Temecula Valley: 50 Years in the Grapes

Winegrowing goes back over 50 years in Temecula Valley

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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966

Temecula Valley Named Best Wine Destination for 2019

The Southern California wine region was named one of the best destinations for 2019

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality.

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The esteemed annual list is a product of extensive travel and tastings that Wine Enthusiast editors and contributors undertake throughout the year.

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“We seek locales that offer world-class wines as well as unforgettable restaurants, hotels, and cultural activities suited for the intrepid wine lover,” says the publication’s executive editor, Susan Kostrzewa. “The list balances classic, famed regions with emerging, insider gems that have yet to be discovered.”

This marks the first time that Temecula Valley was selected.

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“The wines have never been better,” says Wine Enthusiast contributing editor Matt Kettmann, “and I’ve sensed an increased focus on grape growing and quality winemaking in just the past five years that I’ve been covering the region. Plus, there’s a lot more excitement surrounding their hospitality offerings now than ever before.”

Temecula Valley has been producing notable wines since the late 1960s, when early adopters discovered that a wide range of varietals could flourish here. Now, winemakers have had time to take their craft to the next level. In addition, some have opened hotels and gourmet restaurants to round out the experience.

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“Not long ago, Temecula Valley was just beginning to create tourism experiences with only a handful of wineries and offerings,” says Kimberly Adams, CEO of Visit Temecula Valley. “The pioneers had a dream and persevered; it was their passion—and that of those who followed—that continue to make this a destination people fall in love with.”

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Relative newcomers are making an impact, too—like Robert Renzoni and his vineyard, which he opened in 2008 on the west end of the De Portola Wine Trail. The tasting room is located on 12 acres of rolling hills featuring nine acres dedicated to classic Italian and Bordeaux grape varieties, uniquely planted in six segmented micro climate blocks.

The Renzoni family began creating wines over 100 years ago along Italy’s northern coast. Today, Robert Renzoni Vineyards continues the tradition begun by their ancestors.

“Back in the day, people used to laugh at Napa and Paso Robles,” he says. “It took determination and experimentation for those regions to get to where they are now.”

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He says Temecula is following the same trajectory: Dedicated winegrowers are settling here, doing their homework, and continually experimenting. Now they’ve had time to figure out what grows best; with a terroir and elevation similar to Tuscany, that’s been mainly the Mediterranean varietals.

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“Syrah and Sangiovese will make this region famous,” he says, but Petit Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, and Vermentino are flourishing as well.”

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On a recent visit we tasted a portfolio of five wines in their Tuscan Villa tasting room that included Barile Chardonnay, Barbara, Old Vine Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and Montepulciano. Tasting fee is $15 ($20 on weekends). We purchased two bottles of Zinfandel.

Renzoni also jumped on the flourishing hospitality trend by opening an on-site trattoria, Mama Rosa’s, a few years ago. And he’s happy to see the area begin to receive national attention for all of its offerings. “Eventually, we’ll get to the point where people will say, ‘Remember when people laughed at Temecula?’”

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Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966

Temecula Valley: Historic Old Town, Wine Country and More

The Southern California wine region was named one of the best destinations for 2019

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley wine country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people just don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards so close to the California desert.

But the Temecula Valley has been producing top wines since the 1970s. And like the best vintages, this wine country just gets better with age.

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For years, the Temecula Valley wine country has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It’s a diverse growing region, home to everything from cooler climate grapes like Chardonnay to such warm-weather loving varieties as Syrah and Grenache. The tasting experience is varied, too. Visit posh wineries with lavish restaurants overlooking the vines, and summer concerts featuring top performers.

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Stroll the streets of Old Town Temecula, with quality boutiques, eateries, and a relaxed Old West feel. Take a hot-air balloon ride or tasting tour in a chauffeured limousine, or play a round of golf. Or just hang out in a tasting room gain insights into this unique and surprising region.

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Centrally located just east of Interstate 15, Temecula Valley is within an hour’s drive from San Diego, Orange County, and the Palm Springs/Coachella Valley area. 

The name Temecula comes from the Luiseño Indian word “Temecunga” —“temet” meaning “sun” and “-ngna” which means “place of”.

The Spanish interpreted and spelled the word as “Temecula” translated to mean “Where the sun breaks through the mist”. Temecula is the only city in California to still retain its original Indian name.

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History buffs can wander the streets of Old Town Temecula viewing rustic buildings, sidewalks, and storefronts reminiscent of the historic golden west in the 1880s.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located in the heart of Temecula, the Old Town district is a unique blend of historic buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, hotels, weekly farmers market, and special events in one walkable, easy-to navigate area.

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Taking a step back in time, we strolled along the wooden boardwalks past rustic western-era buildings, antique shops, and specialty boutiques. We checked out the shops with a stop at Temecula Olive Oil Company.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Once the site of a stopover on the historic Butterfield Overland Stage Coach Line, scenic Vail Lake was created in 1948 when the owners of the Vail Cattle Ranch constructed the 132 foot high Vail Lake Dam. Owned and operated by the Rancho California Water District since 1978, the 1,000+ acre lake is a well known mountain biking destination and recreational mecca.

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Today Vail Lake RV Resort offers camping and activities for the whole family, including camping, mountain biking, hiking, miniature golf, swimming, horseshoes, and just plain relaxing under the oaks. Offering both privacy and security, Vail Lake RV Resort is a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature in over 8,000 acres of ancient, shady oaks, and natural California chaparral hillsides.

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Temecula Valley, at an elevation of 1,400 feet, with warm days and cool nights, is an ideal location for growing high quality wine grapes.

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No matter which varietal of wine you’re looking for, you can probably find it in Temecula Valley Wine Country. Wineries here in the Temecula Valley grow and produce over 50 different varietals of wine; from Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot to Mourvedre, Viognier to Chardonnay.

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Temecula Valley is particularly well-suited to growing Italian, Spanish, and French grapes such as Sangiovese, Syrah, Montepulciano, Viognier, Zinfandel, and Tempranillo.

The majority of Temecula Valley wineries make only a small quantity of each vintage—not enough for national distribution. So, you won’t often find their wines in grocery stores or wine shops; they’re mostly available to visitors via winery tasting rooms. That means, when you buy a bottle to take home, you’re bringing back something truly unique.

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Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966