Village of Dreams found in Temecula Wine Country

A drive along the De Portola Trail in Temecula Wine Country may as well be a winding journey through the vineyards of Bordeaux France. The peaceful easy feeling at the sight of rolling hills and rural beauty is the best therapy for a tough day at the office. And so it was when I turned into the last vineyard and winery on the trail, Leonesse Cellars, the “Village of Dreams.”
Leonesse was founded by owners Mike Rennie and Gary Winder in 2003 as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream of producing world class wines, mostly in the Bordeaux style of red blends. Together they had 50 years of agriculture and grape-growing experience in the Temecula Valley.
The wine world is taking notice of this immaculately groomed winery. In 2009, Leonesse was rewarded with high points and awards for its 2005 Cabernet Franc/Merlot, which bore the mark of perfectly balanced tannins and fruity body. The 2006 Melange de Reves and 2004 premium “Vineyard Selection” Series Syrah and Merlot also took bows for their greatness.
My host was Joel Reese, the charming, dynamic host and touring manager, who came to Leonesse from a music career in Tennessee a year and a half ago. “Wine is such a passionate way of life,” he enthused. “I love creating tastings and events for visitors. A lot of what I do I have picked up from your ‘Taste of Wine’ columns where I learn how big a world the wine experience is. I want to broaden the appeal of the Leonesse wines.
“We are highly focused on the Rhone style of wines and are offering some wonderful Syrahs. Our 2006, both the Vineyard Selection and the Signature Selection are doing well, as are the whites Viognier and Rousanne,” he said.
We got around to tasting what I consider the premier grape for Leonesse, their Signature Selection Merlot. The 2006 is their latest release. Winemaker Tim Kramer, who has been with Leonesse since its beginnings, has taken grapes from the Palomar Mountain Los Caballos Vineyard and combined its Merlot grapes with a touch of Cabernet, Cab Franc and Petite Verdot, to present a beautiful, visceral wine.
It had been in French Oak barrels for 28 months after being “babied” through gentle crushing and fermentation to enhance the richness of the varietal.
“You get deep dark chocolate and cherry flavors,” Reese said. “It’s like aroma therapy at the palate.” Cost is $95 dollars, $71.25 for Leonesse club members.
This is just one of an exceptional lineup of Merlots and nice to see a winery do Merlot the right, regal way — aged to perfection in the finest oak barrels.
Visit leonessecellars.com for more information.
Farewell to Gaiter and Brecher, my favorite columnists
It is with a note of sadness that I read the last wine column from the Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. After 579 columns and 12 years, they have signed off. They have been honest and adventurous in their approach to wine comment. In early 2005, when I first started reading their weekly wine columns, they raised eyebrows by declaring that wines from Temecula were quite good and recommended them. They complimented the winemakers for “following their hearts … they don’t (the wines) taste manipulated. They taste like fruit and earth.” Since then, this husband and wife team has advised readers to “keep raising your personal bar for what is truly memorable, so that you’re always looking for the next wine that will touch your soul and make you feel like you’ve gone someplace you’ve never been before.” I would recommend their book “Guide to Wine…How to Buy, Drink and Enjoy Wine.”
Wine Bytes
— Il Fornaio in Del Mar kicks off their 2010 Festa Regionale with a wine dinner celebrating the Fruili-Venezie region of food and wine, now through Thurs. Jan. 17. Reservations at 1-888-ITALIAN.
— A Banfi Wine Dinner is being planned at The Oceanaire downtown San Diego starting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 14. Their ’05 Sangiovese is highlighted. Cost is $85. Call (619) 858-2277 for more information.
— Tesoro Winery in Old Town Temecula is kicking off events for wine and art lovers, beginning Jan. 14 and every 2nd Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. It is free to the public. Call (951) 308-0000 for more information.
— Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas has a comprehensive Pinot Noir Tasting on from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 15. The cost is $20 per person. Call (760) 479-2500 for more information.
— The 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro in Encinitas presents a Walter Hansel Wine Dinner starting at 6 p.m. Jan. 19. Cost is $70 each. Details and RSVP at (760) 942-2104.

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