Our first stop was Thornton, which attracted me since they produce a number of sparkling wines. I'm not a purist or a snob, but even I was slightly taken aback that Thornton has no problem calling their product champagne. The tastings were a bit pricey at $12-15 or so for 4 wines, but they did provide full glasses of wine. So bring friends or a limo. The 99 Reserve and the non-vintage Brut were good, but not (I thought) worth the price. The pink champagne is best left undescribed, and Dr. Pookie didn't care for the way the bubbliness of the muscat sparkler interfered with what should be sweet silky muscatiness. We also did another tasting, and the one definite standout was the 2007 Viognier, which has the most remarkable coconutty/tropical fruit flavors to it. We picked up 4 bottles -- Thornton typically has a buy 4 for the price of 3 deal on their wines. Thornton is skating the boundary between real winery and Disneyfied tourist trap, but still safely on the winery side.
Our next stop was Ponte, which really is a gift shop with a winery attached. The red wines were all uniformly colorless. I expect a Super Tuscan to be a rich deep garnet, not look like a rosé could beat it arm wrestling two outta three times. The flavor was also thin and boring. Ponte, you suck.
Starting to get a handle on Temecula, we decided to try a place that was less glitzy. Off a sideroad, I spotted a tiny driveway diving into the trees. Following it, we came to a metal barn with horses paddocked nearby and a 'Beware of Dog' sign on the chainlink fence separating us from a German Shepherd. This place was either going to be inhabited by Leatherface or an eccentric purveyor of handcrafted wines. Fortunately for us, it was the latter. Foote Print Winery produces about 800 cases and shares its shed with their organic farm. We got an 06 Syrah, two 06 Cabs, and ten five-cent tangerines. The proprietor is ex-Navy and there were two lady sailors on leave tasting when we arrived, including psychic lady sailor, who out-of-the-blue asked Dr. Pookie if she was a twin.
We also learned more about the local situation. The proprietor says the city's trying to shut him down, since his place isn't photogenic enough. Sounds like also he ran against the bureaucrat in charge of such things in the last election, so there's bad blood added to the mix.
We backtracked a bit to eat lunch at Wilson Creek, which was pretty good, but we didn't do their wine tasting.
On a recommendation from Foote Print, we next went to Doffo, which says it's by appointment only, but "just tell Marcelo that Dean sent you." We didn't even have to do that. Marcelo is another great character - he collects old Italian motorcycles and has a beautifully restored Forties-era bike in the tasting room. He also has had his problems with the authorities, which is sad, because he makes great wine from estate grapes. And when we said we were going to buy a few bottles, he generously(?) poured us a few reserve wines not on the regular tasting list. I was sorely tempted by the 1.5L magnum of reserve Cabernet -- only 36 bottles were made (though more was bottled in standard 750mL bottles) -- but the price was accordingly steep. We still came away with an 06 Syrah, an 06 Mistura (60/40 Cab/Syrah) and a bottle of port.
Last stop, Longshadow Ranch, where tastings are held in a tent (a bit cool on this breezy day) out among their Belgian draft horses. On nicer days, rubes will pay to have the horses pull them about the vineyard in a carriage, but today the horses were just hanging out, looking large. OK wines. We picked up the 06 Syrah (considering what we bought, it seems that 06 was a good year for Syrah). But the true find was their Ponderosa Port. They age the port in 50 year old Jack Daniels whiskey barrels. Amazing color, amazing caramel taste, amazing touch of whiskey.
Back to the freeways.
On the way back, we spotted Ray Comfort's billboard on the 105. Meh.