When people think of wine there are certain locales that instantly pop into mind, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany and Napa Valley.
But here in Southern California, Temecula Valley’s blossoming wine country is producing excellent varietals that are earning accolades.
One such winery, Maurice Car’rie, has received 122 awards just this year in regional, state and international competitions for their diverse array of white, red and dessert wines.
For Maurice Car’rie General Manager Gary Van Roekel, entering award competitions is not necessarily about marketing, but it is about successfully gauging how Maurice Car’rie’s wines perform among a broad spectrum of competitors.
“Having a tasting room, you get interaction every day of the week, and that’s the general public and that’s really important to us,” Van Roekel said. “But then to be able to really take it to the next level, going to and entering your wines in the competitions, now you’re dealing with the industry experts. People who are experts in wine making, all aspects of the industry, so it’s another report that kind of tells you where you stand in the bigger picture.”
Winemaker Renato Sais said the winery, and the greater Temecula Valley Wine Country, is maturing. No longer is the wine country just a location for a weekend excursion; it’s become a haven for serious wine drinkers looking for high-quality vintages, he said.
“I think we’re making a statement that we can make good wines just like any other valley, whether it’s in California or any other country,” Sais said. “Our wines are up against all these other wineries, and we have had really, really good results and the numbers show it.”
Sais said there are lots of steps involved in creating the best wines possible. He said it starts early in the wine growing season with making sure that vines are pruned appropriately and are blooming well and that they are receiving just the right amount of water.
“Everything is about the quality raw material, which is the grape,” he said.
Once the grapes are plucked from Maurice Car’rie’s 74 acres worth of vines, the next stage is ensuring quality and taking all the steps to turn that raw material into the best quality wine possible, Sais said.
That includes monitoring the juice and sugar content in the grapes and also the temperatures during the fermentation process.
“Making sure that our fermentations are not totally warm, but cooler, in order to be able to exploit the aromas and the flavors,” he said.
Sais said it’s hard to pick out his favorite wines among the award winners because they’re like his children, but some of his favorites include the Chenin Blanc “Soft” and Gewurtztraminer, two lesser-known white wine varietals.
The 2015 vintage of Chenin Blanc Soft is crisp and clean with hints of apple and pear. Sais said Maurice Van Roekel herself wanted to add “Soft” to the label to acknowledge the way the wine goes down.
The Gewurtztraminer is white wine with lots of fresh fruit flavors and a little bit of sweetness to it. In an effort to maintain some of those fruity characteristics, it’s fermented in stainless steel and bottled early.
“It just gives phenomenal aromas and flavors,” Sais said. “Another variety that is not as common as riesling but it’s a varietal that’s outstanding. It grows perfectly here.”
In spite of its growing prominence and success, Maurice Car’rie Winery remains a family business in more ways than one.
Van Roekel said that many of the winery’s employees have worked there for decades and know the winery’s vines and its soil.
“This is a family-owned and operated winery, so we’ve got a big family here, and it really helps in being able to go from your vineyard to your end process because everybody is a stakeholder if you will,” he said. “They’re very much involved in the process.”
Family also plays a large role in the naming of the wines as well, with vintages such as Cody’s Crush, Heather’s Mist and Sara Bella being named after founder Budd Van Roekel’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Having a story, having something to talk about, I think was a great strategy early on,” he said.