|Cafe Champagne at Thornton Winery|
Recently, The Temecula Insider had a chance to sit down with John and Steve Thornton to find out their secret to being one of the most visited wineries in the Temecula Valley. Of course, location doesn't hurt when you have the first tasting room on the road to wine country. But location is only part of their success. From the beginning, Thornton has specialized in blending Methode Champenoise Sparkling Wine/Champagne, a French process unique to Temecula wineries. And to this day, they still bottle and hand label their sparkling wines at the winery to ensure its freshness and quality. Taking notes from the Methode Champenoise process, Thornton began producing premium varietal still wines in 1993, emulating the classic wine styles of the Mediterranean and Rhone regions.
Ten years later, enter winemaker Don Reha. With a long list of awards and credits on his resume, John Thornton brought in the Northern California native to revamp the winery's offerings. Don focused his efforts on producing big and fruitful wines and listening to the visitors' feedback. Since streamlining the wine line-up at Thornton, Don's winemaking practices have garnered the winery a variety of awards and accolades including "Best of Class" for the 2005 Cabernet-Merlot, 2005 Estate Syrah and Thorny's Cote Red. In fact, Thornton is recognized as the producer of "America's Most Honored Sparkling Wines" having won more medals at major wine competitions across the United States over the last six years than any other U.S. method champenoise producer.
And in order to give wine tasters something different, Thornton has created a distinctive environment in which to experience these award winning wines. The Champagne Lounge takes the place of the traditional tasting room. Visitors are seated and offered several different options for wine tasting. If you're a red wine lover, you can order the Red Wine Flight which includes their 2006 Cabernet-Merlot, 2005 Merlot, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2006 Huis Vineyard Zinfandel. For the sweet tooth, there is the Sweet Sippers Flight and there is a flight just for Zinfandel fans called The Zinful Flight. Basically, you can completely customize your tasting to focus on wines you are partial to, or if want to experiment and try something completely new. But one of the best parts of wine tasting at Thornton's Champagne Lounge is that you can also order small appetizers to cleanse your palette and snack on while you taste. An all-time favorite in the lounge has to be the Fresh Bread and Goat Cheese Spread basket. You will not be disappointed and it definitely beats complimentary crackers you might find at other Temecula wineries.
For a real treat while visiting Thornton Winery, sit down and enjoy a meal at Café Champagne. Keeping with John Thornton's mantra of "consistent quality", Café Champagne's menu that was developed by Executive Chef Steve Pickell has won the Gold Award for Contemporary Cuisine for 15 consecutive years by the Southern California Restaurant Writers. And after sampling some appetizers from the Spring menu, we whole-heartedly agree. So when Chef Steve personally recommends the chorizo and poblano chili pizza, you order it. It was amazing! Just as amazing is the perfectly paired Thornton wines that are conveniently listed on the menu next to each item. With Executive Chef Steve Pickell in the kitchen and Winemaker Don Reha in the cellar, John and Steve Thornton have really put together a "dream team" which is key to the year-over-year award winning success Thornton Winery has been able to achieve. To sum up John's words of wisdom: As a winery - maintain consistent quality, great wines come from great grapes and produce the wines people want. As a wine drinker - there's no secret, drink the wines you like! Dually noted John...keep up the great work!
For more information on Thornton Winery, visit their website at www.thorntonwine.com
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Open holidays.