50 years of Temecula Wine Country
In 1968 Vincenzo and Audrey Cilurzo begin planting vineyards off of Rancho California in Temecula Valley

This year, Temecula Wine Country celebrates its 1968 birth. That was the year Vincenzo and Audrey Cilurzo began planting Petit Sirah and Chenin Blanc near Rancho California, a town of 350 inhabitants that would later be re-named Temecula. To get to the vineyard from their L.A. home, they had to travel to Rancho California down sparsely used Highway 395, and then rumble through empty hills and valleys down a narrow dirt track called Long Valley Road. It was an unremarkable beginning to a remarkable story.

The Cilurzos grew grapes and made wine for 10 years before opening a winery in 1978. By then, two other wineries had opened. Callaway Winery launched in 1971, founded by well-known golf entrepreneur Ely Callaway. John Poole, a pioneer of Southern California radio and television, opened Mount Palomar Winery in 1975. But the three pioneering wineries did not get many visitors. John's son, Peter, recalled: "Before opening our first permanent tasting room in 1978, my dad spent a day counting cars passing by on Rancho California Road. The traffic averaged two cars per hour."

My, how things have changed.

Today, hundreds of thousands of visitors speed to Temecula on Interstate 15, then take busy Rancho California Road, the replacement to Long Valley Road, to a thriving wine region with more than 40 wineries. And Temecula Wine Country acts as the foundation of a tourism industry that pours more than $700 million into the local economy.

South Coast Winery Resort and Spa has been named California State Winery of the Year a record four times, surpassing competitors from much older and more established regions like Sonoma and Napa. Wilson Creek Winery is likely the most visited winery in the state, and perhaps the world, with a sprawling park-like setting that hosts more than 1,200 tasters on busy days. Europa Village has opened the "Prelude to Europa," the initial stage of a remarkable three-winery village that will pay homage to Spanish, French, and Italian wine-making culture.

Unique among California wine regions, Temecula wine country offers ample lodging and dining out among the vineyards. Visitors can choose to stay at many winery hotels, inns, and B&Bs, including Ponte Vineyard Inn, named by TripAdvisor as a Traveler's Choice Top Ten Hotel in the United States. Superb culinary options include The Restaurant at Leoness Cellars, recently rated the #1 winery restaurant in America in a USA Today Readers Poll.

In the wine world, 50 year is not a long time. Yet this fledgling wine region has become a powerhouse, and it shows no signs of slowing down as it celebrates its first half century.

Happy Birthday, Temecula Wine Country!


~ Kay Syrah

Wine Country Guru Gal

 Official Blog