Galileo once said “Wine is sunshine held together by water.” And in the town of Temecula, they have plenty of both. Mother Nature has truly blessed this delightful Southern California community nestled among the surrounding hills and mountains.
Located just an hour north of San Diego, Temecula translates in Spanish as “Where the sun breaks through the mist.”
And it’s a combination of these two vital elements that makes it such a fast growing wine region. The sun shines an average of 276 days here. And with cooling mists drifting in from the Pacific Ocean it’s a perfect place to grow grapes.
Miles and miles of vineyards as far as the eye can see are growing here on its 40-plus wineries. From boutique to full-service, Temecula’s vintners are making some incredibly tasting award-winning wines.
Wining and Dining among the Vines
Where to start wine tasting? Well, close to the beginning of Temecula’s main winery route is what we told ourselves.
Hart Family Winery
One of Temecula Valley’s oldest wineries, Hart Family Winery sits 1,500 feet above sea level with stunning views of the mountains and valleys below. Family is what this winery is all about and at any given time you will see one of the Harts in the tasting room or out and about the property.
Widely respected as pioneers in the local winemaking industry, the Harts are passionate about their meticulously crafted award-winning wines. Members and visitors lining the bar of the tasting room do so with big smiles on their faces. Here, it’s not just about good wines; it’s about good times.
Just up Rancho California Road a bit (also known as the wine trail) sits another family-owned and operated winery. Falkner Winery located high above the Temecula Valley is a warm, welcoming place with splendid spectacular views.
Renowned for their Seductive Series of wines with names like Luscious Lips and Risque Riesling, make no mistake that though these wines are fun, like so many others made here, they are also splendid.
Panoramic views from the winery’s Pinnacle Restaurant are stunning. Indoor and outdoor patio dining along with their Mediterranean-inspired cuisine make for a magnificent dining experience.
Crispy Brussels Sprouts are prepared with sliced almonds, goat cheese crumbles, dried cranberries and finished with a fried egg and hibiscus drizzle. I’ve always avoided the “egg” concept topping an entree, but, this dish converted me.
Once we heard it described as a must-try, we had to order the specialty of the house, the Spanish Octopus braised in a court bouillon and finished on the grill with sautéed julienne carrots, red and green cabbage and Beluga lentils drizzled with smoked Paprika Oil and fresh organic lemon. Tender and flavorful, we nominated this as the best octopus we’ve ever had.
Lovers of seafood pasta must try the Seafood Portofino, a Mediterranean-inspired dish served with Maine lobster, jumbo shrimp, and Hokkaido scallops with shallots, fresh garlic, basil, sundried-tomatoes, and artichoke hearts in a white wine sauce.
For dessert, Pinnacle’s Chocolate Divinity is just that- divine. Dark chocolate cake with raspberry and white chocolate sauces topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, a chocolate- lover’s heaven.
Lunching with Sonoma County native winemaker David Vergari from Thornton Winery was quite a treat. Unpretentious with a witty sense of humor, David is full of fun wine stories but it’s obvious he takes his winemaking very seriously.
The winery, a French-style designed Chateau features world-class sparkling and still wines. Red, white and sparkling wine flights are a fun way to pair lunch with tastings or experiment with different wine offerings. And David’s happy to share his suggestions.
Thornton’s Café Champagne is known as one of the best winery dining spots in Temecula. No one comes to the Café without ordering the Signature Brie en Croute topped with warm honey and walnuts.
It’s no surprise it’s been on the menu forever. Loyal patrons love it.
The Black and Bleu Flatbread is a perfect melding of flavors with its combination of figs, cherry tomatoes, prosciutto, bleu cheese, arugula, pistachios topped with a balsamic reduction.
Finishing off with a rich, moist, luscious Tiramisu, we’re treated to another of Thornton’s specialties- their chocolate wine. Kiss of Chocolate is a sweet red that doesn’t look like chocolate, but definitely delivers the chocolaty taste!
Playing in the Vineyards
Cat Stevens sings “Morning has broken” as we greet the sunrise in the basket of a hot air balloon soaring over the vineyards with a toast of champagne. Balloon Rides Online provides riders an incredible way to see the miles and miles of lush vineyards and awe-inspiring landscape of wine country from a bird’s eye view. The 75-minute journey is a not to be missed experience of a lifetime.
For a more up close and personal experience with the grapes growing on row upon row of green vines, a horseback ride through the vineyards with Wine Country Trails by Horseback is not only fun and relaxing, it’s educational.
Most of owner Diana Fortin’s horses are rescued and rehabilitated after being abandoned or abused by their previous owners. Diana’s well-trained, horse-loving staff lead riders on a clip-clop adventure through the verdant vineyards accompanied by azure blue skies, gentle breezes and the warm Temecula sunshine. And of course, there’s the option of wine-tasting afterward at nearby Maurice Car’rie Winery.
Staying in Temecula
Our Tuscan Temecula Hideaway owned by Blake and Sheree Slaughter was a wine-inspired fully-furnished 4-bedroom vacation home that sits on five acres with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Off the beaten path and private, yet close enough to Temecula’s many vineyards, it’s the perfect place to relax and unwind. The well-appointed abode had everything we needed for the perfect weekend getaway, including an outdoor lighted patio area and hot tub under the stars.
Playing in Old Town Temecula
The pedestrian-friendly 12-block neighborhood is lively, festive and filled with remnants of its storied past. More than a dozen properties dating back to the 1890s have been repurposed and reopened along its wooden boardwalks. Temecula definitely pays homage to its historical roots.
We discovered Antique museums around every corner, many located in rustic Western-era buildings. Temecula-made artisan craft shops, charming boutiques and unique mercantiles lure visitors in from the street to their welcoming doorsteps.
Temecula Valley Museum exhibits represent life in the Temecula Valley. The display highlights the different cultures that influenced the development of the area through time. Displays, artifacts and photographs share the history of its Indian heritage, missions, ranchos, stagecoaches and railroads.
After sampling their handcrafted oils, vinegars and other artisan products, we can easily understand why patrons leave the store with a shopping bag filled to the brim. This outfit really knows how to cater to the inner gourmet chef residing deep within us.
Eating and Drinking in Old Town
It’s impossible to find anything but a great restaurant here. Creative restauranteurs and talented chefs outdo one another on the foodie scene. From pubs, breweries, cowboy-themed eateries to white-linen establishments, everything here is an adventure to the palate. We followed the local’s suggestions on where to dine, and are we ever glad we did.
The Goat and Vine
The culinary team at The Goat and Vine (named after an Aesop fable) assembles each morning at 4 am to handcraft their bread and pizza dough.
At only 11:45 a.m. we walk into a packed restaurant. Pizzas are a unique specialty here and we decide on sharing one called the The Pig and His Date. Handcrafted with Medjool dates, prosciutto, French brie and jalapenos, this delightful pie is topped with arugula tossed in an apricot jalapeno dressing. Mouthwateringly good, the unique melding of flavors left our taste buds begging for more. A Pinot Grigio from local vintner Robert Renzoni was the perfect accompaniment.
An old historic tin-roofed warehouse-like structure that once served as a trading post and livery houses 1909 Temecula. But don’t let the rustic feel of this place fool you. This isn’t pub grub. Handcrafted fluid and fare is the restaurant’s motto and they more than live up to the name.
Seated in the outdoor patio provides the perfect place to people watch and enjoy the line of classic cars cruising their way down Front Street, the town’s main drag.
Creative bartenders at 1909 create concoctions like the Cedar-Smoked Old Fashioned, a Manhattan with a California twist.
Created tableside with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, raw sugar, bitters and orange zest, the glass is smoked by torching a cedar plank then placing the glass upside down to absorb the smoky cedar flavor. All surrounding tables watched the show with delight.
Food here is delightful and with so many choices, it’s not an easy task. We started with a sampling of the Shrimp and Chorizo in a white wine cream sauce served with baguettes- one of the staff’s favorites. Spicy and flavorful, it’s not hard to see why.
I have to admit I’m not a big fan of Empanadas. Chris, our friendly engaging waiter winks and says “wait till you try ours.” He was right on the money. The Crab and Shrimp Empanadas with Cojita cheese topped with a corn relish and chimichurri sauce was indeed a treat.
Another staff favorite, the Roasted Garlic & Gouda Mac is definitely not your kid’s Mac and Cheese. Made with smoked Gouda, white & sharp yellow cheddar, cremini mushrooms, asparagus, roasted garlic and topped with panko bread crumbs, bacon and green onion, it’s a guarantee you won’t want to share!
My hubby a fan of a good burger ordered a dish the eatery is known for- the Bison Burger. A lean, free-range Bison patty topped with smoked Applewood bacon, horseradish, Havarti, red onion, tomato, baby arugula and garlic aioli on a brioche bun arrived at our table. So incredibly moist, juicy and flavorful he gleefully proclaimed “Colonel Sanders does not have the market on finger lickin’ good.”
They say that Temecula attracted the passionate dreamers and driven entrepreneurs to its lands. For those of us who visit, we are the happy recipients of its incredible wineries, spectacular scenic views and savory cuisines. And who can’t love and respect a place that is serious about preserving history.
A member of the International Travel Writers and Photographers Association, Noreen is a frequent contributor to several online and print publications. She shares her latest adventures, photos, and published stories on her What’s In Your Suitcase? Facebook page. Her stories reflect her love for travel, history, adventure and family.
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