Sometimes when you meet a celebrity, the experience can be a pleasant surprise or disappointingly shocking. Meeting and later spending a few days with “Little Women: LA” reality TV star Tonya Renée Banks in Temecula, California’s wine country proved to be both fun and inspiring.
Known lovingly as Lil Boss, Banks is on a quest for what she calls her perfect grape for expanding her winemaking venture that started in 2018, L’Tonya Renée Red Blend. Banks’ journey into winemaking is rooted in memories of her family’s house parties. Her mom loved serving a port wine. “It started with my mom. My mom used to love red wine, especially that port. I did not like wine, or I didn’t like that type of wine,” says the actress of more than 30 years.
As Banks developed her own wine palate, it was red wine and moscato that would eventually get her hooked. The Southern California native started introducing her colleagues on “Little Women: LA” to red wine and finally got tired of buying everyone else’s brands. “A lot of friends like dry wine and a lot of my friends like sweet wine. I said to myself, ‘You know since I got this platform, I going to make my own wine.’”
Journey Into Winemaking
Named after her mother, Banks’ wine is in partnership with a Black-owned vintner in Northern California. The bottle with a purple and gold label is a blend of merlot, syrah and zinfandel. “My label had to satisfy me. I always wear gold jewelry, you’ll never see me wearing silver jewelry, and my favorite colors are gold and purple,” says Banks. “It’s just enough to satisfy the people that have a sweet palate and a small amount to satisfy the people who have a dry palate.” The alcohol content comes in at 16.8 percent. Banks says her wine is not meant to be chilled, packs a punch and intended to be sipped and savored.
With plans to expand her wine portfolio, Banks is working on what she says will be a refreshing Moscato. She also wants to produce a sparkling wine in the future. As she begins this expansion, she hopes to partner with the Temecula Valley Wine Management Association in Southern California, a group known for its world-class award-winning vintages. Her goal is to stay closer to home, given her career obligations.
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Finding the right grape and vintner requires a great deal of research, tastings, and patience as Banks is very keen on the taste she wants for her next release. Last fall, she traveled through Temecula sipping and tasting wines while informally interviewing wineries that would make the final cut.
Helping in her search was the restaurant Gourmet Italia. Known for their variety of wildly delicious red blends, Banks loved how their wines closely resembled her red blend, which she hopes to continue producing in the wine country.
A visit Lorimar Winery and Vineyard, known for its big, bold red wines, sparkling wines and wine education, piqued Banks’ interest with a prosecco she loved. Monte De Oro Winery, voted one of the best wine travel destinations by Wine Enthusiast, extends wine aging in European and American oak barrels to produce its award-winning wines that include red, white and sparkling. The winery also hosts an annual grape crushing event known as the Temecula Crush. Another feather in the cap for sparkling wine, Banks ranked the winery as another top contender.
However, it was Banks’ stop at Leoness Cellars that proved to be very impressive. Located on a hilltop, you’ll find wines that are concentrated and well-balanced with incredible depth and flavors. The winery’s motto is to farm high-quality vineyards, produce award-winning wines and impart guests with world-class hospitality. All business principles Banks resonates with. In addition to their red blend, it was their white merlot that helped to catapult the winery to the top of her list.
The last stop on Banks’ search, for now, was Callaway Vineyard and Winery, famous for its grape stomp contests that Banks has once participated in. It also is Temecula’s first commercial winery established in 1969. Banks toured acres of all types of flavorful varietals while sipping along the way with a cabernet sauvignon coming out as her favorite.
“Visiting the wineries in Temecula was very informational and now I am just ready to get started,” says Banks. Her search for the perfect grape is just the beginning of getting more involved in the production of her wines and creating wines that she will not only love but her friends and fans as well.
Another project that may also be in the works is a possible “Little Women: LA” spinoff that will follow Banks’ winemaking expansion. In the meantime, follow Banks on Instagram and Twitter. To purchase L’Tonya Renée Red Blend, visit her website at https://www.tonyareneebanks.com/wine.
For more about Banks’ journey into wine and visit to Temecula, be sure to watch this video.