By Tom Plant
I honestly thought I was aware of every single winery in Temecula. When I received a phone call inviting me to an open house at TCR Cellars, I scratched my head. How did this one sneak past me?
As you head out on Mesa Road past the De Portola wine trail, the road turns into Benton Road. Tucalota Creek Ranch (TCR) is spread out over more than 30 picturesque acres. You know you’re in horse country the moment you enter the property. The tasting room looks out onto the ranch where you will see riders honing their craft. TCR is home to quarter horses and reining horses. Trainer Tammy Smith coaches the Olympics Eventing team and she’s been at the ranch for nearly two years. Trophies and horse memorabilia adorn every nook and cranny of the tasting room.
Alan and Kay Needle were furniture manufacturers with a very expensive hobby: horses. Their accountant told them their hobby was driving them broke, so they decided to “go for it” and turn their hobby into their livelihood. They purchased the ranch in 1997 as a second home, eventually focusing all their energy into turning it into a world-class facility.
Kay had another hobby. She was the “wino” in the family. Since the ranch was in Temecula, home to 40-plus wineries, she did some research and hooked up with winemaker Tim Kramer. Kramer is not only the head winemaker at Leoness Cellars, he’s also COO of Temecula Valley Winery Management. Getting involved with wine gave Kay a chance to spread her creative wings, and together she and Tim have collaborated on seven different wines.
As TCR Cellars is outside the boundaries of the Temecula Valley AVA, they have a bit more creative license in crafting their wines. They’re free to source their fruit from wherever they choose and although some of their wines feature Temecula fruit, their Chardonnay grapes come from the Santa Lucia Highlands, their white Rhône blend and 7x Winemakers Red is from Santa Ynez Valley and the Pinot Noir comes from Monterey.
The wines all drink very nicely. The Rhône white, Light n Fine, is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Viognier. The 2007 7x is a GSM with four Rhône whites added. The 2009 Master and Magic is a GSM, as is the 2009 Slideways. Trophies is the name for the 2010 Pinot Noir. They also offer a Cabernet Sauvignon, The Cutter and a 2011 Cabernet Franc, Grand Prix.
As you might imagine, each wine pays tribute to a horse or rider. Each bottle has a depiction on the front label and an accompanying story on the back. It’s clear a lot of time and thought has gone into not only the wine in the bottle, but the story each wine tells. The Master and Magic pays tribute to Greg Ward (The Master) and his horse, Reminics Pep (Magic). Ward, 50 pounds underweight and battling cancer, won the 1998 Snaffle Bit Futurity and died two months later.
Tucalota Creek Ranch is available for weddings, events and fundraisers and can accommodate upwards of 400 people. Pedal The Cause is a bike ride for cancer research and awareness that starts in San Diego and ends at TCR. Last year more than 500 riders participated. Visits are by appointment only and certified Sommelier Robin Miller will be happy to make arrangements for you. Prices range from $25 to $36 per bottle and there is a wine club. Production is tiny, anywhere from 125 to 300 cases per year.
To visit TCR Cellars, call (951) 302-8719 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image above: Kay and Alan Needle of Tucalota Creek Ranch Cellars. Photo by tom Plant.