When you think of California wine, your mind tends to send you to places like Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and Paso Robles. And while those are all great destinations for the curious imbiber, there’s a substantial scene not too far from the major metro areas of Los Angeles and San Diego. It’s called the Temecula Valley, and it’s a warm-weather wine playground well worth a visit.
In short, the region is often compared to Tuscany in terms of climate. That said, you’re likely to see lots of Italian influence in what’s planted — think Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese. Close to 50 wineries now occupy the valley, taking advantage of the Mediterranean climate. It’s set about 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean and with a couple of significant gaps in the coastal mountains, there’s a cooling effect that the resident vines adore, especially at night when the temperatures drop.
It’s a laid-back atmosphere, as you might expect from a sunbaked stretch of the west coast. Better, there are fun tasting rooms to explore, an interesting array of wines, and some great lodging options to make a full weekend out of it. Here’s where to go in Temecula Valley wine country.
Longshadow has been at it for a while, delivering a theme that’s very American West on top of a host of wines. You’ll find big reds like Sangiovese, Malbec, and Tempranillo, ideal to bring back to your place and grill with. It does attract a crowd on the weekends and the occasional wedding, so plan a weekday visit if you want a little more solitude. With horses on the property along with pretty views of estate vineyard rows, it’s a great place to get lost for a while.
There’s a lot of intrigue surrounding Briar Rose. Let’s start with the fact that the estate is built to look like Snow White’s cottage, assembled by a former Disney engineer. The wines are the work of what many in the valley consider to be the region’s first cult label and include everything from Viognier and Chardonnay to Barbera, Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and more. And there’s a lovely outdoor tasting area, an oasis of flowers and greenery.
Established in 1980, Hart Winery is one of the longest-running outfits in Temecula. Charmingly, the label has kept things both in the family and pretty small, turning out just 4,000 cases of wine per year. That means an intimate tasting experience featuring wines like Albariño, Arneis, and Sauvignon Blanc if you like white — and Barbera, Petit Verdot, even relatively obscure Italian varietal Aleatico, if red is your thing.
One of Oak Mountain’s many merits is the cave system, the only one of its kind in the region. It’s built straight into the earth, allowing for optimal winemaking conditions and a cool tasting experience that reminds one of the older cantinas in Europe. Check out the label’s sparkling offerings, Roussanne, Grenache, Syrah, and even Pinotage. And if you’re tired of wine at this point or just want to switch things up, the estate even features its own Prohibition-style bar with matching cocktails.
Tucked away from the tour busses is Vindemia, a more off-the-beaten-path affair focused on small lot wines and sustainability. You’ll find estate wines like Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, and occasionally even some Pinot Noir. The operation was launched by a former hot air balloon pilot who was captivated by the vineyard rows and unique soils beneath his routes. Today, Vindemia is a standout producer that represents the more quaint side of the Temecula Valley wine scene.
One of the nice things about Temecula is that it’s a relatively small and close-knit winemaking community. That means you’ll likely be close to old town Temecula and its many bars, restaurants, antique stores, and museums. Check out 1909 if you feel like having a proper cocktail or The Goat & Vine for some hearty grub, like freshly made pizzas and loaded sandwiches.
Temecula Creek Inn is a great and relaxing spot to stay, especially if you want the resort experience and maybe even want to take up some golf while there. If you wish to stay among the vines, check out the high-end suites at Domaine Chardonnay. The French-inspired estate overlooks some of the oldest vineyard lands in the area and boasts all the amenities you could ask for.
For the adventurous, a hot air balloon ride here is highly recommended, especially given the great weather and often crystal clear visibility. Check out California Dreamin’ for more info.
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