Temecula Valley, Calif., wine grape growers joined their counterparts to the north this season, successfully harvesting a crop of promising wine quality amid prospects of improved grape prices.

A decade ago, many growers in the southern Riverside County wine grape enclave were not sure they’d be around in 2011 when the glassy-winged sharpshooter (GWSS) vectored deadly Pierce’s disease throughout the 1,300 acres of wine grapes, killing many of the vines.

However, Temecula growers have rebounded from the devastation of Pierce’s disease in the late 1990s, and vineyards throughout the valley are thriving. New plantings are evident across the region. Wineries are expanding their guest facilities and plans are underway for more growth.

Grower and winemaker Nick Palumbo, who owns Palumbo Family Winery with his wife, Cindy, thinks the Temecula Valley wine grape growing region is poised “for getting the attention and respect that is due” all the hard work that goes into growing superior wine grapes. He’s among a new generation of grower/vintners learning and implementing new growing and management techniques — eager to try new clones and varietals.

“In a way, Pierce’s disease was the best thing that ever happened to us because a lot of vines got kicked out and everybody had to rethink what they were doing,” he said.

At the height of the Pierce’s disease crisis many growers lost as 40 percent or more of their vineyards. Some smaller operations survived by intense rouging of diseased plants. Many used the calamity to diversify their plantings to include a wider range of cool-, moderate- and warm-season varietals in the valley’s rolling hills. The Temecula outbreak also jump-started research on international varietals that now has resulted in development of resistant varieties that University of California, Davis, geneticist Andy Walker said are proving to make quality wine, and which will be evaluated for release next year.

The Temecula area is important in the history of California wine grapes. More than 200 years ago, winemaking made its debut in California at Mission San Juan Capistrano. The first winemakers were the mission padres. Mission vineyards were established in Temecula in 1820. The first modern commercial vineyard in the Temecula Valley was established in 1968. Now there are about 30 wineries in the area.  The 35,000 acres of rolling hills identified as "Temecula AVA" were established in 1984.

Temecula Valley vineyards are planted 1,500 to 2,500 feet above sea level, with most at the lower end of the elevation. Just 20 miles from the coast, the area benefits from cooling ocean breezes drawn inland via the coastal mountain range. The breezes help moderate the daytime temperatures and produce cool nights.

Joe Hart, with his wife, Nancy, and three sons, planted their first grapes in 1974. Today, Hart Family Winery grows and bottles a variety of reds and whites, but their focus is on Sauvignon Blanc and a Muscat clone, Hart said.