If you’re anything like me, you embrace change. Whether it’s trying a new restaurant, exploring a new yoga pose, making new friends, or just simply taking a new route to work, change is healthy for all of us. Keeps us “on our toes,” the brain sharp, and life exciting & fun. It leads us down paths we may not otherwise take, right? With that in mind, I’d like to take you down a new road – one that will introduce you to a winery you may not have heard of and most likely have never tried. Step out of Temecula and its familiar tasting rooms this weekend and take a short, scenic drive out to Warner Springs and Hawk Watch Winery. It just may turn out to be your new “go-to” winery in Southern California.
Owners Mike and Lisa Schnell have been making wine since 2002 but only opened their tasting room in April of 2008. It’s just the two of them – they don’t have any employees – so their entire winemaking process is truly in-house and “hands-on.” Located on Highway 79 South in between Temecula and Julian, Mike and Lisa’s winery is a single red building situated on a five-acre hillside over-looking the picturesque valley below (they’re at 3200 above sea level). The view is majestic. Everything is found within that one building – the barrels of aging wine, Mike’s lab, crush area, bottling equipment, tasting room – all are under a single roof. Impressive. There’s not quite enough room to have a traditional bar in the tasting room area, so Mike and Lisa use 4 barrels – standing vertically – for tables. It’s a great touch – one that adds character to their wine “home.” I love it.
Mike learned to make wine while working with Tim Kramer (Leonesse Cellars), and his “old world” method has paid off in the form of intensely-flavored, bold, fruit-forward, full-bodied wines. He produces about 1100 cases per year and his operation is built to make up to about 1500-1750 cases annually – that’s it. They’re not looking to grow into a huge operation. On the contrary, they want to keep their winery small so they can concentrate on making the very best wines possible. Smart.
And yes – their wines. I tried a number of their vintages during my initial visit last week, including their 2007 Synthesis (an exotically-spiced blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Syrah); their 2006 Zinfandel (licorice, mocha, cinnamon); 2006 Reserve Syrah (very soft, velvety tannins); 2007 Cab Sauv (earthy & elegant; light but quite flavorful – a multi-layered Cab that is very easy to sip); and the newly-bottled 2008 Syrah (it’ll be released in 2-3 months). Their award-winning 2007 Syrah is also quite lovely – full of ripe black fruit in the nose and on the palate. It took Double Gold at the 2010 Tasters Guild International Consumers Wine Competition – one of only two Syrahs to do so. Each wine is bold but quite smooth, with silky tannins and tons of fruit. Nothing bone-dry here. I could have chosen any of the above wines for my weekly pick, but I love unique blends – wines that help to define a particular winery – and Mike has created such a blend: his Six.Seven.Eight.
Taking vintages from three different years, the Six.Seven.Eight is a blend of Syrah (2006), Cabernet Sauvignon (2007 & 2008), Merlot (2008), Malbec (2008), and Mourvedre (2008). This second “number series” blend is full of dark, rich fruit (blackberry, currant, cherry, boysenberry), but is also earthy and spicy (think more black pepper rather than brown spices). It’s a deep, bold wine that is not only enjoyable right now, but is one you can lay down and let age for a few more years. At this moment, the ‘06/’07 vintages are dominant, but as it ages, the ’08 grapes will become more prevalent. It’s a creative, one-of-a-kind blend – one that indicates how Mike thinks “out of the box.” He’s traditional, yet not afraid to give something new a chance and has the vintner skills to pull it off. A winemaking trailblazer? I’d say so.
For those of you looking for that quaint, down-home, family-owned, friendly winery that produces fantastic wine, then Hawk Watch is for you. It’s really that simple. Their tasting room is open Friday-Sunday (click here for directions and hours) and is only about 25 minutes from Temecula’s De Portola Wine Trail. Stop by this weekend, mention Taste of Temecula, and you’ll not only receive a 2 for 1 wine tasting, but you’ll also receive 15% off their Six.Seven.Eight. This offer is good through Friday, October 29th.
Oh, and here’s a bit of insider info – they’ve re-opened their Wine Club membership through this October ONLY. Once this current month ends, they won’t accept any new members until 2012. I’m not kidding – it’s now or never! Do yourself a favor and make it out to say “hi” to Mike and Lisa today.
They’re also going participate in the Wine Tasting Extravaganza this Saturday, October 23rd from 7:00-9:00pm at the Outdoor Rancho California RV Resort in Aguanga. It’s a great way to not only taste Hawk Watch’s vintages, but to also sample wines from Bella Vista, Doffo, Foot Path, Vindemia, and Robert Renzoni wineries.
Hawk Watch Winery
27054 Chihuahua Valley Rd., Warner Springs, CA 92086