Made in California
From the northern coast of Napa to the canyon hillsides of Temecula, California wine holds an international repertoire and panache for the distinctive fruit flavors of its varietals. With more than 2,800 wineries registered in the state and owning 107 of the 188 American Viticulture Areas (AVA) in the U.S., California wine accounts for 90 percent of all U.S. wine exports – an industry that is valued at more that $17.5 billion annually.
Traveling California’s Wine Country blends the unique combination of everyday living with lush vineyard greens and a casual equestrian landscape – offering year-round destinations that savor the fruits and ambient charm of the region. Join us as we sample some of wine county’s finest labels, exploring California’s natural viticulture from both the North and South Coast terroirs.
Downtown Napa Revisited
If you haven’t visited Napa recently, prepare to be delighted; the city’s downtown district is experiencing a renaissance, with a $72 million waterfront revival boasting exquisite new hotels and restaurants, and a new winery district ripe for discovery.
Start your Wine Country adventure by booking a room or suite at the stunning AVIA Napa, located in the heart of downtown Napa and steps from local boutiques, wine bars and restaurants. The hotel, open since July 2009, is designed in a contemporary style with sleek appointments, modern furnishings and soothing hues with occasional bursts of color. Staying at the AVIA Napa is like being a guest of gracious local hosts; each evening the hotel’s chef offers “bites and flights,” the concierge crafts customized itineraries for guests, and a new wine bar allows you to mingle over coffee in the morning and fine wines in the evening. Web: aviahotels.com/hotels/napa
Continue your Napa exploration by visiting a small grape growing region on the cusp of discovery, just five minutes up the road from downtown. Gaining notoriety for the truly great wines it is producing, Coombsville is home to some 20 wineries, most of which offer private tastings – often with the winemakers themselves. With a combination of cool air, varied elevations, well-drained and mineral-rich soils, wineries here produce what is rapidly gaining recognition as some of the world’s best Cabernet Sauvignon.
Meteor Vineyard is a Coombsville winery not to miss; the soil here, which contains a unique type of small volcanic stones, produces a Cabernet Sauvignon with intense, luscious fruit found in modern Napa wines along with a unique minerality and structural complexity found in traditional Bordeaux styles. Web: meteorvineyard.com
Nearby Caldwell Vineyard is a wine lover's jewel, with winemaking operations located within an excavated cave; it is heralded for well-balanced wines including Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon blends. Also visit Palmaz Vineyards, where winemaking takes place within the living rock of Mount George in a maze of tunnels and lofty domes. Palmaz produces elegant and complex wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Chardonnay. Web: palmazvineyards.com; caldwellvineyard.com
Coombsville is pursuing AVA (American Viticulture Area) designation and is doubtless headed into future fame. Tours and tastings are available by appointment only.
Thornton Wineries – The Gateway of Temecula Wine Country
Highlighting the flavor, freshness and individual characteristics of the fruit, Thornton Wineries has for more than 20 years produced premium wines with the intention of creating distinct varietal expressions for each wine with a unique signature note and aroma. Spanning 20 acres of vines, the winery employs the ‘Methode Champenoise’ process to creating several complex and interesting sparkling wine varietals – emulating the classic wine styles of the Mediterranean and Rhone regions.
According to Winemaker David Vergari, an industry veteran of 20 years, a good white is foremost derived from “good grapes. One of the most critical decisions, is when to pick; it’s a window of opportunity when grapes are at their optimum [ripeness], depending upon the [varietal] style. [Essentially], the devil is in the details.” Vergari recently joined Thornton, looking to make his mark on the 2010 blends of Chardonnay and Muscat Canelli coming available this year.
A French-styled chateau with herb gardens and an alfresco fountain terrace, Thornton Winery welcomes the sounds of its annual Champagne Jazz Series during summer months, bringing nationally renowned contemporary jazz artists to the Valley. Between the flavors of its vines and winery ambiance, Vergari notes its all about the “beauty of blending, [and] finding synergy.” Web: thorntonwine.com
Wines of Note
Nose: apricot and spice
Mouthfeel: even finish with peach and crisp fruit flavors
Blend: 100% Viognier, aged for 7 months
Nose: lemon citrus
Mouthfeel: peach and apple
Blend: 100% Gewurztraminer, aged for 7 months
Wilson Creek – Home of the Valley’s Famed Almond Champagne
Famed for their Almond Champagne, Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyard is a family legacy in every sense; a united front, three generations of the Wilson family are home to the winery and its operations – even the family’s five golden retrievers often roam the property. As the 14th winery in Temecula, currently holding 92 acres (75 of which are fully farmed), Wilson Creek continues to garner a number of national accolades, including gold and silver medals for their most recent 2009 Muscat Canelli, 2008 Late Harvest Zinfandel and 2008 Viognier.
“It’s about balance and texture, having a rich full mouthfeel,” notes 25 year industry veteran Winemaker Etienne Cowper, when describing a good white wine. “My theory is, treat the fruit gently. If any corrections are necessary, it’s to the juice – not the finished wine. You never want to strip it out, or [even] loose its character.”
According to Owner Bill Wilson, “we are the unofficial, official wine of the Navy.” In 2001, the USS Constellation requested a private label for the ship; Wilson has since provided labels for eight aircraft carries, including the USS Nimitz and USS Roosevelt. Web: wilsoncreekwinery.com
Wines of Note
2010 Estate Viognier, 607 cases
Blend: 90% Viognier, 10% Chardonnay
Color: light straw with a slight green tinge
Nose: aromas of honeysuckle, cherry lifesaver and musk
Mouthfeel: supple and round in the mouth, with flavors of peach, green melon, ripe apple and a hint of tangerine in the finish
Harvested: August 31, 2010
2010 White Cabernet, 2,072 cases
Blend: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Color: pastel white
Nose: bright floral strawberry with a hint of perfume
Harvested: September 16-18, 2010
Keyways – Temecula’s Only Female Owned & Managed Winery
Sharing in the romance of wine country, Terri Delhamer – Keyways’ owner for the past five years – is most rewarded by “making sure people enjoy themselves.” A former real estate broker and lawyer, Delhamer took the initial listing for the winery’s founders, only to have purchased the property as an investment for herself. With 13 acres, the boutique winery extends concerts on the terrace during the summer and a white rose garden amid the vines for weddings. The tasting bar even boasts a Brazilian onyx counter, lit from underneath.
For the past two years, Winemaker David Raffaele has made his mark on Keyways’ flavor. A former photojournalist for the Navy, Raffaele spent a lot of time in Europe, soaking in information about the wine making process. And according to Delhamer, “Compared to other winemakers, he is definitely more adventurous, constantly learning new techniques and blends.”
“For me, I look for the expression of the varietal,” she notes on defining a good white wine. “You smell it, taste it and know. I like crispy whites, [offering] a nice balance between acidity and sugar. It’s not overbearing, not too dry and not overly sweet. [I’m really liking] our 2010 Chardonnay, it has a lot of personality with complex layers of flavors and fruit character.” Web: keywayswine.com
Wines of Note
2009 Simply Rousanne
Blend: 100% Estate Rousanne, off-dry style
Nose: apricot and honey
Mouthfeel: light sweetness with creamier texture, retaining the rich and delicate flavors of the French grape
Pairings: Asian cuisine and seafood
2009 Estate Reserve Viognier
Blend: 100% Estate Viognier
Nose: peach, apricot and violet
Mouthfeel: full bodied with crisp citrus and soft velvety finish
Pairings: Mahi Mahi filets and mango chutney
2010 Muscat Canelli
Blend: 100% Muscat Canelli
Nose: floral and perfume
Mouthfeel: Red Delicious apple, kiwi, pears and apricots
Pairings: grilled citrus chicken, spicy Asian cuisine or exotic fruits