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Mavericks & Makers
These are just some of our amazing, talented, ambitious mavericks and makers that have contributed to the character and mindset that has formed the destination into what it is today and guiding us into tomorrow. Every day they are living every drop of life to the fullest.
For years the Patel Family dreamed of owning a winery and even purchased a painting of a beautiful vineyard that they hung above their fireplace mantle to keep their dream alive and within eyesight. With Akash at the helm, their vision of a slice of wine country paradise in Temecula Valley began to take form as they prepared the land, carefully planted vines, and began building what is now Akash Winery & Vineyards. “The dream of my parents became my passion,” Akash Patel said. “When my parents named the property after me, they gave me a pathway for their legacy and dream to live on, and I am honored to do just that.” Akash credits his parent’s incredible tenacity and work ethic to the success and popularity of the winery. “My parents came to America with nothing in their pockets but a dream and I have witnessed all the hard work they have put into building a legacy, and they are my inspiration to continue to grow our winery.”
When retired Army Colonel, and owner of Stone Church Brewing, Bill Steinkirchner was pondering things to do with his free time after serving in the military for 23 years, he decided to tap into his decade’s long passion for craft beer. “I seriously never envisioned myself doing this,” Steinkirchner said. “My family and friends literally pushed me into it.” After the success of his first brewery in Corona in 2016, Steinkirchner debuted a tasting room in Old Town Temecula in 2019. It was his time in the military that shaped his approach to operating a brewery and crafting beer. “Like my time serving in the military, I have surrounded myself with people better than I am,” he said. “I also have the ability to plan things out and anticipate any challenges that may arise before they occur.” Visitors to his microbreweries and tasting rooms can often find Steinkirchner pouring beer, laughing with guests and sharing details about the brewing process and offering tasting notes and suggestions.
Family and community are the common threads that weave throughout everything that represents the Wilson Family and Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards. In the middle of that family is Wilson Creek’s CEO Bill Wilson who’s adventurous and savvy parents purchased the land to build what is now one of the premier wineries in Temecula Valley Wine Country in the mid-90s. Although it’s one of the larger wineries in the region, Bill Wilson and the entire Wilson clan have maintained a comfortable, family-friendly vibe. With four generations of Wilsons living on the property, guests can be assured they will be treated to a true down-home wine country experience. Bill Wilson proved an innovator to the wine industry with the production of White Cabernet, which isn’t typical, but the winery sells thousands of cases annually. Wilson Creek was also one of the first wineries to host weddings and events which brought a true tourism feel to wine country.
Ancient Persian traditions and a zest for life played a big role in Fazeli Cellars' owner BJ Fazeli’s decision to follow his dreams and open a world-class winery in the Temecula Valley. Always a maverick, Fazeli worked all over the globe creating a wide range of successful businesses including art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants, but his desire to realize his dream to build a winery never waned and he dove into the world of wine in 2003. When he announced his winemaking plans, peers and friends were skeptical and many urged him not to take the leap.“I wanted a winery that honored the ancient traditions of my Persian heritage yet paid tribute to California’s contemporary character, and I knew Temecula Valley Wine Country was the perfect location.” Fazeli adds, “My story is an American dream come true."
As the burgeoning craft beer scene began taking shape in the Temecula Valley during the last decade, one home brewer brought his highly sought-after brews to the public and opened Refuge Brewery in 2012. For years, Refuge Brewery founder Curt Kucera perfected his craft in the garage of his family home, allowing neighbors and friends to sample his creations and he quickly developed a loyal, local following."Originally, the brewery was planned to be very small and serve as a local brewery/taproom," Kucera said. "However, our beers caught on and demand guided our growth." What I enjoy most about running a brewery is the creativity,” Kucera said. “Brewing beer is a wildly creative activity. There are literally thousands of styles of beers and millions of ingredient combinations to personalize the beers we brew.” It’s likely you’ll see Kucera driving a forklift or pouring beers for thirsty guests on any given day.
Charlie & Carrie Peltzer
With a lineage of farming that dates back to 1913, it only made sense for Charlie and Carrie Peltzer to continue the family’s heritage. The couple started their own farm, Peltzer Pumpkin Farm, in the City of Orange in 1996. While looking to expand their successful farm, they happened upon an abandoned Christmas tree farm in Temecula Wine Country and decided to relocate Peltzer Pumpkin Farm to the Calle Contento property in 2006. They began building and focusing their vision around ‘agri-tainment’ and families flocked to the farm to enjoy fun events. In 2016 they expanded even further and swung open the big, beautiful doors to Peltzer Winery which has become a go-to destination for wine lovers near and far. Charlie likes to be called the head groundskeeper, but truly he has been behind the building of most parts of the activities at the farm. “We have families that have been coming to our farm for more than twenty years,” Charlie Peltzer said.
A love of farming and making wine runs deep in Damian’s blood as his father Marcelo grew up in Argentina on his family’s farm and passed his knowledge and skills to his son over the years as the younger Doffo watched, then helped his dad tend to their vines over the years.“My favorite part of being a winemaker in the Temecula Valley is the challenge of establishing the credibility and quality of our wines to our wine peers in other regions and to the national wine media,” Damian Doffo said. Damian and his father, Marcelo Doffo, share their love for wines as well as vintage motorcycles. They both compete in the vintage racing series AHRMA. They decided to merge their two passions with MotoDoffo wines. Visitors to the winery can taste these award-winning wines and see their collection of nearly 200 vintage motorcycles and scooters spanning eight decades.
For Denni Barrett, owner and balloonist of Magical Adventure Balloon Rides, it was literally a magical hot air balloon ride that sealed his love of ballooning and inspired him to get his pilot’s license. Barrett has flown a wide variety of aircraft including airplanes, gliders, sea planes, helicopters and even the MetLife blimp. It was those unique flying experiences that rooted in his soul and led him to start his ballooning business over a decade ago. And although Barrett takes delighted passengers on flights throughout Southern California, Temecula Valley remains one of his favorite locales to take his colorful balloons aloft.“Everywhere else is pretty much seasonal, but we can fly year-round in Temecula,” Barrett said. “We have a lot of agriculture which keeps the area open for balloons to land and take off.” “The biggest double-wow is when passengers realize we’ve left the ground,” Barrett said. “Many people don’t realize we’ve left the ground.” Ballooning is the perfect mixture of adventure and romance, Barrett added.
An eye for all things beautiful combined with a love of hosting events led Gina LaMora to found Grazing Theory Lavish Charcuterie, where artisanal cheeses and meats are the stars of the delicious show. Her creations are works of edible art in which clients are treated to awe-inspiring charcuterie boards with LaMora’s distinguished eye for scrumptious detail. She operates the thriving business out of Grazing Theory Wine & Cheese shop in Vail Headquarters. The comfortable space is open for private events, enlightening culinary workshops, or if visitors just want to stop by for a glass or bottle of wine and a mini charcuterie box.“I’ve always had a passion for entertaining guests,” LaMora said. “I love to see the ‘wows’ when they sit down at a beautiful tablescape.” LaMora’s strong work ethic and love for fresh ingredients were instilled in her during the time spent working alongside her siblings on her grandparent’s farm in South Africa during school holidays.
Growing up on the white sandy beaches in an Egyptian coastal town teaming with delectable fresh seafood and sun-drenched tourists laid the groundwork for Chef Hany Ali, the Executive Chef at Bolero Restaurant, at Europa Village. At the young age of 14, Chef Hany embarked on his culinary adventure at a swanky hotel in Egypt apprenticing under a master chef. He quickly proved himself through his natural abilities in and around the kitchen along with his tenacious and curious spirit. “A chef is not a career path or job title, it is a way of life,” Chef Hany said. “It’s a never-ending dedication and extreme focus on both the food and workings of my kitchen. Yes, I do mean never-ending. Chefs eat, breathe and live for their craft.” Chef Hany can be seen foraging for fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices in the winery’s kitchen garden and often comes into the dining areas to meet diners and make sure they are enjoying their meals.
Jacob Chambers recognized the magic of blending delicious wine, beautiful scenery and epic fun with his love of classic motorcycles and founded Sidecar Tours. Chambers overcame obstacles while balancing a full life as a husband, father of four and working a full-time job with the Oceanside Fire Department. His persistence paid off and he started giving unique sidecar tours in 2018. “There have been many challenges doing something fresh and innovative,” Chambers said. “When you come up with an idea that no one else is doing there are a lot of growing pains. But, what we have created and the partnerships we have developed in such a short period of time, is beyond rewarding.” The tour menu ranges from winery tours, brewery tours, date day/night tours, cocktail tours and adventure excursions. There really is something for everyone. “I chose to open my business in the Temecula Valley because it’s one of the world’s most premier wine country regions right here in our backyard.”
The 63-acre South Coast Winery Resort & Spa is well known for its broken records in competitions over the years, but few are aware of its founder, Jim Carter. Born and raised in Ohio, by age 16 Carter began his career as a builder. Carter’s love for building brought him to California at the age of 18 and was named the “youngest carpenter journeyman to ever enter into the union.” Carter expanded his portfolio widely and successfully just before the savings and loan disaster of the 90s. For the next ten years, he aggressively sold his assets and reduced his workforce. In 1995 while watching the movie, “A Walk in the Clouds,” he experienced a life-changing epiphany, thinking of his own 400-acre parcel of land he hung onto throughout those troubling years. Carter determined the conditions on the land were ideal for growing outstanding varietals of grapes. With the assistance of his children, gardeners, and saved quarters he collected from his laundry facilities, Carter planted a vineyard.
Tending to grapes, making wine and understanding how to foster incredible fruit is something that has been the backbone of Jon Mcpherson’s life since he was a young boy. McPherson’s father was a pioneer in the Texas wine industry and tasked 10-year-old McPherson with digging postholes for grape stakes and planting grapevines. At the age of 14, he began working in the cellar. McPherson graduated with a degree in Food and Technology, then set his sights on California. He accepted a position at Culbertson Winery in Temecula Valley before landing the winemaking role at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa and Carter Estate Winery and Resort in 2005. “I work with Mother Nature taking something from the soil and turning it into the modern version of an ancient beverage,” McPherson said. As he forges his path to his 43rd harvest, it’s clear McPherson’s love and passion for winemaking remains legendary and is a vital component in Temecula Valley Wine Country.
The passion and love for incredible culinary and wine experiences was planted in Wiens Family Cellars owner Joseph Wiens at a young age as he grew up watching his parents thrive in Napa Valley. “I was exposed to incredible foods and was taught to appreciate different wines and winemaking styles with (very small) tastes of wine,” Joseph Wiens said. Those seeds grew through the years during which time his father Doug Wiens, founding winemaker at Wiens Family Vineyards, taught his son the basics along with the finer nuances surrounding the art of winemaking. Fifteen family members now work at the winery. When he’s not walking through and tending to his vineyards, tasting the fruits of his labor, or sharing stories with people in the tasting room, he can be seen with a paintbrush in his hand. He has created stunning artwork for several labels over the years.
Ken & Brandie Newman
Powerhouse couple Ken and Brandie Newman have upped the entertainment game in Old Town Temecula over the last year since purchasing the iconic country music haven The Stampede in 2020. “With our love of live music, our ultimate goal is to bring more national touring bands to the Stampede,” Brandie Newman said. Brandie grew up in a small farming town in Arkansas, but had her sights set on a different kind of business. She took a leap of faith and journeyed to Los Angeles where her talents were noticed, and she was signed by Sirius XM to host a nationally syndicated show. Her vast network of professional and personal relationships with people in the entertainment industry is now coming full circle. Her husband Ken is a business maverick who worked in the family business, Newman and Sons, Inc., at the beginning of his career. In 2007 he founded RAMCO which is the leading recycled aggregate producer in Southern California.
Leah Di Bernardo
For Chef Leah Di Bernardo, it is her passion and desire to feed human beings food that is not only nourishing and delicious, but responsibly forged. Di Bernardo is not only a chef, but a restaurateur who founded the bustling E.A.T. Marketplace. “Through this journey, I became a revolutionary in our beautiful valley, took on food policy and created a pathway for edible education programs at Temecula area schools.” Such was Di Bernardo’s tenacity to create healthy and sustainable food practices, the Huffington Post referred to her as “The Alice Waters of Riverside County.” She then founded Cultivating Good out of her desire to support the many profound and talented artisans that work the soil, the fishing boats and the kitchens. Di Bernardo said she feels an obligation to what she puts on the plate for each guest. “I am driven to teach the next generations of cooks the many layers of impact it has on the soil, environment, and health/wellness of those we serve.”
Ever since she was a young girl Marika Matson’s life revolved around her love of horses. She began her equine career at 11 years old when she landed a job shoveling manure on a horse farm. “I made $3 per hour and I worked every day after school,” Matson said. “It was my dream job and the art of shoveling manure is now engrained in my very being.” Over the years while working on various farms she stayed up late looking after mares and their babies while learning from the best horsemen and women in the Temecula Valley. Matson eventually turned her passion into a thriving horse-centric business and founded Temecula Carriage Company in 2007. Temecula Carriage Company offers a variety of carriage rides from romantic private tours to group excursions featuring wine tours, and seasonal activities. “The best way for me to explain my passion is to describe it as my gift,” Matson said. “I think gifts are meant to be shared.”
A true love of art has been swirling around local artist Tamra Gerard since elementary school where she loved to paint and draw. So much so, that her painting “Dog with Pink Eyes” was featured at the Laguna Arts Festival when Gerard was only 6-years-old. “My love of nature fuels my passion and my eyes are always wandering and taking in the details,” Gerard said. “Also, my mother often brought me to museums and street fairs growing up.” She is an award-winning painter and muralist with work featured at galleries in Carmel, Del Mar, and spots locally. She has dozens of wine labels featuring her designs throughout wineries in Temecula Valley Wine Country and several murals around the Temecula region. She is also involved with the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival and hopes her poster design will be selected once again for the annual event. “I am blessed to do what I love,” Gerard said. “If I am not creating something, I am not breathing.”
For Thom Curry, it was an olive tree he planted at the ripe young age of 6 that kick-started his lifelong love for all things olive. As an adult, grapes replaced olives for several years as he spent nearly two decades working in the wine industry until his focus shifted back to the world of olives in Southern California.“My background in winemaking has been a huge asset with developing our proprietary blends,” Curry said. “Not just with traditional olive oils, but also our co-milled oils, where we secure local produce from our farming community.”Curry leveraged his experience of sitting on the California Olive Oil Council for close to 20 years and designed and developed his own equipment. The new production equipment, which is a blend of Old World and New World technology, is considered cutting edge in the industry. He also developed the first mobile mill ever created and takes the mill to UC Davis to educate people from all over the world.
While on the path to become an airline pilot, Rusty Manning, founder and pilot at A Grape Escape Balloon Adventure fell in love with ballooning as a crew member for a hot air balloon company in 1990. Even though flying planes were in his sights, he was intrigued with the adventure that ballooning provided. Then he went up in a one and that experience led to his exciting destiny. “I was completely hooked after my first flight,” Manning said. His first job as a commercial pilot saw the aviation buff flying the iconic Tony the Tiger shaped hot air balloon across the United States with Kellogg’s. Manning has logged over 10,000 hours in a hot air balloon and has flown in 26 states in the United States and six countries. “You get to see passengers experiencing one of the first methods of air transportation,” Manning said. “You also get to experience the feeling of floating and there is nothing else like it.”