From the Valley to Old Town, San Diego’s northern neighbor is a destination in itself
By Anthony King | SDUN Editor
Undoubtedly the biggest draw to the Temecula region is the Temecula Valley – from large-scale wineries with high-end resorts to smaller, family focused wineries and posh restaurants – and visitors to Uptown’s neighbor resting a short 50-minute drive north are bound to do a bit of tasting. But that’s not all the city has to offer.
Make no mistake, however, Temecula Valley is quickly becoming the center of Southern California wine production. Of the 35 wineries a part of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association (temeculawines.org), all winemakers are working hard to make their mark on the industry. And that is certainly the main focus: good, high-quality wine.
On a recent jaunt to Temecula, representatives from the Winegrowers Association organized a multiple-day trip in order to highlight just what the region has to offer. First stop was Maurice Car’rie Vineyard & Winery (mauricecarriewinery.com), where the group met winemaker Gus Vizgirda for a barrel tasting and detailed explanation of the harvesting process.
“It’s a really interesting kind of work,” Vizgirda said from the warehouse where they crush the grapes and make the wine. “During this time of year, I’ll peek around in the tasting room, and if there’s a group of people I’ll tell them to come back here.”
The next stop was Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards (wilsoncreekwinery.com) and their Creekside Grille, where owners Bill, Gerry and Rosie Wilson ate lunch with the group. Bill Wilson originally planted the seed in his family’s mind of buying the property to start a winery and – though there were several setbacks at the start he can laugh about now – his family’s estate has grown to be one of the preeminent destinations in Temecula Valley.
Wilson Creek Winery produces the popular Almond Champagne, and hosts live music, weddings and special events, including a sold-out Mother’s Day brunch, to help up the profile of the Valley. But it was the wine, of course, that he most wanted to discuss.
After stops at Lorimar Vineyards & Winery (lorimarwinery.com) – where sommelier and manager Patrick McIlvain gave a private tour of the vineyard, showing their varietals grown on site – and a wine and cheese pairing at Miramonte Winery (miramontewinery.com) on their newly designed patio, it became clear that one day in Temecula Valley would not suffice. Miramonte owner Cane Vanderhoof, who joined in the wine tasting, agreed.
“I think there are 14 really recognized and fully functioning wineries, and probably a few other small up and comers, when I first came,” Vanderhoof said. “It kind of seems like in our generation, a lot of stuff is kind of starting to come together.”
To round out the first evening, a private dinner and wine tasting was held at Bouquet, the Ponte Family Estate’s (pontewinery.com) outdoor restaurant at their Ponte Vineyard Inn. Winemakers from Doffo Winery (doffowines.com), Wiens Family Cellars (wienscellars.com) and Monte de Oro Winery (montedeoro.com) – all resting in the 35,000 acres of rolling hills in the Temecula Valley – joined to talk more about wine.
Doffo owner Marcelo Doffo and his son Damian offered an impromptu tasting of the evening’s Cabernet Sauvignon wines and Doffo’s Zinfandel, which both said was one of their most popular. All the wine, of course, was exquisite.
Doffo Winery was also in the middle of grape harvesting, and both Marcelo and Damian Doffo were planning to be back in the field early the following morning. They are the only vineyard in the valley that plays classical music in the vineyard itself, both for the vines as well as the harvesters who work constantly during harvest season.
The following day had the group diverge from Temecula Valley for a stop in Old Town Temecula, a broad 12-block shopping district nestled near Interstate 15. Leah Di Bernardo, owner and executive chef of EAT: Extraordinary Artisan Table (eatmarketplace.com) catered a organic, locally and responsibly sourced meal of fresh tomato salad, gluten-free muffins and bacon quiche, highlighting something other than wine.
Di Bernardo, who said she is looking to open EAT locations in the San Diego region, said shopping and supporting the local economy is not just good business, but also good health.
“It’s an interesting concept,” Di Bernardo said. “I have a fascination with quick, healthy to-go food and I’ve also seen this deterioration [in health] in our country over the past 15 years.”
The breakfast took place at the Temecula Olive Oil Company (temeculaoliveoil.com) – occupying a building that used to be a brothel, back in the day – and, after a quick olive oil tasting, the group headed to nearby Temecula Lavender Company (temeculalavenderco.com), Old Town Sweet Shop (oldtownsweetshop.com) and Old Town Spice Merchants (secure.spicemerchants.biz/sm/). Annette Brown, marketing and PR manager for the Temecula Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau (temeculacvb.com), led the tour, highlighting Old Town Temecula and introducing the business owners.
After the tour it was back to wine country, where the Winegrowers Association was busy organizing that evening’s CRUSH Gala event and winemakers roundtable, featuring all 35 wineries in one place: Callaway Vineyards and Winery (callawaywinery.com).
Phil Baily was one speaker for that evening’s roundtable, and before heading into official panelist duties, he sat with the group for his new Baily Estate Club Tasting, held at Baily Vineyard and Winery (bailywinery.com). Here, Baily offered several wines from his estate’s cellars, giving the opportunity to taste subtle differences in wine throughout time. This tasting is for serious wine lovers and “knowledgeable wine consumers,” he said, recommending those interested to contact Estate Club Director Lisa Jane Long at 951-972-9768 for reservations.
The group then stopped to visit another winemaker speaking at that evening’s CRUSH, Nicholas Palumbo, owner of Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery (palumbofamilyvineyards.com). Palumbo moved his family into the Temecula Valley in 1998, and is now president of the Winegrowers Association. His small, family farm – first and foremost, they are farmers, he said – is slightly off the beaten Temecula Valley path.
“When I talk about wine, you’re not going to hear the normal flowery, schmooze-y wine speak,” said Palumbo, who grew up in the San Diego region. “I’m going to talk about wine in terms of music and in terms of food.”
The winemakers roundtable – Baily and Palumbo were joined by Drake Enterprises, Inc. (drakeent.com) owner Ben Drake, Callaway winemaker Craig Larson and Hart Family Winery (hartfamilywinery.com) owner Joe Hart – as well as the CRUSH Gala could only be topped by an early morning hot-air balloon ride over the quiet Valley, as the sun rose.
Vindemia Winery (vindemia.com) and California Dreamin’ owner Dave Bradley took several from the group on a hour-long “float” above several wineries, including day one’s Ponte Family Estate and South Coast Winery & Resort (wineresort.com) before returning to his winery for a walk through the vineyard and a capstone wine-crushing contest.
For those who missed the Winegrowers Association’s September California Wine Month CRUSH Gala, the next big event is the 23rd annual Harvest Celebration Barrel Tasting Weekend, scheduled for Nov. 2 and 3 from 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Ticket holders can visit all 35 wineries during the two-day event, tasting wines and celebrating the Temecula Valley the entire time. Information and tickets on this and all the wineries can be found at temeculawines.org or by calling 800-801-9463.
More Valley Info
Dave Bradley’s California Dreamin’ balloon and biplane rides include a complimentary breakfast at his Vindemia Winery, and the company also operates sunset balloon rides in Del Mar, Calif. Regular rates for their Temecula Sunrise Hot Air Balloon flights are $188 per person, however Bradley is offering a 2013 Harvest Package – for a limited time – of $148 per person, which includes a bottle of his Sauvignon Blanc. Visit californiadreamin.com or call 800-373-3359 for more information.
Overnight stays in Temecula are encouraged, and guests on this trip were hosted by the Temecula Creek Inn at 4451 Rainbow Canyon Rd. The hotel also serves the Temecula Golf Resort course, which was awarded a four-star “Places to Play” rating from Golf Digest.
The newly opened Farm House Kitchen just received a $2.5 million renovation and features a “farm-to-table” menu of local, fresh and organic food. Visit temeculacreekinn.com or call 877-517-1823.
For those interested in staying directly in wine country, Ponte Family Estate’s new Ponte Vineyard Inn is open at 35001 Rancho California Rd., butting up against their vineyard. Each room at the boutique hotel has a private patio that opens to the courtyard with views of the valley just beyond, and owners kept sustainability in mind during the design: from a live pond with no chemicals in the courtyard to LED lighting and maximizing sun exposure in the rooms.
The hotel also boasts one of the only places in Temecula Valley where you can grab a drink that is not made from grapes. The Cellar Lounge located – you guessed it – in the basement opens at 4 p.m. each day, and boasts a full bar and all the Ponte wines you can imagine. Visit pontevineyardinn.com or call 951-587-6688.