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Temecula is better known of the two areas. Its post-Prohibition history began in the late 1960s when vineyards were first planted. In 1984, the Temecula Valley became a recognized American Viticultural Area (AVA), and today it comprises some 30 wineries.

It’s ideally suited for grape growing, situated northeast of the Rainbow Gap, which allows cooling afternoon coastal breezes, and southwest of the Mojave Desert, which provides a relatively dry (about 13 inches of rain a year), temperate climate.

Getting there is easy: head south on Interstate 15 (it’s about 3 1/2 hours from Bakersfield), and then east on Rancho California Road. Town abruptly ends at Butterfield Stage Road, and wine country begins.

Three wineries in particular merit a visit: Hart Winery, Baily Vineyard & Winery, and Shasta View Vineyards.

HART IS A RUSTIC PLACE, essentially a wooden barn with boardwalks and a tiny tasting room. Anytime there’s a crowd, tasters must rotate outside on the boardwalk. That’s a plus, because Hart is perched on the side of a hill, with a beautiful view of the northward-stretching valley.

Joe and Nancy Hart started their winery in 1974, and produce about 4,000 cases a year. I’m particularly drawn to their grenache rosé, sauvignon blanc, viognier, and syrah. The latter three all are produced from estate fruit.

Joe sees parallels between Temecula and Paso Robles. Both areas “kicked off about the same time” in terms of post-Prohibition winery development. The difference is that “we’ve had a fairly unsophisticated clientèle, and haven’t had to rise to the occasion; Paso has. The focus is on Rhone varietals in Paso Robles; we’re not yet focused in Temecula.”

Recognizing that, Hart is tightening his own focus: “I want to focus more on Mediterranean varietals,” he said, adding that he sees a bright future for both his winery and the Temecula Valley.

For years Hart got grenache from the Collins Vineyard in Cucamonga Valley, near Ontario Airport. The vineyard was always under threat by developers, and at one point the vineyard was presumed doomed, and Hart produced the “Collins Ranch Final Harvest” Grenache Rosé. Somehow the vineyards survived, and Hart produced the second annual “final harvest,” and a few more besides that. He finally stopped getting grapes from Collins Ranch, but his rosé, made from locally grown grapes, is terrific; it’s lighter than the Collins Ranch version—fruity and a wonderful accompaniment to summer fare. The great news is that it’s priced at just $14.

JUST UP THE STREET a half-mile or so is Baily Vineyard & Winery, with classic French architecture that encompasses the tasting room on one end, and Carol’s Restaurant on the other. Phil and Carol Baily combined their passions, his for wine, hers for food (she’s an executive chef) in a delightful venue. They moved to Temecula in 1981 from San Marino, near Pasadena, planted their vineyards, and opened their winery in 1986.

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The tasting room is airy, and the pourers are mostly retired men who give you a generous taste in large Riedel glasses, then swirl the wine vigorously before pushing the glass to you—a small touch that emphasizes Baily’s quality.

Phil is a quiet guy who is delighted to talk about his winery. He focuses on Bordeaux varieties, and produces some exquisite red wines.

For those who got the idea that Temecula only produced white wines, Baily waves his hand dismissively. “That notion started with Callaway,” he said (Hart concurs). When Callaway began, it was producing only white wines, and its marketing team came up with the slogan, “White wine—it’s all we make.” For some reason people got the idea that that was all you could make in Temecula.

But Temecula’s reds are fine. If you have any doubts, a taste of Baily’s Bordeaux varietals will erase it.

I particularly like the cabernet and meritage. Both are deep crimson with a silky texture. Rich boysenberry and cedar flavors lead to a long finish on the cab (currently available for $27 at the winery). The meritage, a blend of cabernet sauvignon (58 percent), cabernet franc (32 percent) and merlot (10 percent) is even more complex (on sale for $30 at the winery).

SOME 750 MILES NORTH is a winery attracting growing attention. Shasta View Vineyards, founded in 1996 by Roger and Gail Rogers, has snagged a number of gold medals, which has gotten the attention of vintners in more famous parts of the state.

And the view! This is arguably the most dramatic winery view anywhere: Mount Shasta rising more than 14,000 feet in all its majesty right in front of you!

The Rogers just may have found another of those perfect spots in California to make wine: their vineyard is in the Shasta Valley just east of Yreka, and only about 20 miles south of the Oregon border.

Roger always wanted a winery. He got the bug early visiting wineries with his father, a wine industry executive, in the San Jose area. After military service followed by a college degree, Roger joined the Forest Service, which brought him to the Klamath National Forest in Yreka. “I always had the dream in the back of my head,” he said. He and Gail met and married, and continued looking for the right spot to plant their vineyard.

“We found this parcel in 1990.” It’s on gently sloping ground facing southeast so it gets the morning sun. They did climate and soil studies, and finally in 1995 planted their 8 1/2-acre vineyard. “We’re the first winery in Siskiyou County since the 1890s.”

Because of the local knowledge-vacuum on viticulture, the Rogers sought advice from Oregon State University’s viticulture department. They got cabernet and zinfandel cuttings from wineries in southern Oregon, but they were a bit surprised at what chardonnay clone proved best. “Here, we’re high and arid, and the clone that does best is the old Wente clone.”

UC Davis got wind of what they were doing “and took a great interest...we were off their radar screen in terms of viticulture, so they wanted to do research,” Roger said. Shasta View Vineyards now includes a UCD test plot.

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Gail still marvels at their life now. “I never envisioned this,” she said. “It was his dream, and I got behind it. I thought, how often in your life do you get to do something that fulfills your dream.”

They got lucky again when it came to finding a winemaker. Dave Hook, a New Zealander, was making wine at King Estate in Oregon. “We struck up a conversation,” Roger related, and the rest just fell into place.

“We were looking for someone who we could get advice from, but who would embrace our philosophy,” Gail said. “So we’re lucky. We listen to him, but he also listens to us.”

Shasta View’s chardonnay is delightful: a delicate wine, with varietal nose and apple and pear nuances. On the palate, it has a light texture with the same apple/pear flavors and a touch of peach. It’s fresh, clean, and delicious; a splendid choice for the dinner table. And at $20 it’s a deal.

And I love their Armonia Rossa, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, syrah, and merlot. It’s an unconventional blend, to be sure, but it’s delicious. Its intense berry-cherry flavors are accompanied by a pleasant crispness and long finish making this a splendid food companion ($24).

Visit these wineries on the web at shastaviewvineyards.com, bailywinery.com, and thehartfamilywinery.com.

Article appeared in our 26-3 Issue - August 2009