The Good, Bad and Ugly, Wine Country Temecula

My plans for a visit on Coronado Island, San Diego were trashed by the epidemic of Flu, not upon me but on my Brother in Law that has a beautiful oceanfront condo on Coronado overlooking San Diego. A day of golf on the Navy Base was planned along with hours at the piano bar in the Hotel Del Coronado, but as life would have it, it was not to be.

But here we were on our flight to John Wayne Airport in Orange County and no solid plans. It was then that my wife and I looked at each other and said, let’s visit Temecula Wine Country while we are here. And thats just what we did. Arriving late morning and checking into our suite, we headed out on the Temecula Wine Trail. Knowing that it had been over fifteen years since sipping wines in Temecula, we were excited to re-visit the forty plus wineries there today.


As I had given us just one day to visit wineries, after research, recommendations and such, we decided on three wineries to taste. The first winery we visited was a no brainer, as I knew the owner / vintner, Steve Chapin of Chapin Family Vineyards. Years ago when we relocated to San Diego from the East Coast, Steve was my wife Marsha’s Regional Manager in Diagnostic Medical Sales. When Steve “retired” he started a dream, his own vineyard and winery.

Given that we hadn’t seen Steve Chapin for many years, and not contacting him with this short notice, we took a chance that he might in fact be at the winery. When we arrived we were totally amazed at how the area has grown up, with some impressive “monster” wineries along the strip. Steve has actually transformed the home he built, a beauty I might add, into a tasting room / event center. I say amazing home because it is like a picture from the movie “Man from Snowy River”, with a large covered porch surrounding it in the Australian fashion of ranch homes.


As we entered the large tasting room, as I gazed ahead at the large tasting room counter, there was Steve, looking just as I remembered him, with a big smile on his face, discussing his wine with a young couple. As I approached we made eye contact and I saw recognition without knowing just who I was. But when he looked past me at my wife his smile broadened, and he came hustling around the counter to give her a big hug.

We spent the next hour or so tasting with Steve, his entire line of 9 wines, white and red, with some excellent surprises. My first treat was a white I had never had before, called Passirina, an Italian grape that Steve’s consultant Mario from Italy brought in for Steve’s vineyard. With floral notes, apricot and pear with some hints of spice, this excellently structured, mildly dry white was refreshing, crisp and flavorful. A winner in my opinion.


Tasting the Chapin Family Vineyards “09 Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, blends and red Zinfandel, I found that all of his wines bring structure, depth, layers and elegance to your lips and palate, and create fullness to your smile. These wines will all stay in your memory for a day, a week and a lifetime.

However, I am not quite finished, as I have not reviewed Steve’s other exclusive red brought to the vineyard by Mario, his 2008 Montpulciano. The first grabber is the intense dark ruby color, and after a swirl and sniff, the fruit and floral aromas followed in layers by black cherry and blackberry. Your first sip brings you a full mouth feel of velvety red fruit, chocolate and hint of licorice,and maybe a wisp of tobacco.

I have to admit that it was a very hard decision which bottles were to go in the empty cardboard case, but I will say that each wine I mentioned is now sleeping there, plus more, until arriving in my wine cellar at home.

My parting words to my friend Steve, was that I appreciated and enjoyed each and every one of his wines, something I rarely would admit. In my opinion, Steve has developed his wines well, and taken the extra steps, bringing in a highly experienced consultant, Mario Cavalieri from Italy, to advance his wines above others. Needless to say, if I come across a Chapin Family Vineyard wine on a wine list in the future, rest assured I will order it, and sip with a smile. I would highly suggest you do the same, and if ever visiting Southern California, a trip to this winery would be well worth your time.


As I said, we planned to visit two other wineries, and we did, actually visiting the Doffo Winery, right next door. Tasting wines here, we had a choice between two flights, their regular wines, and the Reserve flight. I chose the reserve flight, wanted to experience their finest wines, and proceeded to taste Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Each of these were 2010 vintage, and in my opinion, still suffering from “bottle shock”, and varietals of that vintage not yet drinkable, and pretty much like barrel tasting. I could taste a future to them, over time but after talking to the wine attendant, I realized these wines probably will never get that time.

I will say that I asked and was served a “special pour”of their 2011 Sauvignon Blanc”, which I found delightful, with the expected citrus, tropical fruit, and especially white and green pepper. This supurb white reflects the Sav blanc of New Zealand, my favorite.

Of issue in Temecula is that Temecula is the only “wine region” located in Southern California. Having only 39 wineries, and most of them small production, the influx of visitors from the coast, sells out all produced wines, every year, so the wineries are forced to bring out for sale wines that normally would be held another year.


Our third stop was to Renzoni Vineyards down the road. We decided to enjoy lunch in the outdoor restaurant, and while waiting for a table, we checked out the tasting room / gift shop, which was obviously o gift shop that contained tasting counters. I examined the list of wines being offered, and found whites, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Zinfandel, all with a 2010 vintage. Expecting the same experience as the last winery, we decided to preform our “tasting” at the lunch table.

My wife ordered a personal pizza with a glass of their 2010 Zinfandel. We both tasted the Zin and found that it was of good flavor, but lacked the depth, structure and even nose that we are used to in Northern California Zinfandels. My wife and I agree that this Zin is what we would call “table wine”.

I on the other hand enjoyed a Kobè Beef Burger, along with Renzoni  Vineyards ’08 Fiore di Fano, their “Super Tuscan Style” red, something I had researches and was looking forward to. I have of late fallen in love with Super Tuscans from Italy, and wanted to see what this winery had developed. Regretfully, what I found was a pleasant fruit flavor, but without the much needed layers and length, and totally devoid of tannin.

All in all a rewarding and eye opening experience for me. This area they call Temecula has come a long way, but I feel it has a way to go before becoming a formidable player in the world of wine. But as shown by a couple of wineries I have reviewed here, they are on their way, some more than others.



About storiesbygary

I am a Freelance Writer / Photographer, writing travel related articles for international magazines, blogs and websites and my own published books.
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