Temecula is a lesser known wine producing area in California that doesn't receive the attention that it deserves, living in the shadow of more fashionable areas like Napa Valley. With over 32 wineries to visit and 1,300 acres of planted vines it is perfect for a weekend getaway (or a midweek escape from the office). There are truly some old vines producing some fine examples of varietals that have been planted since the late 1700's.
Leaving Los Angeles at 7am on a Monday morning (where most people are on their commute to work with their Venti Starbucks sitting in their cupholders) I am riding the high life knowing that I am heading to the countryside and will be holding a glass of wine in my hand by 9.15am. The wineries in Temecula are based across 2 main areas: Rancho California Road and De Portola Road - which is easy to break into two wonderful days of wine and food exploring. The first day we planned to explore the main road out of town - Rancho California Road. Upon arriving into Temecula, the first stop before any wine touches my lips is a trip to the local donut shop to grab a few supplies for breakfast. Rancho Donuts is a family donut joint that is also the social scene for a few of the retirees of the area. Here they are catching up on the gossip over a fresh jelly hole and a hand of gin rummy, while I am having a hard time picking which sugary delight I am going to devour. An impeccably dressed gentleman grabs my arm and suggests anything I pick will be standout. He's on a date and she has chosen a lemon creme. I'll have what she's having plus surprise me on the other 5. Six donuts in a bag and change out of a $5 note and I am on the road again. Two miles later I arrive at my first winery of the day - Hart Winery.
As planned, I am standing with a glass of Viognier in my hand at 8.58am. Hart is a family-run vineyard that produces roughly 5,000 cases per year. To round out their vast range of varieties is an exotic Italian Aleatico grape which is made into a fortified dessert wine. The next on the list is Hart's neighbor, Callaway Vineyard & Winery. Their tasting room has an amazing vista out across the valley where you can enjoy a tasting or glass from a large range of varieties and styles of wine. Europa Village is designed as a gathering spot to enjoy a glass or tasting, as the name says – a little village to enjoy the wine made form the 30 acres of vines with Italian, Spanish and French styled wines. Less than 2 minutes drive away the steel gates of Miramonte Winery lead up to a grand entrance with a large deck. This casual contemporary tasting room is a very social gathering place. It is only a short ride up the hill to lunch at Falkner Winery. Their menu is based on light California dishes which complement their wines. The vistas from the tasting room and the restaurant give a real insight as to how close each winery is to their neighbor. As we approach Vindemia Estate Winery you can see the 100 olive trees that they have planted on their estate to complement their wine. Standing in their outdoor tasting room, on a hot day it is hard to avoid the heat while trying to enjoy their Cowbell Zinfandel. They offer olive oil tastings, however with a small vintage this is not always available. Maurice Car’rie Winery is our second to last stop for the day – a few flavored bubbles and a rare White Riesling. Most of the wineries in the area are open without an appointment required – the exception to this is Briar Rose Winery, our last stop for the day. They have designed a small intimate tasting room resembling Snow White’s cottage that, on a summers day, makes for a welcome retreat from the blazing sun. After enjoying some great Syrah, we head back in the town of Temecula for a swim in the hotel pool and an evening walk through the Old Town which has been restored to its former glory. Heading out on Rancho California Road the next morning in the valley, we travel to one of the more “distant” wineries Doffo Vineyard & Winery which in reality is only 20 minutes from downtown Temecula. They are their deep rich Syrah. Their top vintages are bottled in glass imported from Italy, which has an edge on their competition. Wilson Creek Winery is well known for their Almond Champagne and that’s the next stop by mid morning. From a large selection of wines we decide that the highlight is their dessert wine “Decadenica” which is made from century-old “old vine” zinfandel with a touch of natural chocolate. One more tasting before lunch sees us arrive at Monte De Oro Winery – a huge, extremely modern building with televison screens showing the bottling process and giant windows looking out over the vineyard. As you walk into the main tasting room there is a glass floor that reveals the barrel room below. The water feature and outdoor areas lend themselves to enjoying a bottle of rose in the sun.
Ponte Family Estate Winery includes a tasting room, that doubles as a gift store, a restaurant, an inn, a cellar bar and wedding venue. One of the largest production outputs in the area, they are set up for what your heart desires. A flight of wines with a mix of white and red sees us join the wine club to make use of the discounts offered over dining for lunch. We select a bottle of red bubbles to join us at our table. I nickname it my “turkey wine” – great for Thanksgiving. Lunch is served outdoors in a covered area with the fresh air circulating. The highlight before we order from the menu is to see the chefs picking herbs form the garden 20 feet from our table. The menu is based around fresh California vegetables and seafood – any wine will pair beautifully. After lunch we leave the main Rancho California Road and head South towards the hills to De Portola Road, starting with Frangipani Estate Winery. We are greeted by the vineyard dog, who, after a scratch under the chin, becomes an old friend. A long bar serves as a vantage-point to see out the window into the surrounding hills as we taste the latest harvest selection. This is the 12th vineyard we have visited in 2 days and we are still surprised by the varietal selection from the area. Danza Del Sol Winery has the only Gewürztraminer we tried. They have a few more of the unusual varieties such as Orange Muscat. Arriving at Leoness Cellars is a hive of activity. In their tasting room they also showcase local made jams and other foodie offerings. We locate to a table on the deck to catch the end of the afternoon sun. Before we head to the freeway we stop at Robert Renzoni Vineyards just before they close, ending the 2 days with bubbles in the large tasting room. Leaving the De Portola Road the California sunset appears over the ridges before we hit the freeway. Surprised by what we experienced we will be back and so close to Los Angeles we can see why the area attracts year-round visitors.