Off-the-beaten path wineries – Temecula Valley
If you are looking for an off-the-beaten path wine tasting adventure then head to the Temecula Valley. Instead of heading to Rancho California Road, take State Road 79 exit off the I-15 and you will be rewarded with a welcome detour to a few off-the-beaten path wineries. Then just follow this road to Anza Road, meandering alongside the rolling hills of vineyards until you turn onto De Portola Road. Here, you’ll enjoy a slightly different wine tasting experience such as the one at Leonesse Cellars. Although it’s a limited-production winery, their Rhone-style wines are not limited in taste.
One example, the Melange de Blanc is made with traditional Rhone grape varietals Viogner, Marsanne, and Rousanne. For anyone weary of drinking heavy-oaked California Chardonnays, these wines will be a delightful replacement. The Melange de Blanc has that familiar Chardonnay texture but is far more aromatic. The flavors brought back memories of picking peaches off the tree in summertime. This wine paired well with Gruyere cheese and salami treats my friends and I enjoyed near the picnic grounds. The Viogner spends a short time in oak prior to being bottled and the result is a wonderful crisp white with yummy apricot and melon flavors.
We took a tour through the vineyards where Dawn, our tour leader poured some reds while we walked along the barren vines. Here we tasted a big, juicy jammy Zinfandel that I just loved. It had a nice purple appearance and was full of blackberry and dark cherry with soft tannins from time spent resting on American oak.
Leonesse Cellars handpicks the grapes during Fall harvest evenings. Only grapes from perfect bunches with the ideal brix (sugar residual) are chosen for wine production, leaving these lesser-quality bunches to turn into raisins on the vine.
Winemaker Tim Kramer starts off all the grapes, red and white in stainless tanks. Then, depending on the wine type, he’ll decide whether to “punch down” or “pump over” the juice during the fermentation process, which allows the skins to remain in contact with the must (juice). Next, the red wines rest in oak for ageing.
Kramer believes in using a gentle crush for all of his reds, allowing for a few whole seeds to remain, imparting less bitterness. Also, wine skins are able to macerate for a few days to several months, giving the tannins time to develop nicely in either American or more expensive French Oak.
The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was pretty tasty but I thought it could benefit from a few more years of bottle aging. However, the Syrah was quite lovely. It had a nice softer-than-Cab-tannin structure with lovely complexity and delicious plum flavor.
After a stop in the barrel room, Dawn took us to the production facilities. Then we headed back in the tasting room for their Cinsault wine made in the Port style. I enjoyed the amazing dark chocolate flavor, which reminded a bit of one of my Oporto favorite Taylor’s Tawny Port.
The grounds at Leonesse Cellars are well manicured and provide a perfect vantage point for some wine country vistas. In addition to the tasting room and gift shop, there’s a patio and inviting picnic area for enjoying wines by the glass.