Temecula Wine Country

Visit Website Contact Author
Callaway 1990-800x450.jpg

TEMECULA WINE COUNTRY
The Intriguing History of California Wines
By Hilarie Larson

 

Ask ‘Where did wine get its start in California?” and you’ll likely hear, “Napa” or “Sonoma”.  While these famous districts have their share of historical credits, the truth is much more interesting. Who would guess that the ‘new upstart’ regions of Temecula Valley and Southern California would be the correct, and fascinating, answer?

Legend is, the first vines were brought to Alta California in 1769 by Father Junipero Sera, a Franciscan monk tasked with establishing missions in this new world. Although a romantic notion, research done by the Mission San Luis Rey Museum, indicates otherwise. Fifty-five year old Sera had a chronic leg infection and walked the 1000 mile, three-month journey from Baja to San Diego accompanied by a rather broken down mule. He traveled in the warmth of early summer so the logistics of procuring and protecting vine cuttings, plus a host of other factors, reveal that the tale is just a tale. Documents denote Sera spent years trying to procure vines. Finally, in 1779, he was successful. Cuttings were sent to Mission San Juan Capistrano and the first vintage of California wine was created there in 1782.

Only one grape was planted in California in these early days – the ‘Missión. DNA testing tells us that the variety originated in the Castille-La Manche region of Spain and its true name is Listán Prieto. This well-traveled variety ended up in many regions conquered by the Spanish including the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico where it was planted in 1629. 

Wine and brandy were made for the sacrament, to serve as a nutritional boost for the monks and to share with visitors, who traveled along the mission trail. Gradually, the monks expanded their vineyards, learning that wine was a very valuable commodity and a major contributor to the Southern California economy.

Father Jose Maria de Zalvidea worked the vines in several missions and became known as the ‘Father of California Viticulture’. In 1842 he moved to San Luis Ray where he cultivated 34 acres in his distinctive ‘sunken garden’ style, enclosing the vineyard with rows of Tuna Cactus. Zalvidea was also instrumental in expanding the vineyards eastward from the mission to a quiet village known by the local Luiseño tribe as ‘Teméeku’. Wine Country had its start.

By 1821, the missions had vanished, the Rancho Era had begun and vast estates were created, many including vineyards, from the Spanish land grants. Opportunity attracted one of Southern California’s more interesting wine-related characters, John-Louis Vignes. An immigrant from France’s Bordeaux region, he arrived in California in 1830. He purchased 104 acres in what is now downtown Los Angeles, planted vineyards and, in 1833, opened California’s original commercial winery, El Aliso.  He was the first to import vine cuttings from France with Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc scions shipped in wrappings of moss and potato skins. At its peak, the winery created 150,000 bottles per year. Vigne began searching for more land to increase his vineyard holdings and acquired 50,000 acres in the Temecula Valley. While his instincts were spot-on, the timing was terrible. No sooner had he purchased the land in 1846, the Mexican-American war broke out. He sold in 1853.

Temecula moved on. It was a stop on the Butterfield Stage route and a main source of quality granite, supplying San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. Ranching and agriculture prevailed with Vail Ranch owning most of the land from the mid 1900’s until it sold to Kaiser Development in 1964.

Rancho California Development promised a ‘gentleman farmer’ lifestyle – a close drive from Los Angeles but a world away. They hired a respected agriculture expert, Dick Break, to research the most suitable crops for the region and he went about planting experimental gardens, including wine grapes.

In 1967, an advertisement touting this new Eden caught the eye of an LA based television lighting director named Vincent Cilurzo.  Soon after, he and his wife Audrey were buying a 50 acre parcel known as ‘Yoder Camp’ for $47,000, including the barn. The Cilurzos enlisted the help of Break in selecting and planting their vines and became the first commercial vineyard in the area.  The modern age of Temecula Wine Country had officially commenced.

Brookside Winery, located in Rancho Cucamonga, planted a vast 400 acre vineyard and hired local John Moramarco to supervise the job. On Easter weekend, 1968, as he was driving down a dusty, dirt road, he was waived down by a real estate agent who said he had a client looking for vineyard land. Any suggestions?  Moramarco took them closer to town and pointed to a gentle, south-facing slope. Eli Callaway, later to make his name in the golfing industry, got out of the car, said “Thanks”’ and by Thanksgiving, was offering Moramarco a job. 150 acres was just too small a project to take him away from his current position, but there was a neighbor, John Poole, who also wanted vineyards planted.  A deal was made and by January of 1969 work had begun on ‘Long Valley Vineyards’, later to be known as Callaway and Mount Palomar wineries.

In 1973, Callaway quit his job and moved to Temecula.  The grapes were thriving and he was making a good living selling the fruit to wineries in Paso Robles. No one in Temecula was making wine so he decided he’d be the first and in 1974, he opened the doors to Callaway’s tasting room selling wines made on site from Temecula grown fruit.

Poole opened Mount Palomar in 1978, specializing in a wide array of grape varietals and was the first in the region to plant Sangiovese.  The Cilurzos started producing estate wines, too, and the next phase of Temecula Wine Country was now in full swing.

Today, there are over 40 wineries in the Temecula AVA from full facility resorts to cozy tasting rooms.  Their wines appear on fine restaurant wine lists and garner high points in glossy wine magazines.  But you still find history – patches of Break’s experimental vineyards exist at Keyways Winery and the Cilurzo’s barn is now part of Maurice Carrie.  And Napa? They didn’t plant vines until the 1850s!

Special thanks to Steve Williamson of the Temecula Valley Museum. www.temeculavalleymuseum.org.

Hilarie Larson’s passion for wine began in the 1970’s while in the European hospitality industry. In 2003 she began her wine career in earnest in her native British Columbia, Canada, working at several Okanagan Valley wineries. Along the way, she acquired her certificate from the Court of Master Sommelier, worked for an international wine broker and as ‘Resident Sommelier’ for wineries in Washington State and California. Hilarie’s greatest joy is spreading the gospel of wine, food and travel. In addition to her own blogs at www.NorthWindsWineConsulting.com, she contributes articles to a number of online publications. She was honored to be awarded the 2013 Emerging Writer Scholarship from the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association, for whom she is now the Administrative Director.

Northwinds Wine Consulting


About the Author:

Hilarie Larson’s passion for wine began in the 1970’s while in the European hospitality industry. In 2003 she began her wine career in earnest in her native British Columbia, Canada, working at several Okanagan Valley wineries. Along the way, she acquired her certificate from the Court of Master Sommelier, worked for an international wine broker and as ‘Resident Sommelier’ for wineries in Washington State and California. Hilarie’s greatest joy is spreading the gospel of wine, food and travel. She contributes articles to a number of online publications and was honored to be awarded the 2013 Emerging Writer Scholarship from the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association, for whom she is now the Administrative Director.

Website Link Visit Link Here
Category , , ,
Keywords           
No Feedback Received