By Tom Plant
Nick Palumbo is the owner/winemaker at Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery in Temecula. He and wife Cindy purchased the property on Barksdale Circle in 1998, which was planted at the time to Merlot and Cabernet Franc. In 1999 on the date his daughter Sofia was born, he planted Cabernet Sauvignon and dubbed it Sofia’s Vineyard. He soon thereafter grafted Sangiovese onto some of his Merlot vines and planted Viognier. For the first few years he sold his fruit. At the prodding of Cindy, he began making wine from his fruit in 2000. It wasn’t all that long ago though, that if you asked Nick what he did he would answer, “I’m a farmer.” When I visited this week, he added, “recently I feel I’m a winemaker, too.”
Many in the Temecula valley feel Nick produces the best reds around. His humility is genuine. In the years I have known Nick, I have found him to be one of the most genuine and down to earth people I have ever encountered. Nick is a farmer and he pays close attention to what happens in the vineyard. He is also meticulous when it comes to crafting his wines.
His background is in culinary arts and he spent more than 15 years in kitchens. Even though for many of those years he was an executive chef, he considered himself a cook. “Wine to me is food, its not anything different,” he says adding that he comes from a food mindset when making wine. He lives by what he calls the “Tao of Nick,” in the moment and to the point. In the vineyard and in the winery he feels he’s here to facilitate. He’s not afraid to intervene when it’s necessary.
Nick is currently the president of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association. Sixteen years in the Temecula Valley somewhat snuck up on him. He confided in me that while he still has tremendous respect for his predecessors, he’s ready now to pave his own path. With all due respect he says, “thanks for your help and advice, but I’ve got this.” Nick and Cindy and their children live right next door to the tasting room and being in the vineyards 24/7 is an asset he says.
Matt Davison has looked up to Nick ever since he started in the wine business. He often came to Nick for advice while he was working at other wineries until one day Nick asked if he’d like to work with him. Matt has been with Nick for four harvests now and he has the utmost respect for him as a winemaker and as a man. Matt manages the tasting room and is Palumbo’s assistant winemaker. He characterizes Nick as a perpetual student who’s passionate about his craft. Eventually Matt would like to be head winemaker somewhere, but for now he’s more than happy to work by Nick’s side.
Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery is on Barksdale Circle off of Monte de Oro Road. Drive up alongside the vineyards to the cozy tasting room. As you enter you’ll notice the front of the bar. The wood is re-purposed from Fender and Gibson guitar scraps. The bar top is Brazilian bloodwood. Matt or Theresa will likely be pouring for you and they’ll be quick to point out there are no whites, nothing sweet and no sparkling. Palumbo does produce a Viognier, but it won’t appear on the tasting menu until the 2013 has been bottled. As of this writing you will taste a 2011 Sangiovese, and Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and their Tre Fratelli Meritage from the 2010 vintage.
Off the beaten path, but well worth the trip, Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery is located at 40150 Barksdale Circle in Temecula. They’re open seven days a week from 11 – 5. (951) 676-7900. www.palumbofamilyvineyards.com.