Winemaking 101 At Temecula’s Wilson Creek Winery

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It was a picture-perfect October Saturday morning at the Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula.

Due to the drought conditions and warmer weather conditions, the grapes ripened quickly and the 2014 Harvest came earlier than in previous years.

Night-time picking had just been completed and the grapes lay in various stages of fermentation in the steel tanks and oak barrels. The cool air in the cellar was pungent with the smell of the ripening red grapes in the open bins. 

Wilson Creek Winery‘s winemaker Kestutis “Gus” Vizgirda’s hands, legs and clothes were stained a deep red hue from vigilantly tending to the grape juices and skins non-stop in the first crucial days after the harvest.


Over two dozen students from San Diego State University’s Business of Wine certificate program, eagerly gathered for the two-day “Winemaking Behind The Scenes” course taught by Wilson Creek Winery’s  Wine Guru, Gus.


The timing of the class couldn’t have been any more ideal as the cellar was bursting with winemaking activity!  All phases of winemaking were available for observation along with extensive barrel and tank wine tastings.

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Gus first led the students on a walking field lecture in the vineyard, explaining the challenges of growing grapes in the Temecula Valley.  Vineyard and canopy management, pest control practices, soil type, irrigation and fertilization applications were explained as the students stood amidst the vines.


Considered a small winery, Wilson Creek Winery produces around 35,000 cases of wine a year from the 70 estate acres.  Grape varietals number 14, with claim to the oldest planted Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Temecula.

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The students viewed the crushing and de-stemming machinery as Gus demystified the whole cluster vs. de-stemming processes.   Students were treated to barrel samples of Chardonnay in the primary stage of malolactic fermentation and then to stainless steel tank samples in more advanced stages of fermentation for comparison.


Wines blended and aged for Wilson Creek Winery‘s Sherry sat still in the outside temperature-controlled steel tanks.  Gus demonstrated how veraison sugars are measured in grapes with the use of a hydrometer and explained how the chemistry of yeast, tannins and acids come into play in winemaking.

IMG_7877 Lastly, cellar sanitation, including barrel and tank cleaning, and the bottling process was discussed in detail.  The two-day class was amazing and insightful due in large part to the exuberance and knowledge that “Wine Guru Gus” imparted upon the students.  For a behind-the-scenes tour, contact Wilson Creek Winery


Sanford Winery ~ Sta. Rita Hills’ First Pinot Pioneers!


You might say that Sanford Winery & Vineyards is as old as the hills… the Santa Rita Hills, that is.  It was back in 1971 when Pinot Pioneer Richard Sanford planted the first Pinot Noir grapes in the Sanford & Benedict vineyards, that put Santa Barbara Wine Country and Santa Rita Hills on the map.


Fast forward 30 years…today, the Sanford & Benedict vineyard supports 68 acres of the Mt. Eden Pinot Noir clone, 52 acres of Chardonnay and 15 acres of other estate grapes.


Sanford Winery‘s sister vineyard, Rancho La Rinconada Vineyard, is located in nearby Lompoc.  Planted in 1997 on 135 acres, there are now three Pinot Noir Clones: 115, 667, 777 and Mt. Eden as well as Chardonnay.


Much to the determination and efforts of Sanford Winery, the Sta. Rita Hills AVA was officially granted in 2001.  From there, it is history.  Winemaker Richard Sanford turned over the helm to open Alma Rosa Winery, further up Santa Rosa Road.  The Terlato Wine Group later purchased Sanford Winery and continues to produce stellar Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

IMG_7471Sanford WInery‘s tasting room is beautifully appointed with a covered veranda that  overlooks the vineyards.   The 2011 Sanford & Benedict Viognier was clean, crisp and vibrant, with aromas of lemon peel, honeycomb and roasted hazelnut.  However, the 2009 La Entrada Chardonnay stole the show with a limited production of only 10 barrels!  Bright acidity, citrus notes and minerality make this Chardonnay shine.


Eager to try the famed Pinot Noir wines, I was not disappointed.  The 2010 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, deemed a Double Gold winner in the San Francisco Chronicle competition, was a complex blend of eight different clones from the two estate vineyards.  It was velvet in a glass ~ deep red in color bursting with raspberry and bing cherry with hints of spice orange rind, white pepper and sage on the nose.


Sanford Winery‘s crowing jewel, is the 2012 La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir ~ a sumptuous blend of the 114, 115, 667, 777 and Mt. Eden clones.  Explosions of spicy black cherry cola, cola, bacon fat and anise meet the palate, framed by bright acidity.   Ahhhhhh…. the Sta. Rita Hills at its finest.

Europa Village’s Oktoberfest ~ Barrels Of Fun!

IMG_7813Willkommen to Europa Village‘s Annual 2014 Oktoberfest!  Festive costumes adorned the staff and guests alike.   Steins of handcrafted beer were raised high and Europa wines flowed freely as guests enjoyed the authentic German fare and music.












Hangar 24Refuge BreweryIronfire Brewery and Craft Brewing Company were all on keg duty to serve their fine handcrafted brews.   Guests even received a complimentary beer stein to commemorate Europa‘s 2014 Oktoberfest.

IMG_7761Proceeds from Europa‘s Oktoberfest benefited  All From The Heart, which aids troops, their families and veterans in need.


German food, games and music filled the air as guests danced the “Chicken Dance” to the Hofbrau Boys’ Germanic polka rhythms.


One thing is certain… a good time was had by all ~ Beifall!!!

Europa Village’s Annual Grape Stomp Gala ~ Bon Vin, Tres Fun!

photo 4 There’s a little slice of Europe in the Temecula Wine Country ~ Europa Village is an Old World Euro-themed winery that offers wines handcrafted from French, Spanish and Italian grape varietals.  Love the French wines of the Rhone Valley?  Non probleme ~ the C’est la Vie Chateau Wines will soothe your soul. Feeling a little sassy?  Si, Si  ~  try the Bolero Cellars for a Spanish flare.  Looking for the perfect food and wine pairing?  Bene, Bon Appetito!   ~ Vienza will be a salute to all things Italian.

photo 2 Beautifully appointed, Europa Village is situated on 30 rolling acres, with vineyard views in all directions.  There is an ample outdoor seating area with water misters to curb the summer heat and even a wine cave that doubles as a tasting bar and an event room for large parties and wedding receptions.

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At the Annual Grape Stomp extravaganza in August, George Bursick, was introduced as the new artisan winemaker.  George hails from Sonoma County and will be tantamount in taking Europa Village‘s wine program to the next level.  

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Euopa‘s Wine Societe Members weIMG_7538re invited to stomp grapes, take photos with “Lucy” and to enjoy sumptuous food and wine pairings by Chef Dean.  Wine flowed freely as jovial accordion music filled the air.  A local artist captured the festivities on canvas as onlookers admired her fare.










Staff was festively costumed as they served food and poured the new wine releases ~ C’est La Vie’s 2012 Chenin Blanc and the 2012 Artist Series Bon Vie, an estate blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Counoise.


All corks were pulled out for the gala event ~ including the 2011 Estate Reserve Syrah!  Europa Village has live entertainment every weekend with many special events and wine education classes held throughout the year.


Grand plans  are in the making for Europa Village that will include a posh, yet classic, European 40 room resort and spa, with a village of boutiques and shops, walking paths and custom homesites.

For an intimate getaway, guests are welcome to stay at the mission-style Inn at Europa which overlooks Euopa‘s vineyards and the beautiful Temecula Valley.  









Altipiano Vineyard & Winery Reaches New Heights!

IMG_7517Happenstance brought me to Altipiano Vineyard & Winery in Escondido.  Eager to pursue the many wineries springing up in the Ramona Valley AVA, I ventured out and much to my surprise, found this boutique winery off Highland Valley Road, just a few miles from  San Diego.


Altipiano Vineyard & Winery was  aptly named.  Alti, (a variation of the word Alto) and the word piano,  roughly translates from the Italian words meaning  “Upper Plateau” ~ which is the ideal descriptor for the views off the back patio which overlook the dancing vines and the majestic valley below.


Peter and Denise Clarke are the owners of Altipiano Vineyard & Winery and are always on hand to personally welcome guests in the tasting room.   Denise is the winemaker and has just released her first estate wines ~   2010 Estate Brunello Sangiovese,  2012 Estate Barbera and  2012 Nero D’Avola.  


Mentored by master wine makers throughout California, Denise takes to winemaking like a duck to water.  She is enthusiastic, spirited, educated and willing to take risks to make the very best wines.  Until this vintage, the Clarke’s purchased grapes from other areas to round out the tasting menu.  It will be an exciting journey watching Denise evolve into an artisan winemaker.   Upon meeting Peter and Denise, you’re treated as “family” which makes the wine tasting experience that much richer.


This weekend marks the 2014 grape harvest, or vendemmia, which means that there will be more great wines to look forward to in the coming years!    Altipiano Vineyard & Winery is open Friday through Sunday and offers tours by appointment.   Salute!  


High In The Vines At Sta Rita Hills’ Babcock Winery


After the 2014 Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Barbara Wine Country in July, I had the pleasure of accepting an invite from Bryan Babcock, winemaker extraordinaire of Babcock Winery, to tour the vineyards.  Bryan spoke at the closing dinner of the conference about his revolutionary Pedestral Cane Positioning.  Curiosity got the better me, so I decided to check it out for myself.


When you meet Bryan, there’s a “McGiver” type glint in his eye.  Bryan has been farming grapes in the Sta Rita Hills AVA for over three decades with great success. It is no surprise that he is now pioneering a new farming technique, which he refers to as Pedestral Cane Positioning or Canopy Pivoting.  This innovative technique works with gravity and allows the canopy of leaves to spill toward the ground as it grows, keeping the clusters above the leaves.


In addition, a shade cloth-type canopy shields the grapes from the sun when needed. This type of trellising system, combined with the wind and gravity has led to substantial labor-saving costs.

IMG_7393Touring the vineyards with Bryan was something I will not forget.  Bryan’s passion for the land and his vines was evident ~ he is truly a remarkable winemaker and trendsetter.


Babcock Winery is tucked off Highway 246 in Lompoc, in the heart of the Sta Rita Hills AVA.  Over 65 acres are dedicated to Pinot Noir grapes, his flagship award-winning wine. In addition, Babcock Winery also produces stellar Chardonnay.  For starters, the 2012 Top Cream Chardonnay is really lovely and opens with a toasty meringue pear nose with a dash of minerality.

newTRbar1 Pinot lovers are in for a spectacular tasting of the estate’s finest wines.  A personal favorite of mine is the 2012 Microcosm Pinot Noir from Rancho La Vina in Sta Rita Hills, a spellbinding single block Pinot Noir, deep ruby-red, youthful with bright cherry undertones.  Yet, the 2012 Slice of Heaven Pinot Noir, Rita’s Crown Vineyard, rated 91 points by WIne Enthusiast, is especially daunting ~ a proprietary blend of the 667 and 777 Pinot Noir Clones.   Hands down, Babcock Winery’s Pinot Noirs are some of the best in California  and are sure to please the most discerning Pinot lovers.


Santa Ynez’s Bridlewood Estate Winery Is Totally Mesmerizing!

IMG_7276 From the moment you enter the 105 acre property through the wrought iron gates, time seems to stand still.  A grove of arched trees line the long driveway and lead to the stately entrance of the mission-style Bridlewood Estate Winery in Santa Ynez.

IMG_7285The grounds are immaculately groomed with unsurpassed panoramic views of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the San Raphael Mountains and the Purisma Hills.  The site of the Bridlewood Estate Winery was previously a rehabilitation center for race horses and still houses a full exercise track that circles the lake and vineyards.


Guests are welcome to take a bottle of wine and a picnic lunch and relax under the shade trees by the lake or to take in the view on the upper terrace overlooking the lake.


Bridlewood Estate Winery features an eclectic selection of Central Coast AVA blends, Estate Syrah and Zinfandel and Monterey County Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Of particular note is the 2012 Reserve Viognier from Santa Barbara AVA.  Wafts of honeysuckle, orange blossoms and vanilla meet the nose in this Viognier from Volgelzang Ranch in nearby Happy Canyon AVA.


The 2012  Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve Chardonnay from Monterey County Chardonnay is fruit forward with flavors of pear, honey and lemony citrus tones with a creamy, mouth-filling texture ~ an excellent pairing for shellfish, pate or fresh fruits.

IMG_7292On the darker side, the 2012 Santa Rita Hills Reserve Pinot Noir is spicy, yet floral with notes of cranberry, mushroom and dark cola flavors.  And for the Syrah lover, the  2009 Estate Syrah has layers and layers of flavor. Aromas of licorice and spice are followed by flavors of melted chocolate and dried cherry, forming a nice, round palate.

IMG_7272 Carriage rides are offered around the pristine property for a nominal fee.  Bridlewood Estate Winery is truly a sight to behold with wines that rival the best in the Santa Ynez AVA.  To plan your visit, check out