Bill Wilson, owner of Wilson Creek Winery, the winner of last year’s inaugural Cilurzo Award for “Winery of the Year,” awarded this year’s award to Robert Renzoni Vineyards & Winery. The award is named for the pioneering winemaking family of Vincenzo and Audrey Cilurzo, who planted the area’s first vineyards in 1968.
The Xenia awards honor local professionals – business owners and employees of local restaurants, wineries, hotels and other tourism-related entities – that demonstrate exceptional efforts to promote local tourism and provide customer service that exceeds expectations. The awards are presented by Visit Temecula Valley.
Ancient Greeks had a tradition of extending generous hospitality and courtesy to visitors who often traveled great distances to visit. It is that tradition – called Xenia in the Greek – that Visit Temecula Valley honors each year with its Xenia Hospitality Awards, now in its seventh year. This year’s celebratory event was held at Wilson Creek Winery March 14.
“I have seen a lot of growth in the area of tourism and hospitality since arriving in the valley nearly 30 years ago,” said Master of Ceremonies Gene Wunderlich, government affairs director for the Southwest Riverside County Association of Realtors. “The Temecula Valley has some pretty amazing and exceptional individuals who everyday act as service ambassadors in our various businesses.”
Local tourism generated $696 million in the past year. Lodging revenue accounted for $68 million with occupancy rates of 74.3 percent. Local tourism is targeted to be a $1 billion industry soon. The hospitality industry and how visitors are treated are key to that growth.
There are currently over 7,000 hospitality employees in the valley. Jan Smith, chair of the Hospitality Task Force and Ken Westmyer, first vice chairman of the Tourism Improvement District named 23 exceptional customer service professionals as recipients of the Spotlight on Service awards.
Those selected for their exceptional service are Anthony Howell, DCH Honda; Ines Vanella, Century 21 Award; Damian Perryman, Corner Bakery; Chanelle Castracion, Spuntino Pizzeria & Delicatessen; George Brizzolara, Meritage at Callaway; Walter Carter, Danza Del Sol Winery; Jacqueline Holt, Fire Kitchen – Temecula Creek Inn; Donald Catalano, Meritage at Callaway; Elena Holgren, Papyrus; Austin Mitchell, Bailey’s Old Town; Ashley Soro, GNC – Promenade; Michael Miles, Grapeline Wine Tours; Alexander Abbey, Romano’s Macaroni Grill; Leah Finn, La Masters Fine Jewelry; Ted Dorr, UPS; Rachelle Jo Jones, Olive Garden; Grace Dudural, Temecula creek Inn; Bill Geeson, A Grape Escape Balloon Adventure; Sam Sidoti, Promenade Temecula; Bonnie Tyler, Wiens Family Cellars; Donald Bryson, Baily’s Old Town; Briana Schular, Cork Fire Kitchen – Temecula Creek Inn; and Katelin Duty, La Masters of Fine Jewelry.
Wendy Holder of Wilson Creek Winery, last year’s winner, presented the 2016 Social Media award to Pechanga Resort & Casino. Holder noted their use of social media channels – over 530,000 Facebook, 11,000 Instagram, and 13,000 Twitter followers – to promote the Temecula Valley. Sean Macready, digital marketing manager, accepted the award.
Other nominees for the Social Media Award included, Bel Vino Winery, In the Loop, Peltzer family Cellars, Ponte Winery & Vineyard Inn, South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, Temecula Talk, Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival, Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association.
John Kelliher was named Ambassador of the Year. Last year’s winner Jeff Brown presented the award, citing Kelliher’s passion for the industry for over a decade.
“This organization has seen exponential growth in a multiple of ways within its property, bringing thousands of two-legged and four-legged visitors, both local and international to our beautiful Temecula Valley,” said Chef Leah DiBernardo representing E.A.T. Marketplace, last year’s winner. She presented the 2016 Hospitality Award to Galway Downs. Ken and Katie Smith accepted the award.
Other nominees for the Hospitality Award included, Corner Bakery Café, La Cocina Bar & Grill, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Old Town Community Theater, Promenade Temecula, Temecula Carriage Company, Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival, Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, Villa De Amore, Wiens Family Cellars and Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards.
Wilson presented the Cilurzo award for Winery of the Year to Robert Renzoni. He credited Renzoni for “their wonderful history of winemaking and strong family philosophy, creating high-quality award-winning, nationally and internationally-recognized wine, and their commitment to green technology which has brought special recognition to not only the winery but what the Temecula Valley is doing for conservation of its natural resources.”
Other nominees included Bailey Vineyard & Winery, Europa Village, Falkner Winery, Fazeli Cellars, Frangipani Estate Winery, Leoness Cellars, Lorimar Vineyards & Winery, Miramonte Winery, Monte De Oro Winery & Vineyards, Oak Mountain Winery, Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery, Ponte Winery, Wiens Family Cellars and Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards.
Lori Diamond, Director of Sales for Temecula Creek Inn, presented the 2016 Champion Culinary award to The Goat & Vine, noting their rankings in numerous top 10 favorite lists in Temecula and their involvement in community philanthropic activities.
Other nominees included 1909, Annie’s Café, Bluewater Grill, Cork Fir Kitchen at Temecula Creek Inn, Journey’s End at Pechanga Resort & Casino, and The Restaurant at Leoness Cellars.
The 2016 Welty Award for Tourism Professional of the Year was presented earlier at the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce Awards Gala. Last year’s winner, Gillian Larson of Reality Rally presented the award to Cherise Manning of A Grape Escape Balloon Adventure. The award recognizes “innovation, inspiration and industry leadership in branding the Temecula Valley as a premier tourism destination.”
“Like many of us here, I am blessed to live here in Temecula and do what I do everyday,” said Manning.
Visit Temecula Valley is the official tourism marketing organization for the area and has a memo of understanding to provide marketing/branding services for the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association. VTV serves as a resource for visitors with a Visitors Center adjacent to City Hall in Old Town Temecula and online resources at VisitTemeculaValley.com. For visitor information and assistance, please call (888) 363-2852 or (951) 491-6085.