Californian Wine Adventure – Temecula Valley

I have always wanted to learn more about Californian wines so I decided to take a 2 week wine road trip through California to taste my way up from San Diego to Mendocino county:-)

85% of US wine comes from California and Vitis Vinifera (wine grapes) are grown over the length of the state – with the bulk of the grapes coming from the San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento Valley. These valleys are located a little inland and are very hot so the focus here is generally on quantity rather than quality.

Smaller wine producing regions are located closer to the coast and most of them boast to focus on premium quality wines – so quality rather than quantity. Being a great fan of premium wines I will visit a few of the smaller regions hoping to learn more about about quality Californian wines. My first stop was Temecula Valley near San Diego.

Temecula Wine Country

Temecula Wine Country

Temecula Wine country is located a little inland about an hour from San Diego, Orange County or Palm Spring and it very much markets itself as a premium wine tourist destination. The lovely Katie from Travel + Wine had first introduced me to the region and the two of us visited Temecula last week.

We started off the day with lunch at the South Coast Winery – we had a table on the (covered) patio with vineyard and garden views. We ordered the Golden Bear Cheese Palette with the wine pairing and went for a sparkling flight consisting of the South Coast Extra Dry, South Coast Blanc the Noir (pink Sparkling) and a Sparkling Syrah – all three non vintage and made in the traditional Champenoise method. The Extra Dry paired fabulously with the Humbold Fog goat’s cheese served with fresh honey, the Syrah went well with the Point Rey blue cheese and the Blanc de Noir paired best with the aged local Winchester.

Golden Bear Cheese Palette w flight of sparkling wines

Katie and I enjoying the Golden Bear Cheese Palette w a flight of sparkling wines at the South Coast Winery in Temecula

After our lovely lunch we drove off to visit a few other wineries and taste. This is when I realized that Temecula is first and foremost a tourist destination and wine appreciation and education is not really a priority…

All tasting rooms we visited had hefty tasting fees (between $15-$25) which in my opinion were totally unjustified: the staff was clueless as to how the wine had been processed and had not much to add to the limited tasting notes provided. It seemed they had no desire to understand or learn any details about the wines they were pouring – which made me kind of sad…

The wines we tasted were totally unbalanced -thin, too high in alcohol and often very salty… Fruit characteristics were hard to find and after a few tastings we just gave up and went to sit out in the sun to enjoy the views – which were definitely a lot better than the wines!

What amazed me was the exorbitant pricetags wineries were asking for their wines – the average pricing was around $45, with quite a few wines up to $80. With prices like that I would expect a much higher level of quality and I think it’s probably a good thing that the wineries sell most of their wine to wine club members as I fear these wines would really not do well in regular wine stores…

Luckily I did have one nice Sauvignon Blanc from Doffo back in Oceanside with Katie and Ricardo – it was very tropical in style (lots of Passionfruit and Guava), good acidity and easy to drink. We did not visit the winery as it was closed the day I visited.

About Caroline

Caroline is a certified Sommelier (by the CMS) and WSET diploma student. In order to specialize in the wines of Champagne she moved to the region and currently works as a wine consultant, wine educator and wine writer. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers and writes for several international publications including Palate Press, Snooth, Wine-Searcher, Decanter and Vinogusto; further activities include teaching Champagne related courses at Reims Management School and organizing personalized tasting experiences at http://www.tastingswithatwist.wordpress.com as well as being a regular judge at international wine competitions.
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