Historically I have not been a big fan of Temecula wine country. As of now that has changed.. completely! My most recent visit was a day trip and I completely fell vine over hills in love.
I am now a fan and I love Temecula wine country. Here are the top three reasons why:
Our first stop was Baily Vineyard & Winery, established in 1986 this family owned winery features Bordeaux style wines. The winemaker is Phil Bailey.
I tasted through almost all the wines on the list. My favorite was the 2016 Sangiovese, not a Bordeaux style wine, however a well made light body Italian varietal that had a perfect balance of fruit, spice and mild tannins. To be completely transparent I did not care too much for the white wines, they lacked the acidity that I usually crave in whites. The reds exceeded my expectations! It was difficult for me to single out a second place favorite, the reds were all delicious. Malbec, Cab Franc, and even a Meritage were all well balanced with typical flavor profiles and pleasing. We even tasted a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon who’s vines were planted in 1968. It was filled with the complexity,fruit layers and bit of funk you’d expect in an old vine wine.
The tasting room vibe was relaxed and welcoming. Cindy helped us and I could have not asked for a better hostess with the mostest! Tasting fees $15 for 6,bottle price $20-$65. No reservation required.
Stop #2 Winetasting at Vindemia
Next up was Vindemia Vineyards & Winery. I selected this winery for the view! The beautiful property sits on 7 acres of Temecula hilltop and over looks a good portion of valley’s vineyards. It also matched well with my theme for the day, “family owned and operated”. Winemaker Dave Bradley, his son Dillion and his wife all manage the resort like operation together. I say resort because this winery could easily be an all day experience, they offer hot air ballon rides in addition to wine tasting. The outdoor patio is perfect for a picnic and all day relaxing with wine. They focus on Rhône style varietals. My first taste was a viognier. The profile floral, then fruity with a bit of a leafy finish. Because the grapes come from Santa Ynez they maintained good structure with just enough acidity to spark a twinkle in my mouth. I also liked the Sangiovese, Charlie who guided us through our wine experience told me that Temecula is on the same latitude as Tuscany. No wonder red varietals from Italy do so well! At Vindemia we also tasted typical varietals you see in California. Tasting with Charlie was great! He guided us through a vertical tasting of their More Cowbell. It’s their proprietary red blend of Zinfandel and Cab Franc. We started with the 2013- a party wine, crowd pleasing, big fruit and a hint of sweetness on the finish. Next we tasted the 2015- it is a bit more serious, focused fruit and hints of bell pepper on the finish. A great wine for food. Last the vertical line up Charlie surprised us with the 2016- a perfect intersection of 2013 and 2015. It was big, with prominent dark plum and blackberry flavors, the finish rustic and earthy.
Tasting fees $25, Bottle price $32-$180
Stop #3 Palumbo Family Wines
Last but certainly not least was Palumbo. Pronounced like the 70’s TV show Colombo. This place was truly special. The reason I visited was because when I was doing research I read that the wine maker Nicholas Palumbo was also a grape grower ...a farmer!Palumbo specializes in red wine. Of course they poured what I now consider Temecula’s defining red grape Sangiovese. All the wines were excellent! By this last stop however I stopped taking details notes and simply enjoyed the wine. Plus the son Reed who manages the vineyard and also helps his Dad make wine stopped in in the tasting room and allowed my to ask more than 20 questions about his family, the farm and their winemaking techniques. All I could do was sip and enjoy every moment. I purchased two of the five wines we tasting: the 50/50 the Cab and Syrah blend and the Meritag. The tasting at Palumbo was a beautiful ending to a full day in Temecula wine country.
Tasting fee $15 per person. Bottle prices $45 - $52 ($100+ for library wines)
South Africa Redefined: Wine Master Class
South African wine master class at Republique Resturant in Los Angeles with some of the most innovative, proud, creative winemakers direct from SA to LA! What an honor to spend a couple hours learning from
Eben Sadie @sadiefamilywines
Graham Weerts @capensiswines
Abrie Beeslaar @beeslaar_wines
Sebastian Beaumont @beaumontwines
Adi Badenhorst @aabadenhorst
The the wines poured were an amazing example of the talent and care that goes into SA wines.
My key take aways:
-The soil in The Western Cape where the majority of wine grapes are grown is very diverse.
-The acidity in South African wines is uniquely higher than average and consistent. It adds so much texture to the wines that whites can even be enjoyed at room temperature.
-SA is more advanced in technology and research than its counterparts (France and the U.S. for example)
Bottom line South Africa is producing world class wines based on sites, technology and passion!
#southafrica #wosa #wine @ Republique
Part Three - The people and the culture
As my South African narrative came to its end I spent the last few days tasting with a group called Blacc. Friendship, support, knowledge, goals, professional, community are just a few words that come to mind when I try to describe what Blacc is. It’s a support group of mostly black professionals who work in the wine and spirits industry. Every Monday the group charters a couple buses and travels to a wine farm or distillery to learn and taste. My first trip with Blacc I was completely nervous. I felt like I was entering a world of wine scholars. Would they like me? Are my tasting skills equal to theirs? When I showed up I was welcomed with smiling faces and hugs. It was inspiring to be included in a group of people who take so much pride in their profession and are eager to learn. I found my network and my friend circle all in one. The fact that wineries open their doors with amazing food and wine also helped!
I left South Africa two weeks later than planned. It was hard to end my adventure. The last weekend of my stay I had a dinner party at my apartment to thank my new South African friends for a great adventure. As I looked around the room at the attendees I realized I had met so many new friends with diverse backgrounds. I don’t mean to name drop, however it’s important to share a bit of each of their stories because often times people don’t realize there are people who are proudly African ,make a positive impact on the continent and are happy and prosperous in Africa. There was the poet-professor, Diana Ferrus. There was a model turn talent agent, the bar manager from one of the hottest hip hop clubs, two top Sommeliers, the restaurant manager from one of the top hotels in Cape Town, a classically trained pianist, and even a few American friends I met while in Cape Town.
I hired a local chef to cook a Traditional African meal; grilled meats, Chakalaka and Pap. We shared a half case of wine I bought with me from America. For some it was there first time having a California Cabernet. With only background music we sat in my apartment, ate and talked about everything from history, current events, the effects of Apartheid and even dating. At the end of the night Diana Ferrus recited her famous poem “Sara, I am Tara
I've come to take you home – home, remember the veld?” . It is about Sarah Baartman the first recorded story of a woman abducted to work as a sex slave.
My African adventure story finally ended, I returned to America with a few cases South Africa wine and new international friends I collected along my journey. I went back to my corporate America narrative forever changed and my soul full of positive vibes. I feel excited to have witnessed first hand how the story of South African wine and people transform the way people all over the world think about Africa .
Part Two – Winemakers and Sommeliers
When harvest ended in early April my immersion in African wine culture continued. Have you ever heard the term Sapiosexual, it’s a person who is attracted to smart people. I need a term for people like me who are attracted to wine people...Winosexual? I am attracted to anyone who loves talking about wine, especially winemakers and sommeliers.
After harvest ended I spent most of my days tracking down winemakers at boutique wine farms. With my newly acquired knowledge from working harvest I created a list of questions. I’d happily skip into tasting rooms and politely request to chat with the winemaker. My favorite question, what grape do you enjoy working with? After all the acquired knowledge that was the best question I could think of. It turned out to be a great ice breaker. The winemakers would spend hours chatting with me and sometimes share special bottles of unreleased vintages or their special blends not sold for retail. The winemakers would share stories of their start in the industry, their side passions and their harvest experiences abroad.
One of my favorite visits was to Grangehurst. I met the owner/ winemaker Jeremy Walker. When I mentioned to Jeremy my particular excitement was about women and people of color involved in the wine industry he kindly boasted about graduating Stellenbosch University with the first world renown woman winemaker Dr. Hildegarde Heymann. He also very proudly introduced me to his assistant winemaker Gladis, a beautiful black woman who was extremely shy however passionate about wine. I could feel the passion beaming from her smile.
Jeremy spent a good amount of time talking to me about wine. He poured his vintage wines and talked Pinotage. Jeremy appropriately described the unique and diverse grape in a way that made the grape sound like the world class representation of South Africa that it is. All of Grangehurst wines are vintage, which I absolutely love. It’s like someone gifting me the patience and will power to lay down wine for a while. My favorite was the Nikela. I pronounce it Nike –LA however the correct pronunciation “ne-gay-la”. Nikela means a gift or an offering.
When I was not in the tasting room I was still tracking local wine makers on my hit list. I tracked down Ntsiki Biyela who makes Aslina wines. When trying to arrange a sip and chat she offered me an invitation to a Braai at her home. (A braai is a South African BBQ.) Of course I jumped at the opportunity. I went to her home a couple days before she was to start her USA wine tour. Just one year before I had met Ntsiki at PYDA (Pinotage Youth Development Academy) and interviewed her for my social media page. I was impressed with her story, a student with absolutely no experience with wine who excelled when offered a scholarship to study wine. After graduating Stellenbosch University she landed a job as a winemaker for one of South Africa’s most historic wineries and now has her own brand, Aslina. As you can tell I am a proud ambassador and somewhat groupie. A highlight of my African story, chilling in Ntsiki’s backyard taking selfies, grilling meats and talking about everything that matters in life; food, wine and music. I could not believe I was actually living the story I had once only dreamed about.
I eventually moved from the suburbs in wine country to the city center of Cape Town. The focused transitioned from conversations in lush vineyards to dining experiences in some of Cape Town’s high end, hip and fancy restaurants. Instead of tasting with winemakers at vineyards I sought out to taste at world class restaurants that had the best sommeliers. I started this adventure at the Cape Grace hotel. I arrived for an impromptu visit with Tinashe Marlvin Gwese. For him it was random, for me he was just another somm on my hit list!
One of my dreams when I was an adolescent protesting against Apartheid was to eventually visit the fanciest hotel in South Africa, lounge by the pool and order the fanciest meal and drinks they had. The Cape Grace is definitely one of the fanciest, the pool idea was out of the question due to the water crisis so I waited in the Cape Grace bar stalker style drinking specialty cocktails and wine for two hours until Gwese finally arrived to work. I was excited to meet the Zimbabwe born wine guru. He is the head somm at Cape Grace, a hotel that 30 years ago I would not have been allowed to lounge around in during the segregation era of Apartheid. Gwese was charming and professional. He offered my friends and I a bottle of MCC sparkling wine, we chatted for a bit and took selfies. Mission accomplished! One down and I had a couple more on my hit list.
The next Sommelier on the hit list was Luvo Young Ntezo at the famous One and Only hotel. I learned my lesson and made an appointment with Ntezo. The well-traveled Ntezo graciously gave me the time I needed for a behind the scenes look at life as a top Sommelier in South Africa. I literally thought I was going to burst from excitement as he toured me around the glass, climate controlled cellar. Although the One and Only had a great collection of international wines, I could see that Ntezo was most proud of the amazing collection of South African wines. Ntezo was responsible for sourcing both international and domestic wines for the One and Only. Some of the wines I was familiar with and proud I had the same in my collection. After the tour Ntezo sat with me on the patio to talk wine, people and passions. Although he could not share the names he did hint that he had pulled corks for some of my favorite celebrities. Although eloquent in his language and wine knowledge the conversation with Ntezo was humble and insightful. He made the most exquisite of fine wine sound like everyday table wines. No matter the wine French, German, Afrikaans he pronounced all like they were his native language.
Last but certainly not least my good friend, winemaker and head sommelier at the Test Kitchen Tinashe Nyamudoku. Over the past couple years Tinashe and I have become friends. When I visited South Africa for the first time three years ago I did research, looking for people excelling in the wine industry in South Africa and that is when I found out about Tinashe. From that moment onward he became the first South African Sommelier on my list. I was fascinated with his journey. Like myself he did not grow up in this wine life, our parents did not have fine wine with dinner neither had we grown up traveling the world tasting fine wine. Tinashe paired his natural talents, study, and hard work with amazing character to become one of the world’s top sommeliers. He gained international fame and has become a decision maker at the world’s number fifty restaurant, number one in all of South Africa. Let’s take a break and let that soak in.
A few days before I was to leave Cape Town Tinashe stopped by my apartment in Cape Town to drop off a few bottles of his wine, Kumusha. The wine is beautiful, a 50/50 blend of Cinsault and Cabernet Sauvignon. It drinks like a crowd pleaser but leaves an impression like the life of the party. Exactly what Tinashe intended. When I asked him “my favorite question, what grape do you enjoy working with?”, he replied “It’s about creating texture”, he explained that taste and feel was what he was after when making Kumusha. That afternoon Tinashe and I drank his wine, shared some wine from the US and exchanged stories about our wine experience in Africa. We talked about his wine and what it means to him, to African and to the wine world. He explained that the name Kumusha means a place where you come from, a community or neighborhood. He told me that his motivation for creating his own wine label was to extend his community into the wine world “by telling an African story through wine”. We share this desire and two years ago when we first met it was a dream that now we are both living. Reminds me of the Biggie Smalls lyrics, “It was all a dream, we used to read Wine Enthusiast (sp) magazine.”
I spent three months in the Western Cape of South Africa working a harvest and immersing myself into an African wine story. The goal was to narrate my own wine adventure. The timing was perfect, I escaped from my corporate American narrative just in time for harvest season in the Southern Hemisphere. This was definitely one of life’s bigger decisions for me. My rationale, I could always return to my ordinary story however the opportunity and fearlessness to live my dream as an adventure story may not return. My dream was to learn, to absorb and also to give back in a wine life. To help manifest this dream I wrote down three soul feeding objectives: work a harvest, volunteer and study wine.
Out of all the countries in the Southern Hemisphere South Africa was my number one choice for this adventure of a lifetime. I had previously visited the popular wine region Stellenbosch and was familiar with South African Culture and the wine community. South Africa is a beautiful place where people unite through past experiences. It’s rich in culture and budding traditions, especially in the wine industry. To be transparent, I especially love it because it’s the only place in the world where diversity is prominent in all aspects of the wine world. Workers in the vineyard, the cellar, the tasting room and sommeliers at world class restaurants, people are exceling in all shades which offered a perfect framework for my African wine story.
Now let’s go, take a virtual trip with me and live a South African wine story.
Part 1 of 3 - Harvest & Volunteering
I landed in Cape Town in March full of excitement and ready for whatever wine adventures were soon to come. A couple days later I eagerly reported for work at DeToren Wine Farm. I worked three weeks at DeToren, each day the team was surprised to see me back. Harvest is no walk in the park. Although the days were long and tiring, working harvest was a magical experience. I loved every moment! From picking and sorting grapes, to using every muscle in my body to break through the hardened yeast caps during punch downs, the repetitive pump overs to mix wine and move fermenting juice from one tank to another, and even the spotless cleaning required after every process, the narrative to my carefully crafted wine adventure was unfolding into a soul feeding experience. Every day seem to be filled with good people and better wine. One of my most memorable experiences at DeToren was working the sorting table where we hand selected berry by berry grapes for Book XVII wine. There I stood with migrate workers from Zimbabwe when Tim Atkin walks up, I greeted him with a friendly California hello. After he recognizes my accent and duly noted “positive American vibes” I did my best to inspire one who I thought was a tourist visiting the wine farm. I tell him that working harvest is the best way to learn about wine. (I am thinking to myself quit your job and come join me in the cellar.) I feel proud of myself for trying to recruit another member to my wine tribe. After he walks away, the intern ask if I knew who I was talking to. “Hum, well, yes he said his name was Tim Atkin” She replied “the world famous, Master of Wine, Tim Atkin.... one mention of your name by Tim and you become famous in the wine industry”. Well alright then Tim! For the rest of the day I could not get Beyoncé’s song out of my head...”say my name... say my name”.
One time the assistant wine maker at DeToren asked if I could help stomp grapes for the exclusive Black Lion Label. My heart jumped with excitement. He lower me by fork lift into an over-sized stainless steel crate full of freshly picked Shiraz grapes. I marched in the crate with my bare toes pressing and gently breaking the grape skins. I could feel the soul of wine wiggle between my toes. My own real life, “I love Lucy “moment. I could hardly believe the moment I was living… bare feet in fresh grape juice in the southernmost part of the African continent, blissful. (Not to worry part of the process is to sterilize your feet before the big stomp.)
On my days off from DeToren I volunteered at a school called PYDA, Pinotage Youth Development Association. It is a program that trains Black South Africans to work in the wine industry. The students are between the ages of 18 and 24 in this program they earn a well-rounded education in the wine industry that includes everything from learning about vineyard techniques, to working in a tasting room and even wine tourism. Since my first visit to South Africa I have made it a point to visit with the students. I share wines from America and knowledge about wine and entrepreneurship. This visit I taught an American wine class showcasing wines from all over America, New York to California and everything in between. I usually take an entire case to share with the students, it’s usually their first and in some cases the only time they may have an opportunity to taste a high end California Cab.
Before my first day of class the program director told me the program had grown. Great I thought until I realized that also meant I would have 50 students in my class. Hosting a wine tasting for 50 adults does not scare me, however for 50 youths between the ages of 18-24 made me nervous as heck. The class and tasting went well. So well that by the end of it the students were excited about American wines. We finished the day posing for selfies and exchanged social media information.
I was happy that I was able to share American culture through wine education. I even used hip hop to explain that the Fingers Lake region is in New York, on the East Coast and Napa on the West Coast, in California. Think Biggie from the East and Tupac from West.... oh now they understood the geography of the United States. Part of my volunteer time with the students included arranging a day to work in the Vineyards harvesting grapes. I reached out to my wine farm contacts and secured a farm for us to harvest grapes for a day. Vivian the owner at Seven Sisters helped organize and offered her neighboring tasting room for a Braai. I collected donations from my friends in America to buy food and we had one of the best Bria’s of my life. Oh a Braai is a South African BarBQ. Two of the students cooked on the grill while another group taught me how to dance to South African hip hop. That day I learned how to do the gara~gara and pretty much confirmed I am challenged with rhythm.
BBQ season is coming up, this means that most of us will either host parties or attend parties at homes. I have blundered the gifting of wine so many times that I thought the best way to teach wine gifting etiquette is to share my experiences. Here are three blunders and at the end I'll provide my tips to help your experiences be more successful.
I recently was invited to a dinner party. I bought two amazing and relatively expensive bottles of wine. One as a gift for the host and the other was something I wanted to share at the party. I had just come back from traveling to South Africa and hoped my wine would be a conversation starter. The host hoarded both bottles and stored them BOTH away.
Another time my boss, the CFO for the company I worked at invited me to his home for a BBQ. Of course I tried to show off and bought an expensive bottle of Napa Sparkling wine. I was greeted at the door by his housekeeper who politely relieved the bottle from my hands and placed it next to random grocery store selections other people bought.
Then there is the time I gave the host a bottle of well aged Bordeaux thinking they would enjoy it later. "Later" I found it lined up on the counter next to other beverages and red cups. Later in the evening I overheard another guest say the wine was bad as she poured it out because " there was stuff floating in it and it smelled like wet towels". No honey that is called sediment and rained on forest floor to wine lovers like me!
Here are some key tips:
✔️Know your audience and occasion.
✔️Always take a host gift. Wine is great however keep the bottle between $15-$25.
✔️If you would like to take wine as your food contribution contact host first and ask if it's ok.
Someone else's party is not your time nor the wine you love time to shine. Save great to excellent bottles of wine for parties you host, small intimate gatherings filled with wine lovers.
💞Good For Dates
🚺 Good for Solo
🎶 Live Music
Perch, Downtown - Classic and my go to spot when I don't want to risk having an awesome time. French inspired food and ambience. The food is delicious and the drinks are crafted with style and thoughtfulness. It's a rooftop bar and there is usually live music on Saturday and Sundays for Brunch. Great for small groups with large table seating, good for dates and awesome if you go alone. The friendly bar staff will make sure you feel included in the fun!
Yes bottomless mimosas or sangria options.
Omni, Downtown- If you like seafood and mimosas this is a must do! It is buffet style (although an a la cart menu option is not available) However, why do that when you can easily eat your way through $55 worth of crabs and shrimps. The $55 includes bottomless mimosas! Great for extra large groups and dates. Not really somewhere to go solo. That would just be weird!
Pearl, Hollywood- Honestly I love Pearl any night of the week and brunch is just an extension of that love fest. It's a roof top restaurant with half out and half in. The menu has a wide range of yummy entrees. They use some of my favorite ingredients like truffle oil, arugula,capers and oysters! Great for small groups and large groups with tactical planning. I'd say maybe to a solo outing, if you are very social. Definitely yes to date day or night.
Post and Beams, Crenshaw District- The food here is absolutely delicious. simple and ultra fresh ingredients are well prepared into upscale soulful entrees. The scene is trendy but down to earth. Denzel Washington has been spotted here occasionally. The outdoor patio is super comfy and host live music. Good for small groups with advance planning, yes to solo or date day! No to large groups.
Madera, Hollywood (East)- Out of town in town is the vibe here. The menu has a wide range of breakfast and Spanish inspired entrees. Please save room for desserts. The Churro donut with homemade ice cream is good enough to "make you slap your mama". Yes bottomless mimosas, great for groups small and large, yes to dates not to solo outings.
Doheny Room, West Hollywood- This is a place to see and be seen. Typical LA vibe with awesome cocktails and great food. Make your way to the rooftop that is where the action is with music by an in person Dj and bottomless mimosas. Great for all types, small, large, solo, and dates.
Sonoma Wine Garden, Santa Monica - With over 200 selections for wine this should be at the top of my list! Or maybe I am saved the best for last. At any rate SWG is everything you want on a Spring Afternoon in LA. Outdoor, couches ,live music, beach proximity and great food. This is an absolute must do! Yes to bottomless mimosas, yes to large groups, yes to date day and yes for solo.
Last night I kicked off California Wine Month by tasting at LA's new hot restaurant the Herringbone. The scene was a perfect cure for a bad case of fading summer nostalgia. The out door patio where the tasting took place set the stage for coolness, mingling,relaxation and sipping under the LA stars.
Cassandra Brown, LA's newest young hip Sommelier hosted this fabulous meet the maker opportunity. Her vision is clear, I can see already that she is going to contribute to the growth of LA's wine scene by providing space for amazing wines and beautiful people to collide.
There were two family owned wineries representing their brands; Vision Cellars and Gamble Family Vineyards. Both located in the North Coast;Sonoma and Napa Valley. I started off tasting a white and rose from Vision Cellars. The white was a unique blend of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. It had the aroma of Pinot Grigio and the taste of Sauvignon Blanc, with a slightly tender round bite to it. Next up was the Rose poured over ice cubes! I first tried without the ice and found it very approachable. 100% dry leaning towards the darker more meaty side of roses than the usual soft and pretty side. When poured over ice it kept its bright cherry flavor and tasted more like a refreshing cocktail. (Looks like I may be breaking my ice rule in the future )
Not wanting to ruin my palate for whites I switch over to the Gamble Family table to try their barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc. Interesting! The nose was pleasant however not that upfront aromatic citrus you get from Sauvs aged in stainless steel. My first impression of taste.... Spicy. Spicy like a hint of fennel, tropical citrus like pineapple.
Over all both wineries poured a diverse selection of delicious wines. I am excited to taste next week!
Tuanni Price, the owner of Zuri Wine Tasting. A wine Enthusiast and adventurer, loves everything about the wine experience