Visit Temecula Valley announces Xenia winners via Zoom

Robin McCoy, director of culinary instruction at Oak Grove Culinary Creations, right, accepts the Champion Culinary Award while Tammy Wilson, executive director of Oak Grove Center, watches. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Kimberly Adams, president and CEO of Visit Temecula Valley, welcomed everyone to a live Zoom event celebrating a year’s worth of service and hospitality shown by the area’s top businesses.

The COVID-19 pandemic was at the forefront of everyone’s mind during the annual Xenia Awards Tuesday, July 21.

“Think back to last year’s phenomenal success and the promise of another great year in 2020,” Adams said. “Who would have ever guessed we would experience a once in a lifetime pandemic. The great news is we are a community of resilient, successful oriented hospitality professionals, and we are enthusiastically bringing our tourism economy back today.”

Bea Barnett, superintendent of Temecula Community Services, right, accepts the Hospitality Award, which was a tie with Avensole Winery, on behalf of the Old Town Temecula Community Theater. Valley News/Courtesy photo
Catherine Pepe presents the Hospitality Award, which was shared by Avensole Winery and Old Town Temecula Community Theater, to Jennifer Capps, general hospitality manager for Avensole Winery. Valley News/Courtesy photo

While the awards presentations were pre-recorded, the VTV hospitality committee surprised each of the award winners by visiting each of them and recording the presentation.

First up, the Social Media Award was presented to Peltzer Farm & Winery. According to VTV, “The winery has shown a consistent strong engagement at the customer level and strategically post events on their channels with excellent use of calendar skills.”

“On behalf of the Peltzer family, Carrie and Charlie, and our marketing team, as well as all the rest of the team here at Peltzer, we are so excited to be a part of this amazing valley,” Moriah Wilson said. “We’re in such good company in this category. All the nominees are amazing and something that’s so incredible, I think, about Temecula is the partnerships that we create with each other. A lot of the other nominees, we’ve partnered with them for social media to lift each other up. And I think that’s a true testament to what’s good for one of us is good for all of us.”

Oak Grove Culinary Creations was awarded the Champion Culinary Award.

Oak Grove Center, a nonprofit residential, educational and treatment center for children throughout California with psychological, emotional and behavioral problems and special needs, has created a place where students can explore and learn to excel in the culinary field.

“This is pretty amazing to receive this award,” Robin McCoy, director of culinary instruction, said. “Just a lot of hard work, a lot of heart and sweat from the very beginning. This is a progression of seven years with Oak Grove Center. It brings meaning actually to what I do.

“I don’t take it lightly the interaction with the kids, and you just never know how you would change a person’s life just by one word. Tammy Wilson, our executive director, has always been an open door, creative, innovative, just really backing the culinary program. And it’s that type of leadership that makes a program like this successful.”

The Ambassador Award was presented to Diane Strand of JDS Creative Academy who has created significant events generating positive exposure for Temecula Valley.

“I can’t do this without my team behind me and the team that’s not even here pictured,” Strand said. “As we like to say, it’s #JDSfamily and to make the Valley our home. We love bringing arts and digital things to the area because communication is so important, and that’s what we’re all about. And the arts is a great way to just be inclusive and bring everybody together. It’s a universal language.”

There was a tie for the Hospitality Award, given to the “tourism organization or business that demonstrates outstanding hospitality to visitors and exhibits a team spirit in promoting travel tourism and the growth of Temecula Valley.”

Avensole Winery and Old Town Temecula Community Theater shared the award.

“We here at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater feel that we’re the heart of arts and culture and old town,” Bea Barnett, superintendent of Temecula Community Services, said. “We’ve created an inclusive, diverse and accessible theater opportunity to create memories to last a lifetime. We’ve entertained almost a million people here in our valley. We have had 66,000 hours of volunteer usher service. We couldn’t do it without the community supporting us.”

Jennifer Capps, general hospitality manager for Avensole Winery, accepted the award for the winery.

“We are absolutely so honored here at Avensole, and we feel very blessed to be part of this community,” she said. “We absolutely love the Temecula Valley AVA, and we just wanted to say, we’re always focused on gracious hospitality and casual elegance, and we just love to make sure that we make the guests day and that’s the best part of what we do.”

Chris Keyson and his team at 8 Bit Brewing Company were presented with the Golden Tap Brewery of the Year award – the first time the award has been presented by VTV.

“It was a privilege and an honor to be nominated for this, let alone win it,” Keyson said. “There’s some great breweries in town, the industry is growing like crazy. When we opened five years ago, the whole goal was making a destination and a place where people felt like it was home and the community welcomed us. This isn’t our home. We’re from Texas, and we moved out here and found a place that felt like home. We’ve been brewing beer since and keep growing.

Mike Rennie of Temecula Valley Winery Management receives the Welty Award for Tourism Professional of the Year award. Valley News/Courtesy photo
Moriah Wilson, middle, acceptsd the Visit Temecula Valley social media award on behalf of Peltzer Farms & Winery. Valley News/Courtesy photo

“It’s a tough time, but everybody’s been so kind and welcoming and supportive and we’re going to get through it as is everybody. It’s a great time to be alive,” Keyson said.

Jim Carter, owner of South Coast Winery, was presented with the Cilurzo Award for winery of the year.

“I’m surprised by the whole thing,” Carter said. “We have been in Temecula now for several years. I remember when we first started building a wall around the outside of the place here, and everybody says, ‘What is that wall for? What’s going to happen here.’ And then finally we put the winery and everything behind here. I’m speechless so, thank you guys.”

His son Jeff Carter, chief financial officer at the winery, picked up where his father left off.

“This is a surprise. We didn’t expect it,” Jeff Carter said. “It’s always been about doing the best we can with quality. Quite frankly, we couldn’t have done what we’ve done out here without my father, but also with John (McPherson) and Javier (Flores).”

Mike Rennie of Temecula Valley Winery Management was awarded the Welty Award for Tourism Professional of the Year. VTV said, “His commitment to growth in the valley has shape the tourism landscape through his diversified company offerings.”

“I feel rather undeserving because I know there’ve been so many that have added to this community, into this valley,” Rennie said. “But I certainly want to thank the VTV, Kimberly Adams and all her hard work over the many, many years and tireless efforts in the valley. The entire board of directors of the VTV is certainly very concerned and interested in our valley.

“Being a farmer and a farmer for all these years, the thing that really has stuck with me is my predecessors and my mentors. I think of when I first came here and was tutored by John Moramarco, a tremendous mentor to me and what he taught me about farming and how it influences wine quality. I think of Eli Calloway. I think of Gary Winder, my partner, who’s done so much through the years to help me. Then I also think of some of those that are no longer with us that were outstanding farmers in this valley, Ben Drake, Leonard Francis, Dick Wiley,” Rennie said.

VTV also presented special recognition to some of the valley’s top hospitality professionals.

The Spotlight on Service Award recipients were Randy Wikert at Grapeline Wine Tours; Leeana Geuy at Rene’s Cowgirl Cantina; Mark Kim at Sushi Boat; Liz Amoros at Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ; Julian Carillo at Build-a-Bear Workshop; Jan Dowe at Brighton Collectibles; Philippe Dornic at The Vineyard Rose; Danyell Cortopassi at The Vineyard Rose; Adriana Aragon at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa; Alex Cervantes at Pechanga Resort Casino; Casey Price at The Gambling Cowboy; Lauren Strickland at The Gambling Cowboy; Terri Bobbe at Wilson Creek Winery; Markelle Brown at Wilson Creek Winery; Arlene Eyerman at Temecula Carriage Company; Nicole Berry at Temecula Carriage Company; Amber Williams at Red Robin Temecula; Kristy Campbell at Falkner Winery; Tina Tackett at Falkner Winery; Carol Post at Old Town Spice & Tea Merchants;, Sean Suthers at E.A.T. Marketplace; Brooke Woodside at California Pizza Kitchem and Gilmarie Villegas at Bluewater Grill.

At the end of the presentation, VTV shared some numbers from 2019 regarding the economic impact of tourism in the valley. In 2019, that number was $2,064,990, and projected visitors for 2019 are 3.3 million.

Lodging revenue was up 8.5% in 2019, coming in at $89 million.

Marketing efforts by VTV created 61.4 million paid impressions, 2.1 million website page views, a 15.2% increase in website unique viewers, 759,397 leisure hotel searches, $576,502 direct hotel revenue, 419 million media impressions and $11.1 million value in free coverage.

For more information about VTV, visit, and for more membership or more assistance, call 888-363-2852 or 951-491-6085.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at