Have you ever awaken and thought today I would love to be in Tuscany or Loire Valley or Napa, basking in the sun, sipping fine wines and overlooking acres of vineyards?
If, like me, you live in Southern California, your reality is that Mexico is closer than any of these dream destinations. Then again, if you’re a So Cal resident, you’re in luck as Temecula Valley’s wine region is nearby—90 minutes or less from San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County and Palm Springs.
Temecula winemaking has a rich history. Beginning two centuries ago in California’s original missions, the padres were the region’s first winemakers. Opening in 1974, Callaway Vineyard and Winery was one of the area’s first modern commercial wineries; its founder Ely Callaway went on to continued fame with another namesake venture, Callaway Golf. And Temecula Valley’s growth is equally impressive. Whereas there were 14 wineries in 2000—today the number approaches 40. Rivaling its quick growth are its numerous awards, including top honors from many major wine competitions.
How apropos that the name Temecula means “place of the sun.” With a 1,500-foot elevation that translates to cool summer evenings and an ever-pleasant atmosphere for serene sipping, here’s a brief intro to a selection of my favorite wineries in the region.
Briar Rose Winery – Designed by Beldon Fields, one of Disneyland’s creators in the 1950s, this family winery’s façade is of storybook proportions. Briar Rose is a bit off the path of the typically traveled wine trails, but it is well worth the additional effort to seek out this life-size replica of Grimm Brothers Snow White’s Cottage.
Doffo – Away from the prime concentration of the valley’s wineries, Rancho California Road’s east end is home to Doffo Winery, which has been called Temecula’s first true petite winery. Situated on 15 acres, Doffo’s annual yield is modest (2,000 cases) but it’s in high demand. Owner/winemaker Marcelo Doffo heads up a true family operation, consisting of his wife and five children (most of whom work in the winery). The secret to his success with grapes: music. Doffo shares that classical music is piped into the vineyard, and on his infrequent days off he turns to a selection from his motorcycle collection for fun.
Europa Village – Presented as a trio of tributes, this European-inspired winery pays homage to France, Italy and Spain in both its environs and its wines (Italian wines are under the Vienza label, France is represented by the C’est La Vie label and the Spanish wine label is Bolero Cellars). Where better to spend an afternoon than on the patio of the winery’s French-like bistro? And where else would a group select for an evening of food and wine than the Europa Village’s Italian grotto, the setting for musical wine dinners (French, Italian and Spanish), culinary classes and sommelier workshops? Add to this mix the Inn at Europa Village—the winery’s bed and breakfast, which sits hilltop overlooking the Village and the valley—and your European getaway is complete.
Lorimar – Newest on the scene, this Tuscan-style winery, complete with a Founder’s Tower, is Temecula Valley’s 37th winery. Its uncorked delights are some of the valley’s best, though not necessarily the most expensive. “Our intention was to produce wines that would fall into the mid-range, price-wise,” explains owner Mark Manfield. Manfield and his brother-in-law/partner Lawrie Lipton offer an additional benefit to Lorimar’s guests, a hospitality/restaurant background; and it shows. Explaining the decision for a grand entrance, Manfield explains, “We envisioned a bride when we designed the winery.”
Ponte Family Wine Estate – Situated in the center of the region’s heart, this 300-acre winery is the setting for the Ponte family’s 40-year-old vineyard, award-winning restaurant, world-class gardens, top-notch gift shop and Ponte Vineyard Inn (the newest addition to the team)—all in a highly polished, sophisticated setting.
South Coast Winery Resort & Spa – If Temecula Valley had a town square, it would be South Coast Winery. A neighbor of Ponte winery and named the “Best California State Winery of the Year” two years running, a visit here is like one-stop-shopping—dining, tasting room, spa, luxury villas and of course, fine wines. Its wines are a true tribute to the commitment of proprietor/winegrower Jim Carter and his award-winning winemaking team Jon McPherson and Javier Flores.
Thornton Winery – Known as the gateway to Temecula Valley Wine Country, a stop at Thornton’s French-style chateau will be a memorable kick-off to a day of California wine tasting. Known for its sparkling wines, it’s earned more medals in major national competitions than any other sparkling winery. Thornton Winery’s highlights include Café Champagne, the Champagne Jazz Series and unprecedented views.
Wilson Creek Winery – You’ll know of Wilson Creek Winery if you’ve ever celebrated over a glass of its well-known bubbly, Almond Champagne. In addition to fine wines, signature features of this Tuscan-themed winery include premier gardens, a bridge spanning a meandering stream informally named Wilson Creek, and a 25-foot gazebo overlooking the stream.
Places to Sip, Swirl and Socialize
With oenophiles in mind, I raise a glass to Temecula Valley. Cheers!
For more information go to Visit Temecula.
Editor’s Note: Many of the photos courtesy of Bill Robinson Photography.