Meet the Temecula Valley: Wiens wines

vineyardsHave you ever heard of Temecula wines? No? That’s what I thought…

American wine drinkers (at least those who live east of the California state line)  have never heard of the region.

Which is really ironic, because the Temecula Valley lies just a stone’s throw from where the whole California wine thing got started — sometime around 1820.

Wine grapes were first brought to California by Spanish missionaries, who built a string of missions along the California coast to bring Christianity to the heathens. Remember that thing about the swallows coming back to San Juan Capistrano? Well, San Juan Capistrano was the first mission, and it was built a mere 18 miles west of present day Temecula. The good monks grew Mission grapes and made sweet, fortified wine for communion (or whatever…).

So fast-forward to modern-day Southern California. The region is now known for congested freeways and movie stars, but some savvy winemakers have discovered that the Temecula Valley has conditions that are amazingly favorable for high-quality wine grapes. Check this out:

Temecula sits on a plateau at about 1,400 feet elevation, snugged up to a higher mountain range. Mists linger until mid-morning, helping to cool the region. Cold air also gets sucked in from the Pacific Ocean through gaps in the coastal mountains, creating ideal micro-climates for high-quality wine grapes.

wiens

The four Wiens brothers, plus mom

Is this ringing a bell? Does this sound like the conditions that make Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara such great regions for wine grapes?

On top of the above, the surrounding mountains create “rivers” of cold air that drift down over Temecula, creating a double cooling effect.

But wait — that’s not all! Because the area is further south than, say, San Francisco, the vineyards are closer to the Equator and receive more radiant heat. So OK, we have that wonderful “warm days, cold nights” thing happening, plus relatively little rainfall during the growing and harvest season. Soils, too, are well drained, producing clean, pure varietal flavors.

So this looks like a recipe for great wine. It makes me wonder why all of us non-Temeculties¬† took so long to discover this little wine region. My excuse is that I hadn’t tasted any of their wines — at least until a few nights ago, when a friend brought over a bottle from Wiens Family Cellars. Not being one to turn down free alcohol, we popped the cork and… enjoyed!

We were drinking Wiens 2008 Tempranillo-Petite Sirah. That’s an unusual (or even unheard-of) blend. Who ever thought to combine this Spanish grape with California’s big, bold, dense, brooding varietal?

But I gotta tell you — someone should have thought of it sooner. My first sip was enough to make me say, “Of course!” It’s a great idea to use the bright fruit and crisp acidity of Tempranillo to tame the often-too-heavy Petite Sirah.

When I poured the Wiens, the color looked very “Petite.” It was opaque and red/pourple, and I geared myself for a big, big wine. The nose, however, showed some bright cherry up front, followed by some heavier caramel and dark berry notes.

The palate was a happy marriage of both grapes. I loved how the acid from the Tempranillo cut the heaviness of the Petite Sirah, and made this a pretty decent food wine. I got more complexity, too, as it sat and breathed, with nice brambly notes, mocha and vanilla creeping in.

Wiens Tempranillo-Petite Sirah is a well-made wine, and it’s fun to drink. It’s kinda pricey at $50 a bottle — I assume that’s one of the unfortunate repercussions of operating a small-production facility in a place like Temecula. But I wish the folks at Wiens the best — they’re doing a good job and helping to put the Temecula Valley on the wine map. I’ll tip my hat to the ghosts of San Juan Capistrano, and say, Cheers!

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