La Rebelde Winery: Lake Elsinore’s first and only
by John Clinton Gray
The wonderful wineries of Temecula Valley Wine Country developed southwest Riverside County’s popular and award-winning viticultural industry, but did you know there are also some great wines being produced in Lake Elsinore? Lake Elsinore is a beautiful community located about an hour and a half east of Los Angeles and an hour and a half northeast of San Diego off the I-15.
La Rebelde Winery is Lake Elsinore’s first and only wine producer. In June 2014, owners and winemakers, Rebecca Esquibel and Jim Lunger, life and business partners, celebrated their winery’s first anniversary. My wife, Pamela, and I, and several of our friends, have been going to La Rebelde and enjoying Jim’s and Rebecca’s creations since the first day they opened their doors last year.
La Rebelde’s size qualifies it as a boutique winery, but the gregarious Rebecca prefers “small lot, craft winery” because “every step of every process is hands on.”
The “hands on” part includes local grape harvesting, which Jim and Rebecca do themselves with the help of family and friends. They do not own their own vineyards but contract to obtain carefully selected varietals from private growers. Pamela and I and our friend, Anne, helped pick Zinfandel grapes in Hemet late last summer, and last week at the winery we had a first taste of La Rebelde’s young, not-yet-bottled Zin Rosé, which Jim is producing from those grapes. It’s bright, fruit-forward, and already delicious!
La Rebelde’s best sellers include two off-dry blush wines. Our favorite is Rebel Rosé, which Jim and Rebecca describe as “ . . . a free-run combination of some of the older varietals in the Inland Empire. Light on tannins, this wine explodes with tart cherry, cranberry, and peppery spices on the finish.” Poured well chilled, it’s a great complement to sharp cheese and dry salami.
The Ramona Syrah Rosé is also a popular La Rebelde wine. “Like summer in a bottle,” says Rebecca, “with the scent and flavor of watermelon and strawberries.” She serves it unchilled at the winery’s tasting bar. We find it rests round and happy on the palate and asks for grilled chicken or salmon to go with it.
The Rebel Sangria, available in white, red, and rosé, and even in growlers to go, is La Rebelde’s fun wine drink and it has lots of fans! In the tasting room, Rebecca and Jim serve their sangria over ice in a sizable goblet, with a splash of sparkling water and a spoon for the fruit. It’s wine and dessert all in one.
More serious but no less fun is La Rebelde’s Big Sexy Blend. This 50-50 combination of Syrah and Zinfandel grapes from the Ramona area balance fruitiness and spiciness in a big red that will stand up to just about anything. Another robust red is the Zinfandel made 100% from fruit grown on a rodeo ranch in Hemet. “Jammy” and “wow” are my favorite adjectives for this big Zin, and the peppery, spicy finish leaves my tongue eager for the next sip.
We also enjoy La Rebelde Pinot Grigio, a refreshing, flavorfully fruity white produced from Central California grapes. Jim bottled only 54 cases of this popular wine and we’ve been helping him sell it out. If you want to try it, go soon.
Home winemaking is a tradition in Rebecca’s family, and she imbues La Rebelde with that love and groundedness. “Some wineries take themselves too seriously,” she said recently. “Winemaking is a natural process guided by the winemaker’s experience of what to do and not to do. There are tried and true methods and knowledge to apply, of course, but we don’t underestimate intuition and even the need for a little luck as well.”
They describe their winemaking philosophy as non-interventionist. They do not add sulfites to their wines. “We do as little as humanly and chemically possible to help each wine just be itself, naturally.” Jim and Rebecca emphasize that winemaking is not essentially difficult. “Wine is forgiving,” they say.
Like most small, start-up businesses, La Rebelde Winery has its share of challenges. Jim—who not only makes the wine but makes everything mechanical at the winery work—retains his day job as a senior engineer and designer for K&N Racing in Riverside. His second workday starts at 3:30 in the afternoon when he arrives at the winery.
La Rebelde’s production facility and tasting room await your discovery at 530 Crane Street, Unit G, in Lake Elsinore, next door to Craft Brewing Company, a great place for a beer break. If the address sounds like it’s in an industrial park, you’re right. The location is easy to find, just off the I-15. Exit Central Avenue (CA 74), go west (toward Target) two short blocks, then left at the light onto Collier Avenue. Almost immediately, take the first right on Crane. La Rebelde Winery is in the corner unit a few buildings west down Crane Street, just past the office with the giant dragon over its entrance.
Check out larebeldeswines.com for more info, including special events, promotions, and hours of operation. La Rebelde Winery also has a wine club, offering discounted prices on quarterly selections.
Rebecca describes the La Rebelde philosophy: “Simple, affordable, quality winemaking based on a family tradition and spurred by a passion for accurately representing the fruit and where it comes from. This is what we are about.” The warm and gracious Jim and Rebecca are equally about people, as you’ll quickly find when you visit.