Follow the De Portola Trail to find some vine pleasures

There is a growing family of wineries in the Temecula Valley along De Portola Road. All put down roots less than 10 years ago and all are committed to small production, high-quality wines with a southern European character.

The De Portola Trail runs south and generally parallel to the larger and busier Rancho California Road. Nine wineries currently produce wines on De Portola Road and they include, from west to east: Keyways, Robert Renzoni, Gershon Bachus, Oak Mountain, Leoness, Danza Del Sol, Frangipani, Cougar and Masia de Ybarra. A visit to these wineries over this 5-mile stretch of a road less traveled, reveals passionate owners and family members who have toiled the land and believe in their wines.

The road is uncrowded, wide open and hospitable.

Leoness Cellars on the De Portola Trail of Temecula Wine Country, presents inspirational vineyard views. Photo by Frank Mangio

There is still potential for many more wineries and some future projects are already in the planning stages.

The Trail recently staged a Winter Red Fest last month, offering their signature wines and food samples that brought out the best in the wineries. I couldn’t help but notice that Italian, Spanish and the Rhone Valley of France were well represented. These earthy, old world wines more and more seem to be the wines of choice that adapt nicely to the terroir of Temecula. Some examples.

Leoness Cellars was founded in 2003 by Mike Rennie and Gary Winder, but before Leoness, these two vintners had a combined 50 years of wine grape growing in the valley. They specialize in aged reds striving for a softness and complexity to their wines. Leoness Cellars was pouring a 2008 Syrah whose fruit was spiced with hints of tobacco and black pepper, ($36). It was served with a braised short rib with veal reduction. Their new Restaurant at Leoness Cellars is open Friday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. with an assortment of salads, sandwiches and flatbreads.

Robert Renzoni Estate Vineyards covers 12 acres, devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and the Sangiovese Brunello Clone.

Robert’s family began making wine more than 100 years ago along Italy’s Northern Coast. Robert’s father Frederick made a name for the family in America with a wine import business. Relocation to Temecula followed, with Robert and Frederick working together in developing the existing De Portola Road property, then opening the winery in 2008.

The Robert Renzoni Old Vine Zinfandel ($32) was my choice selection at the winery. It was served with roast beef on a kimmelweck roll.  The wine exhibited strong aromas of blueberry, coffee and caramel with a hint of pepper.
Oak Mountain Winery, just past Robert Renzoni, has another sweeping view of the Temecula rural vineyards south of it. It is also fueling ambitious production of two different wines: Oak Mountain and Temecula Hills. Owned by Valerie and Steve Andrews, their wines are carefully crafted and capture a distinctly complex character. The lineup includes: Viognier, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and a fascinating 2009 blend called Tenacious ($30). Layers of flavor reveal 75 percent Syrah, 20 percent Grenache and 5 percent Counoise. Yes, another triumph of Rhone Valley grapes on the De Portola Trail.

Next time in the Temecula Valley, include the De Portola Trial in your wine adventure. Get the details at deportolatrail.com.

Wine Bytes
— The Island Resort Hotel in Newport Beach is hosting a Super Tuscan Wine Event from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 21. The cost is $70 each.  Gourmet dinner is available. Call (310) 467-5582 for more information.

— Orfila Vineyards in Escondido has their next Concert in the Vines from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 22. The live music performance includes a glass of your favorite Orfila Wine for $25. Details at (760) 738-6500, ext. 20.

— Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido features Saintsbury Winery of Carneros and their winemaker from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 26, pouring the latest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. $15. pp. Call (760) 745-1200 for more information.

— Wine Cellar and Brasserie in San Diego brings in Spanish Wines from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 25. From Rioja to Priorat, try them all. Cost is $25. Call (858) 450-9557 for more information.

— Southern California Pinot Days 2012 is in Santa Monica from 1 to 5 p.m. Jan. 28, with more than 100 producers of Pinot Noir from California, Oregon and Burgundy France.  The entry fee is $60.  Ticket information is available at pinotdays.com.

— From Grape to Glass on Feb. 3 is the ultimate Experience for wine lovers at the Temecula Creek Inn and at Palumbo Family Vineyards. Learn about and experience wine grape pruning and enjoy a rustic lunch overlooking the vines at Palumbo. The Inn has a discounted overnight package for two to complete the event. For details, call (877) 517-1823.

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