I have lived in the Temecula Valley for over 10 years and have visited many tasting rooms in that time. I have sampled some great wine, chatted with the pourers and even got to know a couple of them along the way. I have ridden in a limo with friends and been dropped at the various stops on their circuit without any worries of driving. So perfect: wine – check, pleasant conversation – check, driver – check; that’s all we need, right? Not so. After spending the day on a truly intimate wine tour with WINEormous, I am officially spoiled.
WINEormous owner, Tom Plant, is well known throughout the Temecula Valley. A top producing Realtor for many years, Tom took his favorite part of that career with him as he started a new one. Relationships with people were, and still are, at the heart of everything that Mr. WINEormous does and the proof is the astonishing number of true friends he has out in the wine country. A day with Tom will net you at least one, if not many, special surprises. His knowledge of wine and the back story behind each winery are enough to make his tour worth the trip, but the occasional chat with a winemaker or a sample of an unreleased vintage take the day to a whole new level.
While WINEormous is happy to customize tours for each taste, Tom finds that the clients often like his choices best. His expertise and friendships span the valley, but he features the more intimate, small production and off-the-beaten-path wineries in his tours. What better way to meet and spend time with the winemakers? Though time with the owners and winemakers is not guaranteed, it is not unusual on a typical day with WINEormous. These folks are hardworking farmers and winemakers, but they do what they can to come in from the vineyards and production rooms to speak to their friend Tom and whomever is traveling with him. A sketch of what your day might look like when you tour with WINEormous:
Mr. WINEormous retrieved me and Howard Kotliar (of Temecula Night Out) in the parking lot of Barons Marketplace on a sunny Friday morning. The touring van seats the driver plus seven guests comfortably and is well stocked with water and sunscreen. We quickly fell into friendly introductions and pleasant chatter as Tom headed for our first stop: Hart Winery.
Hart Winery is a special one for me because it is the first winery that my in-laws visited over 15 years ago when trying to decide if they were going to move out to “the middle of nowhere.” They fell in love with the Harts and their wine and the entire extended family has since moved from Orange County to the Temecula Valley. Now THAT’S a winery!
I confess that I have visited Hart many times, but have never experienced it quite like I did that day. Howard and I were welcomed like family as we tasted our way through the 2008 Roussanne, 2008 Barbera, 2009 Mouverdre and 2005 Merlot. Jim Hart was conducting a demo in the barrel room as we arrived, but Christine Hart quickly came over to hug Tom and chat for a bit like the old friends that they are. They quickly agreed that a couple of samples of the wine yet in the tanks would be a lovely treat for us – yay! I am a sucker for a great Sauvignon Blanc, so a sample of Hart’s (to be released in two weeks), was my favorite of the day. Everything a Sauv Blanc should be: all bright citrus and fresh full flavor, this wine will be in stock at the Maue household the moment it is released! His tour complete, Jim Hart joined us and we were treated to a sample of the soon to be released “Blanc de Franc,” a Cab Franc Rose as well as an amazing sip of 2009 Milagro Farm Estate Grown Chardonnay. Milagro Farm is Jim Hart’s other project with vineyards in Ramona. We visited for a while and he gave us the insider tip that the release of the “Blanc de Franc” would probably inspire the return of the famous Hart Hot Tub T-shirt stating that “the problem with Rose is that too many people drink it with their clothes on.” Wine-drinkers tend to have a “cheeky” sense of humor, so the T is bound to be a sell out!
On to Danza del Sol Winery where we sampled 2009 Chardonnay, 2009 Dos Blancos, 2009 Tempranillo, 2008 Syrah and 2008 Cabernet. I am typically a Red girl, but the Chardonnay impressed me enough to garner a “heart” drawn on my tasting notes. Chardonnay is not usually my first choice, but this vintage is lightly oaked, so fresh pear and crisp apple dominate the palate: delicious. Winemaker, Mike Tingley was off the property when we visited, but we enjoyed our time together in their beautifully renovated tasting room while Mr. Plant brought us up to speed on Danza del Sol’s history and plans for the future.
Our next stop was Oak Mountain Winery where we met Valerie the owner, Annie the manager and Debbie the wine host. The energy in this tasting room was my favorite of the day! With funky music in the background and lots chatter going on around us, we were not just tasting, we were having a party. As usual, the ladies love Tom, so a little extra in the glass and some big laughs were the order of the day. We tasted the Award winning NV Frisson and Raspberry Champagne, as well the newly released 2009 Counoise, 2009 Pinotage and 2010 Fume Blanc. Though a red wine lover at heart, I found the Frisson to be delightful; refreshing grapefruit flavors and perfect effervescence made this a great warm weather wine. With winter temperatures in the 70’s, I may never make it back around to red!
And so, on to Palumbo Family Vineyards. A true small-production winery, Palumbo produces world class wines using only the grapes grown on their 12 acres. We were welcomed warmly by owner Cindy and wine host Debbie and went on to sample their entire line up: 2009 Viognier, 2007 Syrah, 2007 Mouverdre/Syrah, 2007 Merlot & 2007 Tre Fratelli Meritage. Though the wines were complex and delicious from top to bottom, the Tre Fratelli was my favorite of the bunch; big fruit flavors and an elegant finish make this a great special occasion wine. Word got out that Tom was on the property and Nick Palumbo came on in for a chat. Nick is regarded as one of the most genuine guys in the Temecula Valley and I can easily see why. He and Tom traded stories and made us feel like Wine Country insiders, or more precisely, family.
We wrapped up the day at Doffo Winery where we felt immediately transported to the Italian country side. Doffo is another gem of a small production winery, producing premium Estate wines only from grapes grown on their property. Owner Zulma Doffo was behind the bar and poured us tastes of their exceptional wine while we chatted. Son Damian heard Tom was in the house and came in from the production room to say hello and talk wine. As we chatted, we tasted their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Malbec, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Malbec and 2008 Zin along with dessert wines: Pinot Blanc Late Harvest and the amazing Doffo Port. Their wines are rich in texture and full of bold fruit . . . a truly premium wine-tasting experience. Though the day was beyond our expectations already, Mr. WINEormous had one last treat in store for us. Winemaker Marcelo Doffo came to collect us and took us around to the production room for a private barrel tasting of the 2010 Cabernet, and yet to be released Zin and Syrah. These intimate moments with Tom and his many true friends in the Temecula Wine Country are what makes the WINEormous tour such a unique experience. The wine is excellent, but Tom knows that wonderful people are the heart of amazing wine and wants to reveal that to the rest of us.
To book a tour, please visit www.WINEormous.com. A prolific food, wine and travel writer and photographer, Tom Plant’s other projects include: Why Local Matters, Lenscapes, WinesDines as well as a just-released, cookbook “A Recipe for Temecula Wine Country” in collaboration with wine country media guru and writer, Linda Kissam. Order now as supplies are limited!