The Temecula Valley’s Seriously SoCal Wine
Situated midway between the desert and the ocean, the Temecula Valley is the epitome of Southern California Wine Country.
The server asks, “Is the Cab Franc treating you well?” It is indeed. I’m at the restaurant at Ponte Vineyard Inn in Temecula Valley, an idyllic place to dine by any standard. As I sip this tasty glass of Cabernet Franc—one of the nearly two-dozen grapes that thrive here—I look through the rose garden, over the burbling amphora fountain, past cypress trees to the rolling hills demarcating the desert-facing edge of California’s southernmost wine-growing region. I’m reflecting on an eye-opening two-day tasting trip during which I’ve thrilled over zippy whites, hearty Rhône-style reds, and other award-winning wines.
Temecula Valley is a diverse and beautiful wine growing region that’s a ridiculously convenient hour and half from Los Angeles and an hour from Palm Springs and San Diego. Yes, the climate and rolling hills remind people of the Mediterranean, but the Temecula Valley is uniquely Southern Californian. There’s a wine experience for everyone in this approachable region, with welcoming tasting rooms, live music, diverse and delicious restaurants, and local talent and upstart winemakers from other well-known regions, including the nearby Valle de Guadalupe, who see the promise of Temecula Valley and are raising the bar on the area’s bottlings. Here are six ways to build your very own perfect two-day itinerary in this vibrant wine region that’s seriously So Cal.
Time Your Trip
The heart of the Temecula Valley experience can be found in the tasting rooms of its nearly 50 wineries. While weekends are wonderful, they can be quite busy, so many local wine insiders suggest visiting mid-week for a more relaxed, less crowded experience, with more time to learn about the wines from the tasting rooms’ knowledgeable staff. In fact, it may even be the winemaker or winery owner pouring for you, sharing stories and pro tips while you sip.
Sip Old and New
Experience what a quarter century of dedication to the craft tastes like at Carter Estate, where Javier Flores (who moved from Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe 25 years ago) and Jon McPherson make sparkling wine in the painstaking méthode champenoise tradition, along with other award-winning bottlings. For a taste of forward-looking reds and whites with zippy acidity and fresh floral aromas from a UC Davis-trained winemaker, hit Masia de la Vinya on bucolic De Portola Road. The Portuguese-style Verdelho is a standout.
Go Family First
Instagram your heart out at the rustic yet refined Peltzer Winery where expertly crafted wines (try the earthy Malbec) are poured against the backdrop of an Americana farm fantasy (complete with ice rink in the winter!). At Akash, the Patel family has created a modernist vinous refuge with great Valley views, pop-up pizza and tacos, yoga, and of course Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and sparkling wines. Pioneering Palumbo Family Vineyards pours high-quality estate reds in a low-key setting that embodies the farm-to-glass experience that’s at the heart of so much good wine in the Valley.
Experience Wine with a View
At Doffo Winery, Argentinian varieties are the specialty, as is the world-class collection of gorgeously restored vintage motorcycles that fills one of the tasting rooms. Sleek, modern Bottaia offers an interactive wine blending lab, a charcuterie and wine pairing experience, and a stunning pool with private cabanas that visitors can rent by the full- and half-day. Altisima serves local bottlings and other blends at a luxurious facility with a modern Spanish restaurant and spectacular views.
Cap off your day with an exquisite Spanish meal at Bolero Restaurante at the sprawling Europa Village where the affable and talented Egyptian-born chef Hany Ali oversees an expertly cooked menu of classic paella, modern tapas, and wines to match. The Restaurant at Leoness Cellars is an incredible upscale dining experience with ultra-talented Chef Ben Diaz at the helm. The French fries here deserve a mention—they are life-changing.
Join the Club
Wines from Temecula don’t have wide distribution beyond the valley, so be sure to sign up for one of the many wine club memberships offered throughout the Valley. Not ready to commit? Just about all wineries ship to most U.S. states.