanks to more than 40 wineries and their multifaceted tasting rooms, the hospitality industry is thriving, with restaurants, hotels, golf courses, breweries, distilleries, and even a casino with a 5-star RV Park.
With great wines and beautiful scenery, Temecula Valley is a fun place to spend a few days or a few weeks in your RV with lots of options for all ages.
Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula
Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.
—Dick Cooper, 1966