The 2019 Wine and Dine Year in Review


With an eye focused on 2020 (get it?), we thought it might be good to take look (sorry!) back at some of the more interesting stories in our area’s wining and dining world.

Here are some of the highlights month by month:

Temecula Valley is named to Wine Enthusiast’s Top 10 Wine Getaways list. Valley News/Courtesy photo
Members of Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, Visit Temecula Valley and wineries in Temecula Wine Country celebrate Temecula Valley being named to the Top 10 Wine Getaways list by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Wine country celebrates in January

Members of Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association and Visit Temecula Valley met Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, on the balcony at Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards to celebrate making the list of Top 10 Wine Getaways by Wine Enthusiast magazine in its February travel issue.

The story featured a short introduction by author Matt Kettmann with a touch of the history of the wine region, mentioning pioneers like Jon Moramarco and Ely Callaway and the “Rainbow Gap” that allows the Pacific Ocean breezes to cool the vines.

Kettmann mentioned about a dozen places visitors should go to taste wine and even mentions Galway Spirits and Thompson and Twain Prospecting Co. as places outside of wine country to stop for a cocktail.

Kettmann gave dining suggestions at winery restaurants as well as sharing Old Town Temecula’s plethora of dining options, including Espadin Mezcal and Cocina and E.A.T. Marketplace.

“We couldn’t be more excited about this award and to us, it means that people are paying attention to what Temecula has to offer,” Annette Brown, director of public relations for Visit Temecula Valley, said.

As winery owners, winemakers and stakeholders clinked glasses filled with Champagne, they reflected on what it took to get to this point.

“I’ve been in the valley for over 30 years, so for me it’s kind of like finally we’ve kind of broken through the glass ceiling of, ‘Yeah, they are OK. They do all right; the wines are decent,’” Jon McPherson, master winemaker at South Coast Winery, said.

“I think it’s a true honor to be named as one of the Top 10 winery destinations in the world,” Danny Martin, board president of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, said. “As president, of course, I’m totally biased, but I think we’re No. 1.”

Robert Renzoni stands near the spot overlooking the area that will become his new 8,100-square-foot storage facility. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Renzoni talks expansion in February

Sitting in the expansive patio area at Robert Renzoni Vineyards and Winery on a perfect afternoon, the owner of one of the most popular wineries in the Temecula Valley, is sipping water while enjoying lunch.

The fast-thinking and energetic Renzoni strikes people as a man who likes to stay busy. During an interview with the Valley News, he discussed his plans to build an 8,100-square-foot storage building on the northernmost portion of his property overlooking the winery and tasting room.

“I’m probably going to be breaking ground here within a month,” Renzoni said. “That will make us a 100% self-contained, self-sufficient winery. I should hopefully have everything done here by June.”

Phil Baily has been making wine in Temecula Wine Country since 1986. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Baily reflects on career in wine country in March

Surrounded by gigantic stainless steel wine tanks, Phil Baily was pushing buttons, inserting hoses and checking water lines as he cleaned the tanks to get ready to make a new batch of wine.

The winery owner and winemaker has been crafting premium vintage wines since 1986, when, after 15 years as a consulting actuary, Baily and his wife, Carol, and two young sons left San Marino for Temecula.

“I was ‘Billy Businessman,’ and Carol was a stay-at-home mom in San Marino,” Baily said. “We decided we wanted to move to the country and figure out what we would do when we got here. And that’s what we did.

“We started growing grapes, getting to know the people here, and all the other winery owners all came from other professions and they encouraged us. So, by the mid-80s, we made the decision to start the winery,” Baily said.

To say, Baily had an extensive background in winemaking when the couple moved to Temecula would be an overstatement.

But there was a solid interest.

“We’d always been very interested in wine,” Baily said. “We’ve always enjoyed wine with our dinner, and we’ve always visited wine countries, going back to when we first got married in the 60s.”

Now almost 30 years later, Baily was asked whether he ever saw himself cleaning giant tanks all by his lonesome in his expansive winemaking facility.

“Carol and I are both hands on people,” Baily said. “You know, we like to do things, and we are horrible managers. We don’t like to tell people what to do. We like to do things ourselves. When we started, we always envisioned that we would be getting our hands dirty and doing it. We never envisioned a time when we wouldn’t be doing it and where we’d be delegating it.”

Monsignor Tom Burdick delivers his blessing of the vines at South Coast Winery’s Blessing of the Vines event Sunday, April 7. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

South Coast vines were blessed April

Whether or not Monsignor Tom Burdick’s blessing at South Coast Winery’s Blessing of the Vines event Sunday, April 7, worked or not would only be known six months later.

The monsignor offered blessings for a fruitful growing season in 2019 and noted that the blessings he performed last year seemed to work considering the amount of rain the region got in the past winter.

“I was praying for rain and we got good rain this year,” Burdick said. “I’m hoping the blessing takes the vintage one level higher, but it’s always a hope and a prayer, and all the credit over to God.”

Winemaker Javier Flores said he thought the blessing was a good one and that it will work.

“It will, I believe, I have faith,” Flores said. “This year, I think with this kind of weather, we have a very successful harvest. With the rain from last year we have enough water underground, the set of the vines, it looks like it’s going to be a nice set.”

Flores said as long as temperatures continue to trend the way they have been – not too hot and hot too cold with good differentials from night to day – the harvest should be better than last year.

It was.

Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association President Phil Baily, right, stands with the family of Ben R. Drake who was inducted into the TVWA Hall of Fame during the 36th annual Grape Day conference, April 18. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Drake inducted in April

When Ben R. Drake lost his battle with cancer in November 2018, the loss greatly impacted his family, friends and colleagues near and far.

In Temecula Wine Country, losing Drake left a giant hole that many in the grape growing and winemaking industry feel will never be completely filled.

Drake was president of Drake Enterprises Inc., which he owned and operated for more than 37 years, and managed hundreds of groves and vineyards in the Temecula Valley and beyond.

He spent decades serving on boards and commissions both locally and statewide that provided him the opportunity to have an impact on and provide leadership in the industry and while carrying a torch for the Temecula Valley region.

“Nobody really could (fill his shoes),” Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association President Phil Baily said. “He was drawn to that kind of work and he was a vineyard manager, there are many vineyard managers, but his real contribution was serving the industry. That takes a unique personality and he was just a unique person and a real leader. Nobody can really take up his mantel.”

Considering Drake’s breadth of accomplishments and immeasurable impact on Temecula Wine Country, the TVWA chose to induct him into its Hall of Fame during the 36th annual Grape Day conference, April 18, at South Coast Winery.

“One of the most important things in our industry is having the respect of our peers and Ben helped us get that,” Baily said. “He was just fantastic.”

Robert Renzoni pours a glass of montepulciano from the barrel during the De Portola Wine Trail’s 10th annual Big Red Fest Sunday, April 28. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

De Portola Wine Trail hosts 10th Big Red Fest in April

You could forgive folks who attended the De Portola Wine Trail’s 10th annual Big Red Fest for slowing down, sipping a little more slowly and taking in the view from one of the member winery’s patios in the late afternoon Sunday, April 28.

That’s because Big Red Fest offered plenty of 3-ounce tastings of big, bold red wines paired with appetizers to please their taste buds and fill their bellies.

Gershon Bachus Vintners’ Christina Falik said she spent the whole day before making the shepherd’s pie they served at the event, making sure all of the people that came to the event left satisfied.

“It’s important to make them happy. You have to send them away with a full belly and a smile on their face,” Falik said. “I would say we had about 40% newcomers, which is what we strive for and everything flowed really, really well. Everybody seems happy. I think we had a really good 10th year.”

Falik estimated that more than 750 attended this year’s event.

Carter Estate Winery’s Wine and Chocolate Pairing Experience is available exclusively on Fridays and features estate wines paired with chocolate created by nearby Sugarplum Farms. Courtesy photo/Carter Estate Winery

Carter Estate offers new wine and chocolate experience in May

Carter Estate Winery in Temecula revealed a new experience that wine and chocolate lovers didn’t miss when it paired with the nearby Sugarplum Farm to create the Wine and Chocolate Pairing Experience.

“We have a lovely person that we’ve partnered with that’s actually just right up the street from us and she is incredible,” Krystal Aponte, director of tasting room and wine club operations, said. “She’s got these beautiful truffles that she presented to us, and we thought chocolate and wine, of course, is an amazing pairing. So, we sat down, tasted a couple of different wines, with her different chocolates and customized a full flight that works with the pairing offerings that we do.”

Big and Rich perform for the crowd at the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival Sunday, June 2. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival closes in May, opens in June

Temecula Wine Country’s biggest event of the year offered wine lovers more than 60 different wines from up to 20 wineries during event at Lake Skinner Recreation Area, May 31-June 2.

In addition to wine tasting, there were plenty of local and regional breweries on hand, shopping, morning balloon launches, live music plus the “Toast the Glow” experience in the main stage amphitheater.

The concerts featured performances by Chase Bryant, A Thousand Horses and Russell Dickerson Friday, and Saturday headliners Three Doors Down were joined by Soul Asylum and Dishwalla. Big and Rich with Russell Dickerson rocked the crowd Sunday.

Gerry and Rosie Wilson are the heart and soul of Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyard. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Rosie and Gerry Wilson tell their story in June

Who could know that a chance meeting on a train would turn into a friendship, then a marriage, then children and finally an award-winning successful winery in Temecula Wine Country?

In the 1970s, Rosie and Gerry Wilson moved their family west to South Pasadena where they would soon become the unofficial parents to all the children in the neighborhood, according to their eldest son, Bill Wilson.

When his parents were retiring and considering moving to Solvang to be closer to their daughter, Bill Wilson was at a crossroads in his career. That’s when he approached his parents and siblings with the idea of opening a winery in Temecula.

“We used to come down here to play golf,” Gerry Wilson said. “Never dreaming we would ever live here, much less be in the wine business.”

But, their son’s suggestion was an intriguing proposition, and Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyard was born.

Today, the couple lives on the property and visitors can find them almost every day milling around the winery, taking pictures with guests and espousing the wisdom they have each accumulated over their more than 85 years.

When Valley News caught up with them over a late lunch on a warm summer day last week, no sooner were they out of their golf cart when a young lady came over to introduce her young daughter to Gerry Wilson and remind him of when she worked at the winery nearly a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Rosie Wilson had hopped out of the cart and was clearing wineglasses that had been left on tables in the patio area to take them for cleaning.

With their Wilson Creek Winery shirts and name badges on, they were now on duty, and to them, that means continuing to love and care for the property and business they have built into one of the strongest in the valley.

The decision to take a chance on a 20-acre plot of land out in the middle of nowhere instead of spending their days on a golf course has paid off they said.

“Oh, this is much more fun,” Rosie said. “I think this has kept us young.”

Veterans and first-responders participate in the American Patriot Music Project’s STEM Guitar Building Project from June 27-30 at Doffo Winery. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Doffo hosts veterans workshop in June

Thanks in part to a selfie taken by Mayor Pro Tem James Stewart at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Naval Branch Health Clinic Temecula, four men, one woman, veterans and a first-responder California highway patrolman, had the opportunity to participate in American Patriot Music Project’s STEM Guitar Building Project June 27-30, at Doffo Winery.

The five participants built their own electric guitars during the four-day instructional program led by Tom Singer of the STEM Guitar NSF Project with a team of three to four instructors from Sinclair College and Edmonds Community College.

“We are the first veteran service organization that the STEM Guitar Building Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, has worked with as part of their guitar building projects that have been at the college instructional level for about 10 years,” American Patriot Music Project’s Tony “T-Bone” Villegas Jr. said.

The American Patriot Music Project sponsored the participants with money donated to the local group by the city of Temecula.

“In December 2018, the city of Temecula was notified about a Twitter sweepstakes held by Utility Service Partners to show support for the military in your city,” Brandi Bemoll, social media specialist for the city, said.

“USP asked local, state, and federal government employees to post a selfie on Twitter using #HeroesInMyCity and #USPSweepsEntry to enter a sweepstakes for $4,000 to be donated to the winning entries’ veteran nonprofit of choice. The city of Temecula won the sweepstakes with our entry of Mayor Pro Tem James Stewart’s selfie at the ribbon cutting for the Naval Branch Health Clinic Temecula.”

“I love that they work with veterans in something totally different, music,” Stewart said. “And the fact that they are a local band helping veterans build guitars was a very unique concept.”

Barrel Republic is hoping to move into its newest location at Third Street and Mercedes Street in Old Town Temecula by the end of the year. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

In June, Barrel Republic talked Temecula opening

According to owner and president of Barrel Republic, Dave Pike, the pour-your-own craft beer and restaurant was shooting for a late 2019 opening at its new Third Street location in Old Town Temecula.

So far, it hasn’t happened. But the plan is still in place. Barrel Republic “coming soon” signs are still posted at the Third Street and Mercedes Street location.

Previously occupied by Third Street Bar and Grill, Barrel Republic is purchasing the building outright, after first planning to move into the former location of Serendipity Antiques on Main Street.

“The Main Street location is still a gem and (we) have plans to develop something fantastic there in the near future,” Pike said. “We just thought purchasing an existing restaurant would be more efficient and get us open sooner.”

Founded in San Diego, Barrel Republic currently has three locations and features a self-pour tap system where guests receive an arm bracelet. Once they have the bracelet, guests can visit each tap and try as little or as much of each craft brew as they want – there is a limit to how much each customer can drink during a visit – and they pay at the end of the visit.

“Barrel Republic offers a fun and social dining experience,” Pike said. “With over 50 top craft beers on tap and allowing our customers the fun and liberating experience of pouring their own beer, ‘Freedom to Pour’ is our trademarked slogan. We will also feature many wines on tap as well.”

Akash Patel, middle, stands with his parents, Rey, left, and Nalini in the vineyard in front of the family’s Akash Winery. After six months of renovations, Akash Winery held a grand opening party Saturday, July 27. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Akash hosts grand opening party in July

Akash Winery and Vineyards hosted its official grand opening party Saturday, July 27, after spending about six months serving wine at a local business while improvements were made to the property.

“How excited are we to be finally, officially opening the doors to our newly renovated venue,” Sharon Cannon, director of operations at Akash Winery, said.

The winery, which is seven years in the making, spent the last six months improving its main structure and installing infrastructure.

She said everyone at the winery is excited to see familiar faces return to the property.

“What are we most excited about is inviting all of our members back and seeing their faces when they see what we have done,” Cannon said. “And just being able to talk to and interact with them all again, we have really missed the regular faces. And also being able to meet new guests and potential members.”

General manager Ken Zignorski stands with Monte De Oro’s award-winning 2015 Petite Sirah, which was mixed into an all-star lineup of petite sirahs during a blind tasting event. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Monte De Oro hosts August blind tasting event

Monte De Oro Winery hosted a blind tasting Friday, Aug. 16, featuring its award-winning petite sirah against competitors.

The winery’s 2015 Petite Sirah was recently awarded a Double Gold Medal, a 98 Point Rating, was named Best Red Wine in the Southern California Region and best Petite Sirah in all of California – so they’ve decided to put it to another test.

The Monte De Oro staff collected the best varietals from varying regions to put together an all-star tasting event.

A glass of sangria sits on a table overlooking the Pool at Bottaia. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Bottaia opens new pool experience in August

“La Dolce Vita” means “The Sweet Life” in Italian and that’s exactly what the Pool at Bottaia aims to offer guests to the new pool, bar, and cafe facility in Temecula Wine Country.

While Bottaia Winery is open by reservation only, is strictly for adults ages 21 and over and is designed to offer an upscale experience for wine drinkers, the Pool at Bottaia is family friendly, a little more relaxed but luxurious nonetheless.

For parents of young children who enjoy wine, it may be the best way to experience Bottaia’s Italian varietal wines without having to leave their children at home with a babysitter.

“For me, the pool and cabines at Bottaia are a nostalgic reminder of happy summers spent at the beaches of Grado and Lignano, a few miles south of Udine, Italy, where our family is from, with my aunts and cousins,” managing partner Claudio Ponte said. “I remember changing into my swimming suit as a 6- or 7-year-old and marveling that everyone had their own cabine with a shower. A few years later, now a young teen, I was allowed to take the bus with other local kids to the same beaches. It seemed so exciting.

“Now that 45 years have passed, I can see that it all was, oh, so quaint and innocent. We welcome our adult guests to spend warm days at the Pool at Bottaia with their children and grandchildren, enjoy the sun, the vineyard views, the cabines, and why not, while the kids swim, a nice meal and a cocktail,” Ponte said.

More than 100 supporters of Rancho Damacitas Children and Family Services attend a five-course Bottaia wine-paired dinner with live music by the Temecula Valley Symphony and the Temecula Valley Players. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Black Tie Bottaia raised funds in August

More than 100 people donned their finest to attend Black Tie Bottaia, a fundraising dinner to support the efforts of Rancho Damacitas Children and Family Services Tuesday, Aug. 27, hosted by Ponte Winery at Bottaia Winery in Temecula Wine Country.

“This is absolutely amazing,” Cal Winslow, CEO for Rancho Damacitas, said. “It’s a lifetime event; it really is. There’s a lot of new wineries being built, but to have the experience of trying one outright at the very beginning and to have a beautiful night like this – it’s a gorgeous setting.”

Ponte Winery and Bottaia Winery provided a five-course, wine-paired dinner for every ticketholder that included a butter lettuce salad with Bottaia’s 2017 Verdicchino; a diver scallop with black lentils paired with a 2014 Barbera; a cucumber and gooseberry granita for intermezzo; a filet mignon and potato ragu paired with a 2017 Sangiovese and strawberry shortcake paired with a 2017 Toppano.

The dinner was held on Bottaia’s Club Terrace as the sun went down.

Julie Ngo, the chair for Rancho Damacitas Children and Family Services board of directors, came up with the idea to create an elevated event that would serve as the ultimate fundraising event for the nonprofit.

“I wanted to do a different type of fundraiser,” Ngo said. “I wanted to up the game a little bit; I wanted to incorporate elements that people never see. The Temecula Valley Players, Temecula Valley Symphony, a beautiful venue and then just … people.”

Twisted Gypsy, a Fleetwood Mac tribute band, performs Friday, Aug. 30, for fans at Thornton Winery. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo
Warrant rocked the Wiens Family Cellars stage to close out the Toyota of Temecula Summer Concert Series Friday, Sept. 6. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Music filled the air in September

Hot summer days mean hot summer nights and Temecula Wine Country was buzzing all summer long with live bands performing into the late evening at several establishments.

From cover bands like Twisted Gypsy at Thornton Winery to Stairway to Zeppelin at Bel Vino Winery and Kodi Lee sharing the stage with headlining Warrant at Wiens, music fans had the best of both worlds with wines and live music flowing freely all over wine country in September.

Temecula Valley Symphony performs at the second annual “Symphony in the Vines” concert at Wilson Creek Winery Sunday, Sept. 15. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Wilson Creek hosts “Symphony” in September

Originally, the “Symphony in the Vines” concert proposed by Wilson Creek Winery founders Rosie and Gerry Wilson was intended to be highlighted by a harvest moon hanging over the outdoor stage at the winery.

This year, though the moon struggled to peek through the evening clouds that formed, the community showed up in even greater numbers as more than 400 purchased tickets for the event.

“Well, the moon doesn’t seem to be cooperating, but we sold more than 400 tickets for this,” Gerry Wilson said. “I am so glad to see so many people coming out to enjoy this kind of music.”

The symphony, led by Temecula Valley Symphony conductor John Mario performed music from John Williams, “Game of Thrones,” Ed Sheeran, “The Greatest Showman,” Andrea Bocelli, Broadway, Freddy Mercury from Queen, Beethoven and more.

South Coast winemaker Javier Flores takes a photo with a contestant at the annual Grape Stomp celebration Sunday, Sept. 15. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Grapes pay the price in September

For the hundreds of people that came out to participate in South Coast Winery Resort and Spa’s annual Grape Stomp celebration Sunday, Sept. 15, they were willing to sacrifice cleanliness for fun.

Owners Dawn and Jim Carter were on hand, as were winemakers Jon McPherson and Javier Flores to celebrate the start of harvest season with a harvest moon hanging overhead.

After dinner, the Grape Stomp competition began pitting two-member teams against each other in several rounds of competition.

While one team member was in the barrel crushing grapes with their bare feet, the other member of the team was collecting juice in a bottle. A winner was announced when one of the teams was able to fill up their bottle.

More than 300 people come out to Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association’s CRUSH Wine and Culinary Showcase, which took place Saturday, Sept. 29, at Monte De Oro Winery. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

CRUSH turns chilly in September

From poke to montepulciano, hundreds of people braved a chilly, sometimes wet evening to indulge in offerings 38 Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association member wineries and more than a dozen local restaurants.

Ticketholders had the opportunity to mix and mingle with winery owners and winemakers from 38 wineries from Temecula Wine Country, sampling some of their best varietals.

In between sips, patrons visited participating restaurants such as Baba Joon’s Kitchen at Fazeli Cellars, Baily’s Old Town, Bluewater Grill, Cafe Champagne at Thornton Winery, Cork Fire Kitchen at Temecula Creek Inn, Devilicious Eatery, Luna Grill, Mama Rosas Trattoria at Robert Renzoni Winery, Meritage at Callaway Winery, Monte De Oro Bistro at Monte De Oro Winery, Nora’s Empanada Factory, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Pinnacle at Falkner Winery, Sangio’s Deli at Cougar Vineyards and Winery and Vineyard Rose Restaurant at South Coast Winery Resort and Spa.

There was live music provided by Season 8 “American Idol” contestant, Kai Kalama, and the event was sold out.

A contestant in the men’s lederhosen contest works for votes during Bel Vino Winery’s Oktoberfest Friday, Oct. 18. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Oktoberfest on tap at Bel Vino in October

The German beer was flowing and the bratwurst sizzling during Bel Vino’s Oktoberfest Friday, Oct. 18.

Attendees dressed in their finest lederhosen and dirndls to win prizes and battled each other during stein holding contests.

Music was provided by the Kalifornia Krauts, providing authentic and Oktoberfest-popular tunes throughout the night.

Refuge Brewery provided German Kohlsch for attendees and they waited patiently for authentic German bratwurst, hot off the grill. Bel Vino wine was available all evening long inside the tasting room.

It was the first-ever Oktoberfest event to held at the winery.

Gizella and Imre Cziraki have owned Bella Vista Winery in Temecula Wine Country since 2004 and recently have returned the winery to update and improve it. Their work is paying off as their wines have been winning medals consistently over the past two years. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Bella Vista Winery talks about future in October

Gizella and Imre Cziraki aren’t ready to retire anytime soon. They said they’re having too much fun running one of the oldest wineries in Temecula Wine Country, they said, during an interview with the Valley News.

While sitting down with Imre Cziraki in the morning at the winery to talk about everything they had going on at Bella Vista Winery, formerly Cilurzo Winery, Gizella Cziraki was busy milling around, cleaning up, organizing and getting ready for a day of business.

The friendly couple has owned the winery since 2004, but in the last few years, they have made a concerted effort to update and improve the facilities, tasting rooms and property, which is one of the biggest plots in wine country.

After selling his machine shop in Cerritos, Imre Cziraki and his wife came back to work at the winery full time a year ago. They have once again began advertising and marketing the business and beginning to see results.

Recently, the winery has been collecting medals for the wines they grow on the property and at their vineyard in La Cresta, which he has owned since 1982.

Imre Cziraki hails from Hungary and started making wine at age 7 with his grandfather, who raised him. He said he’s been drunk three times in his life – age 7, 14 and 40 – so, he got the winery bug early in life.

“He made the best wine in the area,” Imre Cziraki said. “And I was always by his side. They had competitions all the time and he took all the glory every year. I was always fascinated by how he made the wines he made. I said, when I grow up, I am going to be like him and have a winery. “So, it took me a long time to grow up,” he said.

The Bank Mexican Restaurant and Bar closed and has been reimagined as The Bank – Plates and Pours starting Thursday, Nov. 22. Valley News/Courtesy photo

The Bank makes a switch in November

After 41 years of serving up authentic Mexican food to visitors in Old Town Temecula, The Bank Mexican Restaurant and Bar owner Craig Puma told the Valley News that they have reimagined the restaurant and were taking it in a new direction to do business as The Bank – Plates and Pours.

Puma said they made the change to “step up their game” to meet the demands of potential customers flocking to a burgeoning Old Town Temecula cuisine scene.

The restaurant debuted a brand-new menu, which Puma described as “Mexican with a Pacific Rim flair.”

To execute and develop the new menu, the Pumas hired Jake Takao, a local with 30 years in the community and in restaurants.

“He’s bringing a whole different flair to the restaurant and for the community,” Puma said.

The Prestifilippo family are working on a new concept restaurant, Bottega Italia, in Old Town Temecula to go along with their two other restaurants, bar and wine bar in the city. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Prestifilippo announces plans for new restaurant

When Alex Prestifilippo moved to Temecula more than 20 years ago, he could never have imagined he would still be here today, the owner of two restaurants in town.
Make that three restaurants – if all goes well – he announced in November.

Prestifilippo and his wife, Charity, announced to the Valley News in an interview pertaining to the 20th anniversary of their wildly popular flagship Gourmet Italia restaurant that they had just that day submitted plans for a new restaurant concept in Old Town Temecula.

Bottega Italia will open in April or May and add the new venue to Prestifilippo’s current businesses – Gourmet Italia, Spuntino Pizzeria and Delicatessen, The Bar Next Door and Poggio Leano Winery and wine bar.

“I thought I was done, to be honest with you, because that’s a lot of stuff on my plate,” Prestifilippo said. “I am a person that is always thinking; it doesn’t stop. So, a few months ago I was approached from somebody in Old Town, a Realtor, and they offered me this beautiful spot in Old Town. They said we want you in this spot.”

Families pose for photos with Santa Claus during South Coast Winery Resort and Spa’s annual Tree Lighting Festival Sunday, Dec. 1. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Christmas arrives at South Coast in December

South Coast Winery Resort hosted about 300 of its closest friends and wine club members at its annual Tree Lighting Festival in the winery’s courtyard, Dec. 1.

The event featured a photo booth, Mad Hatter craft station, rides on tractor and horse-drawn carriages, cookie decorating, choir and caroler performances and, of course, photos with Santa Claus.

Three young members of the Carter family helped throw the switch to light the tree.

“We’re a big family, I am the youngest of seven kids, and so we’ve always celebrated in a big way with a lot of people,” Jeff Carter, chief financial officer of South Coast Winery Resort, said. “So, this is kind of like bringing everybody in close to have a family celebration. Involving the kids is important to us because sometimes in wine country it’s all about the parents having fun, but there’s also a time and a place for the kids to have fun as well.”

“It means a lot to the wine club members and spa members, the people who stay with us all year-round like to come out and celebrate their special holidays with us,” Karl Kruger, managing director of South Coast Winery Resort, said. “But what it means to us also is we get a chance to reach out to new customers and bring them in. We get many people who come out, enjoy the wine and the event and stay overnight. Then they’ll come back for a Vineyard Rose dinner for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We like the events.”

South Coast Winery Resort’s master winemaker Jon McPherson talks about his wines as his partner, winemaker Javier Flores, describes the wines from Carter Estate Winery in the background. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo
A guest takes in the aroma of a wine during the Blind Taste Temecula Valley event Thursday, Dec. 12, at South Coast Winery Resort. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

TVWA’s Blind Tasting event switches gears in December

More than 200 wine lovers sipped and savored wines from some of their favorite wineries, Dec. 12, during Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association’s first-ever Blind Taste Temecula Valley at South Coast Winery Resort.

Tables of roughly 10 people apiece enjoyed an evening of blind tasting wines provided by the wineries of their choosing with information and descriptions provided by winery owners and winemakers.

After the group sipped and judged each wine, the consensus was made as to which of the wines they enjoyed during the evening was their favorite.

After dinner, the winners were announced and people could try the wines chosen by neighboring tables.

Participating wineries included Akash Winery, Baily Winery, Carter Estate Winery and Resort, Danza del Sol Winery, Doffo Winery, Falkner Winery, Fazeli Cellars, Hart Winery, Leoness Cellars; Maurice Car’rie Winery, Miramonte Winery, Oak Mountain Winery, Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery, Robert Renzoni Vineyards, South Coast Winery Resort and Spa, Thornton Winery, Wiens Family Cellars and Wilson Creek Winery.

Bolero Cellars is nearing completion at Europa Village, and they expect to open it to the public by the end of March 2020. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Europa Village talks Bolero progress in December

According to Europa Village’s director of winery operations, Leonard Lavyn-Grose, the winery was always envisioned to be a venue that presented three of the world’s best wine regions.

With the building of Bolero Cellars beginning to take shape in Temecula Wine Country, the vision set forth by founder and chairman Dan Stephenson is starting to become a little more of a reality.

Stephenson bought the land for the project around 2006, but a market crash slowed the project.

Instead of pursuing the original building, they embarked on creating Europa Village first.

“His goal was to get this started, get the clientele base going, get the revenue source generating,” Lavyn-Grose said. “That way, once the economy fully recovered, then we could start. That’s the phase that Bolero is in.”

The sprawling Spanish winery will feature a large tasting room, restaurant, dedicated members room, retail shop, outdoor seating areas, conference space, 10 casitas and all the facilities needed for a wedding to be hosted at the facility.

They broke ground in November 2018, and Bolero Cellars should be ready to open by the end of March.

The Goat and Vine will move into the building that currently houses The Nightingale restaurant that is also owned by the Trevithick family. According to owner Brad Trevithick, it didn’t take long for The Goat and Vine location to outgrow its space. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Owners announce in December that Goat and Vine to move

One of Old Town Temecula’s hottest dining locations will be closing its doors. But don’t worry The Goat and Vine devotees, they will reopen, bigger and better than ever, according to owner Brad Trevithick.

The restaurant with a stone hearth kitchen crafts gourmet pizzas, rustic bread for sandwiches, salads, appetizers and serves craft beer and wine, will move into the space currently occupied by another Trevithick restaurant, The Nightingale, inside the Truax building.

“We outgrew and overwhelmed the space on Fifth and Mercedes a long time ago,” Trevithick said. “It lacks the infrastructure we need to operate at our best. We desire a better work environment for our team and the ability to serve our community better.”

There was another issue at hand.

“Our lease expired and was up for renewal,” Trevithick said. “Our landlord wanted to increase rent to a level that didn’t work for us. Although we’ve known for a while now that we need to move, this is the catalyst that has caused the timing. We feel fortunate that we have a space ready to go that can allow for a quick transition.”

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at