Look out Temecula, here comes Hemet!

Local winery proves the San Jacinto Valley can grow grapes

Rusty Strait / The Valley Chronicle
The serene green Tranquil Heart Vineyard and Winery located in Hemet stretches out beneath the San Jacinto Mountains.

■ Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter

When folks around these parts think of wineries, the first word that comes to mind is – Temecula!. But wait a minute. Sometimes, the best kept secrets are just around the corner. That’s what brought this reporter to the Tranquil Heart Vineyard and Winery.
A few blocks east of Hemet High School to the south of Stetson Avenue lies a wine lovers’ paradise – Tranquil Heart Vineyard and Winery. Should you mention the old Wilson Estate, and right away someone in your crowd will make a comment.
“You talking about that old house up on the hill? I heard that place is haunted.” It was also rumored to house the ghosts of former mental patients who once resided there. Maybe.
The house was built sometime in the early 20th century by Frances and Samuel Ritchie. Somewhere along the way, it changed hands and the Wilson family acquired it. Everyone in the valley knew Mary Wilson. She was one of the most popular teachers at Hemet High School for years.
After Mrs. Wilson died in 1993, it was at one time operated as a Christian retirement home. It later fell into disrepair. Vagrants and vandals demolished the interior and smashed all the large square windows that offered spectacular views of the San Jacinto Valley and the mountains beyond. Only one remained intact.
Shinkle family relocates
Don and Jo Shinkle moved their family from the San Fernando Valley to Idyllwild in 1975. Don, who already owned and operated a large greenhouse and nursery in San Fernando, opened another one in the southeastern section of Hemet and became well known throughout the Inland Empire.
Come now Don’s son, Bill, a youth of 15 who, upon seeing the Wilson property, fell in love with the 4,000-square-foot residence and carriage house with other outbuildings on 16 lush acres.
“Dad,” he declared, “Someday that is going to be my home.” Quite ambitious for a kid barely in high school. Fast forward to his early fifties. Bill, a single man, purchased the property and spent two years refurbishing it to the plush estate it is today.
Once he made the decision to turn the acreage into grapes and a winery, he pursued his project with great gusto and excitement. The carriage house is now a tasting room.

Members only
There is one caveat about Bill Shinkle’s winery – it is not open to the general public. Access is by membership only, which brings us to the purpose of this revelation about one of Hemet’s not so secret, secret treasures.
Recently I attended the “picking of the grapes,” where members and their guests gathered to pick grapes, starting at 6 p.m., and finishing up at 4 in the morning. Among the pickers is the legendary Patrick Searl’s son, Andy. Guests included local developer John Petty and hospital magnate Dr. Kali P. Chaudhuri and members of his family visiting from India.
Bill Shinkle’s dream-come-true is now producing a wide variety of both white and red specialty wines. Who would have thought Hemet is wine country? Just when you thought you knew everything about this city.

Just sayin’.

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