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Thornton Winery is no stranger to the landscape of the Temecula Wine Country. John Thornton started the winery in 1988, but he didn’t run the business until years later. Today it is very much a family operation, with son Steve running the day to day operations.

I met with wine-maker Don Reha, who guided me on a full tour of the operation. Don’s been at Thornton since 2003, with a background at Fetzer Vineyards, Cline Cellars and Renwood Winery. Don has a true passion for what he does, as do the Thorntons.

We started outside by the fermentation tanks, then paid a visit to the labeling facility. Each bottle of their sparkling wine is labeled by hand, and they still use the traditional Methode Champenoise for making their sparkling wines.

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We visited the caves and I discovered Don’s attention to detail is astonishing. He has his barrels custom crafted to match each vineyard. T - barrel profile

When he first arrived at Thornton, he had not made sparkling wine, but he took on the challenge with gusto. He loves making still wines and is very proud of his 2005 Estate Syrah in particular. Don is a founding member of the Temecula Valley Quality Wine Alliance and believes the area wineries need to be held to high standards.

We went to the tasting room where John and Steve Thornton were there to greet us. The Thorntons are gracious hosts and are clearly proud of the wines Don is producing. We tasted Cuvee Rouge, a red sparkling wine made from Syrah grapes. It’s dry and refreshing and has a gorgeous color. I also tried the Viognier, just a beautiful wine with a beautiful scent of tangerine peel and tropical fruit. The Gewürztraminer is neither sweet nor dry, it lies somewhere in between, with true Gewurtz characteristics. T - champagne flute T - tasting room T - cafe champagne

We moved to Cafe Champagne for lunch and a few more wines, starting with the ‘05 Old Vine Old Clone Zinfandel. This is an excellent Zin with a bright nose and a smooth finish. We had a Tapas Plate to start. I had lamb in a pita with red onions. The food was delicious and the presentation was gorgeous. Credit Executive Chef Steve Pickell for that. Steve is a graduate of Washington D.C.’s Culinary School. He also studied with Nora Pouillon at Restaurant Nora in D.C. His resume also includes some of the finer restaurants in New York, San Francisco and San Diego. Steve believes freshness is key, and he incorporates fresh herbs from their garden in many of his dishes.T - Steve P

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Our last wine was the ‘05 Estate Syrah. This is a classic Syrah, and John Thornton raves about how much he loves it. I can’t blame him. It is an exceptional wine.

I have to say after this visit that no visit to the Temecula Wine Country would be complete without a visit to Thornton Winery. If you’re around this summer, check out their Champagne Jazz Concert Series featuring renowned smooth jazz artists including Al Jarreau, Dave Koz, Fourplay and David Sanborn.

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