It was one of those crazy Saturdays in wine country where in the tasting room required me to project my voice so much that I sounded like Betty Davis by day’s end. It was also a day when a few of us winos shared some wine and debated about random stuff. We had actually begun with a few wines from Monterey brought back by a coworker who had made a recent visit and done some swaps. (It’s pretty typical for us to send our wines with anyone heading to a wine region to trade them out so everyone gets a new experience from the deal. For the most part…I am finding that the wine industry is like one big extended happily dysfunctional family.) Anyhew, there was a great Chardonnay done my favorite way-50% aged in oak, 50% in stainless. I am not a big white wine drinker but the complexity of a heartier white grape done this way just turns me on. It had fruit…melon, apple….but it had some serious butter too. And the finish went on so long I couldn’t decide at first if I like it simply because it surprised me.
There was a weirdly heavy Tempranillo, and a somewhat forgettable Cabernet. Then we sipped a taste of our wineries currently barreled Reserve Tempranillo/Petit Syrah (the barrel is currently tapped to sell some futures on this amazing blend), and that’s when things got interesting. Once again, I personally was blown away by our wine when positioned next to another wine regions “best” wines. The reds we just tried, while fairly good, did nothing to make my taste buds dance the way this humble locally grown number did. So I commented on how sad it is that many local wineries made such crap when this kind of stuff was obviously not only possible, but consistently made by our winemaker, Doug. There are quite a few other craftsmen (wish I could say I knew of a female winemaker out here but I don’t!) making some great elixirs….but there are at least as many helping perpetuate our bad reputation.
So I comment that it’s a shame that many local places were kind of forced to “water down” their wines to stay in business. You see, it has been my understanding that because of the party crews that started coming to Temecula by the busloads (literally) it was not lucrative to manage a vineyard in the way necessary to make some truly drinkable wines. Good wine ALWAYS starts in the vineyard. You cannot make good wine from less than good grapes. But it’s costlier, and requires a knowledgeable and creative hand with a commitment to caring for the entire process. I know this because I have worked in both kinds of wineries, and the wines are dramatically different. Point is, I thought that the bad wines came about as a reaction to the massive numbers of people within an hour’s drive that saw us as nothing more but a place to go for bachelorette parties.
So, then my fearless leader who knows more about wine, the history of wine, the history of Temecula, and is a virtual walking wine encyclopedia who hails from England and has been everywhere, says the bad wine actually came first. He says that although there were always a few winemakers that were making good stuff, its mostly been in recent years we are seeing a lot more winemakers who know what they are doing and that the proof is in the pudding, or well, the wine. I usually defer everything to Bob, and my first instinct is to take his word as law. He’s my wine mentor, and one of the neatest people you will ever meet. But I am still not convinced…which came first? Was the crappy wine in our beloved valley the beginning of our history or a reflex to the lack of wine buyers that would make producing good wines feasible, if not extremely lucrative?
And then someone said what I guess may be obvious to you….who really cares? For me, it’s an important point to ponder because I want to see “us” succeed as a wine region. I want us to not repeat any part of a history that earned us a sketchy rep. I plan on doing more “research” on the subject, and hopefully will find some answers and some good wines along the way. There is great wine out here…and more to be made. So next up, lets talk varietals…we got ‘em.