As I sit down to write this, several hot-air balloons rise brightly over the vineyards just outside my room. Ahhhh, the Napa Valley early on a summer morning. Nope, not the Napa Valley, but another, much less celebrated California wine area, the Temecula Valley, deep in Southern California.
Northern Californians may think the vineyards of Temecula Valley have dried up and blown away because of an infestation of the glassy-winged sharpshooter and the vine-killing Pierce's disease it carries over the past seven years. Granted, one-fourth to one-half of the vineyard acreage in the Temecula Valley seven years ago has been removed, and the area is down to around 1500 acres in vines.
But vineyard acreage again is growing, and so is the number of wineries, now up to 25, double what it was seven years ago. As a measure of local confidence in the future of the wine industry here, the 200 members of Temecula Valley Wine Society are sponsoring for the second straight year a commercial competition. The content of all wines entered must be from at least 75 percent Temecula Valley grapes. At last count, 142 wines have been entered in the judging, which commences shortly. It's why I'm here, as one of five judges.
The theme of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association is "Taste the Place." By the end of the day I hope to know more about what Temecula has to say when it comes to expressing varietal intensity, stylistic clarity and sense of place. Right now I'm going to grab a cup of coffee and watch those hot-air balloons.