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June 9, 2020

Temecula Wine Country: Not All Valley Floor

Temecula Wine Country

The first full day of our Temecula Wine Country press trip began with a precarious drive up to the Wild Horse Peak Vineyard. Of course, I was sitting on the side of the bus with the mountain drop off views. Deep breaths. I kept my head down and prayed for a safe ascent. Mind you, I have climbed Machu Picchu in Peru, and that bus ride up is much more precarious. As I get older, more things bother me that never did before.  Alas, we reached the top and enjoyed fresh air and sunshine, surrounded by vines and trees. 

Temecula Wine Country

Temecula isn’t resting on her laurels, as other California wine regions do. Jim Hart of Hart Winery tells us that “Temecula struggles with recognition” and that “their identity has not truly been honed”.  Part of this is because Temecula is a destination wine country and not a distribution wine country. Most Temecula wine is consumed locally, versus distributed across the country to restaurants and wine shops. Another identifier of Temecula is that all wineries in Temecula are family-owned. In fact, none are corporate-owned.

When you think of Temecula you think of warm temps, hot air balloons, and wine tasting. Yes, it does get warm here. Especially in the summer. But, Temecula actually has a Mediterranean climate. It leans more arid and benefits from good diurnal shifts (warm days and cool nights). Wild Horse Peak sits at 1,900 feet elevation. A full 500+ feet higher than any other vines in the area. This elevation gives temps 5-10 degrees cooler than the rest of Temecula. 

Why Wild Horse Peak?

The Wild Horse Peak property is owned by Jim Carter, who also owns South Coast Winery, Berenda Road Winery, and Carter Estate Winery. The 400-acre plot of land boasts 140 acres under vine, planted mostly in 1995-97.  According to Jon McPherson, winemaker at South Coast Winery and Carter Estate “the yields on the vineyards at Wild Horse Peak are historically cropped very low, the color and tannin development in the fruit always seems a bit higher than the valley floor, and the wines are more intense.” He tells me that they “have done tannin and color trials on the fruit and it is significantly higher than that of the valley floor.  This is attributed to the lower yields, higher altitude, and limited irrigation available.” The vines are watered from their reservoir, which in some years is very limited, based on rainfall. That brings us to the wines. 

Wild Horse Peak Tasting Notes

While standing on Wild Horse Peak, we tasted two wines with WHP fruit. Talk about enjoying wine directly at the source!

South Coast Winery Wild Horse Peak Syrah 2016 $30

This wine has a medium + body with a full-bodied, and textured (almost clay-like) feel. Lots of red fruit. Medium, well-integrated tannins. Great balance on this wine.

South Coast Winery Wild House Peak Syrah 2016

South Coast Winery Wild Horse Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $40

This is a 4-block blend, all Wild Horse Peak fruit. Sweet spice (vanilla) notes and savory (green) notes, plus baking spices. Dry, chalky tannins. Ripe, full fruit forwardness.

South Coast Winery Wild Horse Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Other Wild Horse Peak wines from South Coast Winery can be found at the link HERE.

While on our Wild Horse Peak jaunt, we also tried the below wines.  These wines do not have Wild Horse Peak fruit, but they are good examples of what you can expect from high-quality Temecula wines. 

Wiens Waxman Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 

Pyrazines and eucalyptus on the nose, but soft on the palate. Dare I say: delicate? Soft tannins. Tasting notes from Joe Wiens of Wiens Family Cellars: If Temecula Valley is a bowl, WHP sits on the southeast edge, and our Waxman Vineyard in La Cresta is the opposite edge of the bowl, northwest of the valley. We see good diurnal shifts, and cooler days being closer to the coast, and about 600 feet higher in elevation than the valley floor. The soils are less nutrient-rich, so we see lower yields (about 2 tons per acre), with very nice concentration and character from this site. 

Wiens Waxman Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Joe Wiens and his Waxman Cab Sauv

Hart Winery Reserve Volcanic Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 $52

This wine is asking to be laid down. A big boy Cab, not for the faint of heart. With full bodied, grippy tannins, according to Jim. #laymedown

Hart Winery Reserve Volcanic Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Wilson Creek Winery Cinsault 2016             

LOVE this wine. For those jonesin’ for a Pinot from Temecula, this is as close as you’re gonna get. And it’s good. Tasting notes directly from Gregg Penny royal, the vineyard manager at Wilson Creek Winery: The Cinsault is 100% valley floor Temecula AVA fruit from the First Light Vineyard. Cinsault is a heat-loving, floral soft wine with moderate but firm tannic structures. We sometimes refer to it as the warm climate Pinot Noir for the similarity in density and the commonality of rose in the bouquet.

Wilson Creek Winery Cinsault 2016

Gregg Pennyroyal and his Cinsault

Hart Syrah Volcanic Ridge 2016 $52

Love this guy. Feels like an Old-World Syrah. Slate and minerality on the nose. Tasting notes directly from Jim Hart of Hart Winery: grapes from a vineyard that is approximately 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean. 2400 feet elevation. The vineyard is surrounded by a wall made from volcanic rock cleared from the vineyard site. Much more of a cool climate Syrah.

Hart Syrah Volcanic Ridge 2016

Thank you for joining me to explore Wild Horse Creek in Temecula wine country. Cheers!

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you’re looking to Up Your Wine Game and Drink Better, consider booking a private in-person or virtual wine tasting experience.
Brianne Cohen Wine Educator
Brianne Cohen is a Los Angeles-based certified sommelier, wine educator, consultant, and writer.

Brianne has educated and entertained over 10,000 people through her in-person and virtual wine tasting experiences.

Brianne holds the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Diploma certificate, one of the most coveted wine certifications in the world. When she’s not helping people Up Their Wine Game, she can be found judging at international wine competitions

Brianne aims to make wine approachable and conversational, to surprise and delight with unexpected wine finds, and to give people knowledge (and confidence) about wine in their everyday lives.

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As a wine writer, I frequently accept samples for review on my  website and on my social media channels. Please contact me at to discuss sending samples for review. I promise to always be honorable with the samples. I will evaluate all wines in good tasting settings and with no distractions.

All reviews are my opinions, and mine only. Because of the volume of samples I receive, I cannot promise that all samples received will be reviewed, but I will do my best.

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