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Pinnacle Restaurant on the grounds of Falkner Winery in the Temecula Valley features dining in the round with spectacular views of the valley from its 1,500-foot perch. Courtesy photo
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Taste of Wine: Falkner Winery recovers after fire

Like most winery owners, Ray Falkner and his wife, Loretta, dealt with multiple problems trying to operate a business during the pandemic.

For the Falkners, the situation was compounded by also trying to run a restaurant, Pinnacle Restaurant, an award-winning, circular dining establishment with a world-class sweeping view of Temecula Wine Country. Lunches at Pinnacle are four-course events set on a 1,500 foot hilltop, with evenings reserved for weddings and banquets.

The winery had one set of COVID-19 rules to follow, while the restaurant had to abide by other protocols. But nothing could prepare them for what happened on the night of June 5.

At their home in La Jolla that night, the Falkners received a call from neighbors sounding the alarm that the winery had caught fire, and it eventually burned to the ground. Evidence suggested that rodents had created electric cable sparking.

In the days that followed, Falkner and his longtime winemaker, Duncan Williams, worked feverishly on the most pressing crisis, rescuing what they could of the hundreds of bottles and barrels stored in the winery. They determined through lab testing which bottles could be sold and which had to be dumped.

A menu favorite at Pinnacle Restaurant in Temecula Wine Country is the Seared Salmon, with sautéed bok choy, cherry tomatoes, baby corn and edamame, drizzled with sweet soy reduction. Photo by Frank Mangio

Meanwhile winery headquarters was set up at Pinnacle Restaurant, which was spared the fire, although it took some 10 days to restore the power.

“We were able to save about 40% of our wine with the other 60% declared unfit for consumption,” Falkner said.

Neighboring winery Maurice Car’rie kindly allowed space and facilities for Falkner and Williams to get back to making wine and storing it, and continue in business, while the recovery continues.

Prior to the beginning of Falkner Winery in 2000, Ray Falkner was a sales executive with Microsoft , where he learned that perseverance pays, something that helped him beat the fire crisis. He also “redefined the word agile,” moving quickly and actively solving unique problems with skills that secured the recovery’s progress.

The new winery is in the planning stages with major upgrades and modern equipment while maintaining the same footprint. Large deck areas will afford maximum panoramic views, now currently seen at Pinnacle.

Pinnacle’s concept, created for an elegant lunch lover, was opened in 2006 offering a Mediterranean style menu and meticulous service to go along with the views.

Best of all, it offers the finest Temecula wines, craft cocktails and beer.. Under the care of Executive Chef Jason Barradas, Pinnacle was recently voted #1 Top Lunch Restaurant by area diners of Open Table. Chef Jason has been voted Best Chef two years in a row by Inland Empire Magazine. The restaurant is open Wednesday -Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Rico and I, reviewing the current release Falkner wines, loved the 2020 Viognier ($35). This white wine is a tropical, smooth, fruity peach, banana, guava favorite, sure to please when the days turn warm.

On the red wine side, thumbs-up for a longtime favorite of mine, the Falkner Amante Super Tuscan Style Red Wine, the latest a 2017 ($59.95). This is an excellent blend of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauv and 10% Cab Franc. Many of the Falkner wines are 90+-point, award-winning wines.

Falkner Winery’s first big Pinnacle event of this year is the Easter Champagne Brunch on Sunday, April 4, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The delicious premium menu, created by Chef Jason, will be a la carte Mediterranean style, with live entertainment. All guests over 21 will receive a complimentary glass of Champagne.

Reservations should be made ASAP by calling 951-676-8231, ext. 4, or online at falknerwinery.com.

Wine Bytes
  • Join L’Auberge Del Mar Friday and Saturday evenings for a new outdoor dining experience, with vibrant, live music, light bites or full dining experience. Call 858-793-6467.
  • Live music is back at the Loft, at Lorimar Winery Tasting Room in Old Town Temecula, from 4 to 7 p.m. every Friday and Saturday. For details and entertainers, call 951-694-6699.
  • Meet the winemaker of Castelli Family Wines, Mike Castelli, at Cork and Knife in Escondido. Sample the Castelli Syrah and Sangiovese wines, Wednesday, March 24, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. For more info, visit corknknife.com.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Reach him at [email protected]

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