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Temecula Valley—Southern California Wine Country

Temecula Valley is unique among California wine regions. Wine tourists will find plenty to see, do and taste in this relatively young and evolving AVA.

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Over fifteen million people in Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs are within an hour-and-a-half drive — potential customers for winery visits, wine tasting, dining, weddings, hot-air balloon rides, golf or spa treatments and other wine country experiences.
Having a location at the hub of three cities also leads to some challenges to go along with the benefits.
The nearby already large and continually growing population puts enormous pressures on the relatively young, small wine region. Conversion of scarce agricultural land to wine country estates is just one of many struggles being confronted.
A huge, diverse pool of potential customers complicates the process of developing an overall identity for the valley. Will it become a nationally or even internationally recognized wine region along the lines of the famous Sonoma and Napa Valleys to the north or will it be known primarily as a wine playground, wedding and concert venue and place to party on weekends?
Temecula Valley Wineries and Wine Tasting Rooms
Leoness Cellars
With the party/wedding/concert crowd leaning toward sweet and/or flavored sparkling wines often produced from grapes that don’t typically thrive here these are non-trivial concerns for growers and wine makers since they impact which grape varietals are grown in the valley and whether the region is known for locally produced wines.
Old Town Temecula signAnd how about the role of nearby Old Town Temecula? Is it supportive in drawing tourists to the valley or are the tasting rooms that have recently been opened among the historic buildings pulling visitors away from the valley and changing the character of Old Town in a negative direction?
Then there is the question of growth. How many wineries can the region support and what types of commercial, residential and related development should be allowed or encouraged in the valley? Currently competition among the 40–45, mostly family owned, growers and wineries takes a back seat to cooperation to overcome the many challenges faced by a small community attempting to establish a wine region but will that continue as the number of participants increase?
Falkner Winery & Pinnacle RestaurantLimited acreage suitable for vineyards (roughly 3,000 acres) and existing infrastructure deficiencies for things such as sewage and transportation magnify planning conflicts between grape growers and the affiliated and unaffiliated commercial enterprises that support visitors (tasting rooms, hotels/B&Bs, restaurants, hot-air balloon rides) as well as with what many consider conflicting land uses such as wine country estates, other housing, equestrian centers, churches and schools.
2012 CRUSH winegrowers roundtableWine grape growers and wineries are working to address these issues and advocate for their particular interests. The Temecula Valley Wine Growers Association—dedicated to promoting, making and growing quality wine & wine grapes—was formed in 2001. An annual CRUSH event, with a winegrowers roundtable, is just one of many activities and supported events.
Hot Air Balloons over Temecula ValleyThe Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival and Harvest Celebration Barrel Tasting Weekend are popular annual events attracting visitors to the area.
Another non-profit, The Temecula Agricultural Conservancy, strives to preserve vineyards and open space working with County Supervisors on zoning ordinances and with landowners utilizing conservation easements.
The good news is that while all these issues play out, visitors from both near and far have an opportunity to partake of a wide variety of wine country experiences. The sidebar above right links to several Temecula Valley Winery illustrated profiles. Check them out for an idea of the diversity of experiences available.

Temecula Valley Wine Country Climate and History

Temecula Valley’s location near the southern end of the state produces a generally warmer and dryer climate than other California wine regions allthough a pronounced costal influence (cool ocean air drawn through gaps in mountain ranges along the coast) augmented by additional cool night air flowing down from the higher altitudes of surrounding mountains, provides growing conditions particularly suited to warm-climate grapes.
The padres at nearby Mission San Juan Capistrano grew mission grapes and made wine over 200 years ago but modern wine grape growing in the Temecula Valley began in 1968 when Vincenzo and Audry Cilurzo established a commercial vineyard followed closely that year by Brookside Winery who later produced the first wine from grapes grown in the valley at their Guasti winery in 1971.
You may relate the name Callaway to golf but in 1969, prior to developing his namesake sports empire, Ely Callaway planted grapes in Temecula then opened the first Temecula winery in 1974. In 1975 John Poole’s Mount Palomar Winery became the valley’s second and the Cilurzos launched the valley's third winery in 1978.
The Temecula AVA was established in 1984 with the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association successfully petitioning for a name change to Temecula Valley AVA in 2004—the first ever AVA name change after approval.
The area was beginning to make a name for itself with improving grape quality and production when Pierce’s disease—spread by glassy-winged sharpshooters—began devastating crops in the late ’90s. At its height many growers lost 40% or more of their crops.
The industry is rebounding, vineyards are thriving and the focus has returned to expansion of acreage, continuing improvement in quality and spreading the word about the many reasons to visit Temecula Valley Wine Country.
Follow the link trail below or in the sidebar above to view profiles and pictures of some Temecula Valley wineries:

Next: Callaway Vineyard & Winery

Slideshow—all photos on this page (except Hot Air Balloon photo essay)

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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2015 Lee W. Nelson