by Fred McMillin
for September 19, 1997

Winery of the Week

Just Say Callaway


  • 1969—Ely Callaway knew a lot about textiles; after all, he was president of the world's largest producer, Burlington Industries. However, he claimed to know nothing about wine, which he promptly demonstrated by planting 100 acres of vines in Southern California, where it is generally too hot and too dry for premium wine grapes.

  • Jan. 1997—Callaway Calla-Lees Chardonnay ranks sixth in national sales volume of super-premium Chardonnays.
The Rest of the Story: So how do you make a best-selling Chardonnay in hot, dry Southern California? Crazy like a fox, President Callaway picked out the one spot that had both water and cool air, Temecula. The water came from 500-feet-deep wells. The cool air came from the Pacific Ocean, delivered through the Rainbow Gap, a v-shaped canyon facing the coastline. Though hundreds of miles south of the Napa Valley, Temecula temperatures are about the same.

Temecula's biggest winery is Callaway, and Callaway's biggest wine is their Chardonnay, from some 500 acres of estate vines. Part of the success is due to the fact that phylloxera doesn't like the area...so vines grow on their own rootstock and survive nicely. Even more important is Vice President-Winemaker Dwayne Helmuth's decision to emphasize the grape flavors by unusually low fermentation temperatures, a 44 degrees for the 1996. The flavors are intensified by extended contact with the fermetation sediment called "lees." It works so well that Dwayne uses no oak contact at all. with sales of over 100,000 cases a year, Dwayne doesn't plan on changing the procedure.

Just The Facts

Name Callaway Vineyard and Winery
Location Rancho California Road, Temecula, CA
Founded 1969
Production First year: 16,000 cases; now 250,000.
Vineyards 720 acres (500 Chardonnay)
Winemaker         Dwayne Helmuth
1981 Milestones a) Dwayne joins Callaway
b) First year that Calla-Lees is produced
c)Hiram Walker buys the winery and makes $3.5 million upgrade.
Other Wines My panel has given particularly high ratings to the Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.
Contact Inez Ferrari, (707) 433-8268
Food Affinities Viognier: Sea Bass Wrapped with Crispy Potato Noodles; Chardonnay: Dungeness Crab Risotto (Inez might be able to get you copies of those recipies.)

Postscript: Whence the name Temecula? The Indian name was Temeku, "the land where the sun shines through the white mist."

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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