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  • Writer's picturePaul and Teresa Lowe

Tonya Renee Banks search for the perfect grape by Paul and Teresa Lowe

Sometimes when you meet a celebrity--someone who is famous, the experience can be surprising or shocking. Spending a few days with “Little Women of L.A.” reality TV star Tonya Renee Banks in Temecula, California wine country was as comfortable as could be on a bright fall day.

While on a quest to find what Tonya calls her perfect grape for a new winemaking venture, we discovered that folks lovingly call her 'Lil Boss.' The moniker is rather fitting for her big and delightfully funny personality. Tonya Banks indeed moves about in her very own entrepreneurial positive lane of life.

Tonya's journey into winemaking is rooted in her memories of her family's house parties. Her mom loved serving a port wine. Tonya recalls strongly disliking her mother's brand.

Fast forward several years to a partnership with a vintner in northern California. Tonya created a red blend that is pleasing to her palate and her friends and continues to strive ever forward. She calls the creation 'L'Tonya Renee Red Blend.' Her grandmother lovingly called her LaTonya, even though that is not her birth name. The elements of this red blend have a strong alcohol content- almost 17 percent. It blends 23 percent Zinfandel, 48 percent Merlot, and 32 percent Syrah. Tonya says her wine is not meant to be chilled. It is intended to be sipped and savored. It packs a punch. You can find her limited vintage wine at a variety of restaurants in the state and online.

Tonya has plans to expand her red wine label and also to create what she terms will be a new refreshing Moscato and a bottle of vibrant sparkling wine. Tonya is reaching out to the Temecula Visitor-Tourism Bureau and hopes to partner with the Temecula Valley Wine Management Association as well. This group is known for its world-class award-winning vintages. Finding the right grape and vintner requires a great deal of research, tastings, and patience. Helping in her journey is Gourmet Italia. There Tonya sipped on a variety of wildly delicious wine blends, paired with out of this world wonderful Italian food selections. An evening here is like visiting Italy without leaving Temecula, hosted by Owner and Chef Alessandro “Alex Prestifilippo and his lovely wife Charity (Charity is a fan of Tonya on Little Women of LA). Assisting in Tonya's search is the Lorimar Winery and Vineyard, known for its big bold red wines, sparkling wines, and wine education, hosted by GM Matt. Super fun.

Also helping in Tonya's search for the perfect grape is Monte De Oro Winery-known for extended wine aging in European and American oak barrels, and also for a hosting the annual re-known Temecula Crush. Leoness Cellars is very impressive. Here on a hilltop, you'll find wonderful Cabernet Savignon Their grapes are concentrated and balanced that produce incredible depth and flavors. Their motto is simple- farm high-quality vineyards, produce award-winning wines and impart guests with world-class hospitality.

And, making an impression on the actress is Callaway Vineyard and Winery-famous for its grape stomp contests, of which Tonya was a participant. It also is the first commercial winery established in Temecula (1969). Tonya toured acres of all types of flavorful varietals.

With the city located about an hour's drive east from Los Angeles, Tonya says it's conveniently located nearby. Close enough to her acting career opportunities. A visit during harvest season is the perfect time to sample the grapes varieties that would be potentially artfully blended for her wine brands.

Tonya shares that she has the ambition to become a part of the Temecula community and be more proactive in the production of her future wine brands...who knows, perhaps her adventure could be the focus of a whole new reality series.

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