When I tell winemakers from the Central Coast that I also taste wines from further south, including the Temecula Valley\u2014a region of rolling hills in southern Riverside County where grapes have been grown since the 1960s\u2014they almost always say, \u201cOh, I\u2019m sorry.\u201d\r\n\r\nYou can\u2019t blame the apologetic winemakers, since I usually offer that information in a slightly negative tone. It's like even I\u2019ve been trained to dismiss places south, so I'm as much to blame. But their reactions made me wonder why the wine industry is inclined to denigrate emerging regions like Temecula or, for that matter, places like Michigan, Texas and Virginia, usually without ever even having tasted the wines they\u2019re bashing. Certainly, Napa once did this to Paso Robles, and Sonoma to Santa Barbara and so on and so forth.\r\n\r\nHaving been in my current job for more than two years now, I\u2019ve tasted plenty of Temecula wines. Like all of the places I review, not every wine is great, but I\u2019ve been happily surprised by many, from crisp whites like Palumbo Family\u2019s Grenache Blanc to hearty but balanced reds like those produced by Leoness, Lorenzi, and Gershon Bachus.\u00a0 It\u2019s clear that a number of wineries there are doubling down on quality, focusing intently on their vineyards and producing standout bottlings that could hold their own against California\u2019s more established regions.\r\n\r\nA few weeks ago, on a rainy Monday morning after the World of Pinot Noir event in Santa Barbara\u2014where I encountered plenty of such sorrys\u2014I made my first trip to the region and visited a half a dozen wineries whose bottles had impressed me. The trip was eye-opening on a number of fronts, as I learned about the region\u2019s climate (cooled by ocean air that blows through the Rainbow Gap each day) and its history, in which 20-acre ranchettes became home to hobby winemakers before Callaway Winery started dominating the scene in the mid-1970s.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nGrowth was steady to more than 35 wineries today, but Temecula\u2019s trajectory took a hit in the late 1990s when Pierce\u2019s disease decimated their vineyards. That came with a silver lining, though: since 2000, vintners who care have focused on replanting vineyards with varietals and clones that do well in the region\u2019s rather hot summers and low rainfall. In addition to common Rh\u00f4ne and Bordeaux varietals, some, like Robert Renzoni Winery are finding tasty success with Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Italian grape blends, which makes sense since the hilly terrain looks much like Tuscany. (Renzoni also serves an excellent lunch, as does Falkner Winery; in fact, food service is quite common, unlike many other regions around the state where it is regulated against.)\r\n\r\nBut I\u2019d be lying if I didn\u2019t admit that there is a bit of truth to the \u201cI\u2019m sorry\u201d stereotypes. Being less than 90 minutes away from the 23 million people who live in that part Southern California, the wineries have always sold out of most everything they make, so there\u2019s never been a real financial impetus for upping quality. That has left many to simply focus on quantity and the status quo. It also means that many of these wines aren\u2019t distributed, so unless you visit, you won\u2019t be tasting them anywhere.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nAs well, many of the wineries\u2014some of which are a bit gaudy by the Central Coast\u2019s more modest standards\u2014have succeeded in becoming a top destination for wine country weddings and, yes, those notorious bachelorette parties. With SoCal crowds jamming into the tasting rooms every weekend and sipping on quite popular almond-flavor sparkling wine, most of the winemakers I visited openly admitted that serious wine drinkers should only come midweek.\r\n\r\nOne of those honest vintners was Phil Baily. His was the only winery I visited that I hadn\u2019t tasted beforehand but was highly recommended, and it was quickly apparent why. A vintner in Temecula since 1986, Baily shared a vertical flight of his Cabernet Sauvignon-based Meritage blend stretching from 2005\u20132011. I\u2019ve experienced many verticals, but the consistency of Baily\u2019s wines was stunning.\r\n\r\n\u201cThere\u2019s not one that stands out, and that makes me proud,\u201d said Baily, who is also honest that Temecula\u2019s wines have come a long way, whether or not the rest of the California wine world knows or not. \u201cIn our learning phase, we were inconsistent,\u201d he admitted. \u201cBut it\u2019s like night and day from when we started. Now we\u2019re an established appellation.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhich is to say, let\u2019s taste before we hate.