Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Winemakers Roundtable at Temecula Valley's 4th Annual CRUSH

I had been to Temecula once before this year, but I didn't explore the wineries much and did not realize that the Temecula Valley Wine Country does have good wines. This year I had the opportunity to go on a media trip (thanks to Temecula CVB and the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Associationand visited a lot of wineries, in addition to attending the 4th annual CRUSH gala.

View of Temecula Valley from Callaway Winery
This past September marked Temecula Valley's 4th annual wine event, CRUSH, and it started with a Winemakers Roundtable discussion and wine tasting before the main gala.The roundtable took place in the beautiful barrel room of Callaway Winery.
There were 4 winemakers/winery owners, a wine writer, and the owner of a vineyard management company on the panel. During the panel discussion they talked about their personal history and the growth of Temecula Valley. A lot of people think that Temecula Valley cannot grow good wines because it's so hot, but according to these guys the heat during the day is just fine. Temecula still gets chilly at night and the temperature difference between daytime and nighttime is large enough to allow growing good wines. (Still, they admit that the recent humid monsoonal nights have been problematic).

OK, more on the panel later. Wines first. During the discussion we tasted four wines, one from each of the wineries sitting on the discussion panel.

Here are the Temecula wines that we tried during the roundtable:
1. Hart Winery: 2011 Mourvedre, Cruz Way Vineyard
Aged 14 months in American and Hungarian oak barrels. There were only 5 wineries in Temecula when Hart opened (Joe Hart planted their first vines in 1974). They originally planted Bordeaux varieties but much of the vines in Temecula were destroyed by disease many years ago. These days, Hart has tended to plant more Mediterranean varieties.

2. Callaway Vineyard and Winery: 2009 Calliope Red
The winemaker, Craig Larson, was previously the wine director of Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel before coming to Temecula in 2008. The Calliope is a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault, and Counoise, and aged 18 months in oak. The wine has a big black fruit bouquet and some pepper. Big flavor but still a light texture and finish.

3. Baily Vineyard and Winery: 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate bottled
Baily is also one of the oldest wineries in Temecula Valley (he took a home winemaking class at UC Riverside which was taught by Joe Hart from Hart Winery!). This wine is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc, aged 30 months in oak (they age it for 18 months, then take it out and blend the wine then age it again for 12 months). The wine is sweet and fruity but it's still lighter than some Napa Cabernets. It's smooth and not heavy on the tannins. There's a hint of mintiness as well.

4. Palumbo Family Winery: 2010 Sangiovese, Brunello di Montalcino clone, Bella Vigna Vineyard
Palumbo is a small family winery that recently opened but has already been deemed one of the best in the area. The Sangiovese was aged for 14 months in American and Hungarian oak. It's a big and bold wine with a lot of spice and fruit, a classic Sangiovese. Despite the high alcohol content (15.6%) it's still nice and bright thanks to the acidity.

Most interesting to me from the panel is the one from the vineyard management company, Ben Drake. First because I wasn't aware wineries use this type of company to do the planting and management. Secondly, because he's been around for a while and manage a lot of the wineries down here.
Ben takes the sharpshooter disease that destroyed many of the vines in the 1990s as a blessing in disguise, because now they can retool the whole valley and plant other varietals. Still, he's been working to fight this disease for 30 years now.
IMG_9299After the discussion we had some time to try more wine before the gala started (more wine at the gala, too). While half of the wineries poured the same wines as we tasted earlier, some poured new ones too. I particularly liked the Special Selectian Roussanne from Callaway.


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