August 25th, 2013
Callaway Winery – production 10,000 cases
Monte De Oro Winery & Vineyards – production ?
Lorimar Vineyard and Winery – production 3,000 cases
Drive roughly 40 minutes south of Riverside and you’ll hit the Temecula Valley. Although there are two exits that reach the wine country, all three places we visited were off of the Rancho California exit off of Interstate 15.
Vacations are great, right? Relaxation…fun…maybe a little drinking and trying to forget about work for the most part. Funny thing about vacations though… just because you go on vacation doesn’t mean every one else does, so when you get back…that’s right, mountains of work. So here I sit, having neglected our blog posts for two weeks while on vacation in Hawaii followed by several business trips directly after (queue the sounds of derision from the crowds who clearly are not going to be sympathetic about “having” to go to Hawaii). For our loyal readers, we’re sorry for the delay but we trust you kept yourselves occupied watching reruns of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or something equally “productive” while we temporarily abandoned our duties.
After returning from Hawaii, we decided it was time for another trip through Temecula. Last time, we focused on the smaller wineries because they sometimes get lost among the big ones. This time however, we decided to visit several of the larger ones to hear their stories. Wine Tasting in Temecula has become big business, in no small part due to its proximity to the greater Los Angeles area. The contrasts between them were striking and happily, there is a place for both depending on what you are looking for. The Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association arranged a couple of visits for us at Callaway and Monte De Oro.
Callaway has an interesting story and one that is in the process of being re-written. Eli Callaway started the winery in the late 1960’s (if that name sounds familiar to any one, we’ll explain why in a few minutes). It was one of the first wineries in Temecula, at that time a sleepy town off by itself as the burgeoning “Inland Empire” wasn’t even a blip on the map. Move forward a decade and a half or so when Callaway sold his winery to the Hiram Walker company who expanded its production dramatically but often at the expense of the quality that Callaway was so fond of. However, roughly 30 years later, Callaway has come nearly full circle after being sold, divorcing itself from a wine distribution business and getting back to focusing on well made wines and servicing the public through its stunning facilities. Oh, by the way….if you are wondering what ever happened to poor Eli, don’t worry too much. He later went on to found the Callaway Golf Company, now a public company with revenues of almost $1,000,000,000 (yes…that is “Billion” with a “B”).
The staff at Callaway is knowledgeable and friendly which makes for a great Temecula wine tasting experience. They have a number of private tasting rooms, a lawn for weddings and a full service restaurant. I seriously thought about moving in for a few days but figured they would eventually find me and call the cops. Make sure you leave time to take the tour which presents the entire winemaking process from crush through serving. It’s about 30 minutes and well worth it. In addition to a nice Pinot Gris, we tasted several Chardonnays which were well made. I preferred the Stainless version which is a shock because 4 years ago, I would rather have choked down a spinach and liver milkshake than a stainless Chardonnay (and if that doesn’t sound revolting enough to you, have your head examined and then insert your own most repellent meal here instead). However, somewhere along the way, winemakers have realized that keeping the Chardonnay on the lees (yeast cells and other sediment) imparts a richness to the flavor that previous winemakers created by using enough oak to satisfy a beaver. Karen liked the Reserve Chardonnay which was on oak but it wasn’t oppressive. We also surprisingly both liked the Roussanne, a less common white Varietal from the Rhone region of France that is not usually a favorite of ours. Normally we’re not big fans and consider them a “one note” wine. We both liked the Calliope Red – a blend of red Rhone Varietals that is screaming for a big piece of beef. It has 5% Counoise, a very unusual red wine for the US, which gives it a bit of spice that we both found very appealing but Karen’s favorite was the winemaker’s reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Being so tired of Zinfandels, I was shocked to really enjoy theirs. It’s big, weighty but with none of the jam or raisin taste that is so often prevalent in bigger Zins. There is no other way to put it – the wine has balls!
Being from Northern California, we hadn’t heard of Monte De Oro so we had no idea what to expect when wine tasting here. What we found was another beautiful setting, friendly staff and something that not enough wineries in California practice – restraint. The Monte De Oro wines tend to be a little subtler than many of the big “new world” wines that are the most common style in California. We like those too but when we find a winery that realizes there is room for subtly and balance, we usually sit up and take notice. The 2011 Chardonnay was very well balanced and because it used neutral French oak, the oak was very subtle. I found the Nostimo very surprising. It’s an esoteric blend of various French white wines but they also throw in some Muscat Canelli which gives it a slight sweetness without being cloying. This would be a great wine with Sweet and Sour Pork or a Chicken Satay. For the Red wines, both Karen and I liked the 2007 Zinfandel best. Yep…a 2007. Clearly they are not rushing their wines to market and that patience is definitely being rewarded. The 2009 Merlot was also special but unfortunately, it’s a wine club exclusive. When we were done with the normal tasting, our host Tony, took us downstairs for some Barrel Tasting. That’s right we “had” to try more wine. Can you see the burdens we bear for you people? We tasted two that were already showing very nicely but unfortunately (hanging my head in shame), I lost my barrel room notes. Sorry Tony! Monte De Oro is not quite as big as Callaway but also has sufficient space for events and has a private tasting room as well. Also a warning to you ladies in dresses. The floor in the center of the tasting room is glass and doubles as the ceiling for the barrel room down below which could result in an embarrassing situation. The winery has signs that provide plenty of warning so there shouldn’t really be a problem but I did observe one young lady in a short, light summer dress walk repeatedly over the glass right next to the warning signs…hmmm (by the way, I was back in the tasting room by this point, not down below). Now why didn’t I ever meet girls like that when I was single?
We also stopped back in at Lorimar, which we had visited before to see what was up. We were greeted with live music and saw that they had a chef making pizzas. Pizzas, music and wine. Holy crap, I’ve died and gone to heaven. If you are in the area, check them out. They are worth a visit as well. Here’s a link to the previous post for Temecula where we did a complete write up on them.
1) To view more information for the Wineries of Temecula Valley (the local regional association), click here and type “Temecula” in the “quick search” field to see their listing on Winery-Sage.com.
2) To find more Wineries in Riverside County, click here and enter “Riverside” in the “quick search” field for Winery-Sage.com’s Winery database.
3) More information can be found for each Varietal that we’ve listed by clicking on the link that we’ve created the first time the Varietal is listed in each post.
4) We’ve created a photo gallery of extra shots that didn’t make it into this blog post. If you would like to see it, click here.
Karen – Ken
Check out their tastes and bios here
If you are interested in reading the introduction to this series of wine travel blogs, click here.
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