Wine Guide to Temecula, Southern California Wine Country
When you think of California wine, your mind tends to send you to places like Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and Paso Robles. And while these are all great destinations for the curious drinker, 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-growing 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 a lot of Italian influence in what’s planted – think Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese. Nearly 50 wine estates now occupy the valley, taking advantage of the Mediterranean climate. It’s located about 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean and with some significant gaps in the Coast Mountains, there’s a chilling effect that the resident vines love, especially at night when temperatures drop.
It’s a laid-back atmosphere, as you’d expect from a sunny part of the west coast. Better still, there are fun tasting rooms to explore, an interesting range of wines and great accommodation options to make it a full weekend. Here’s where to go in the Temecula Valley wine country.
Longshadow has been at it for some time, delivering a very American theme on top of a multitude of wines. You’ll find great reds like Sangiovese, Malbec and Tempranillo, ideal to take home and toast. It draws a weekend crowd and the occasional wedding, so plan a weekday visit if you want a bit more solitude. With horses on the property and lovely views of the estate’s rows of vineyards, it’s a great place to lose yourself for a while.
There is a lot of intrigue surrounding Briar Rose. Let’s start with the fact that the estate is built to look like Snow White’s cabin, put together by a former Disney engineer. The wines are the work of what many in the valley consider the region’s first cult label and include everything from Viognier and Chardonnay to Barbera, Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and more. And there is a beautiful outdoor tasting area, an oasis of flowers and greenery.
Hart Wine Estate
Founded in 1980, Hart Winery is one of Temecula’s oldest outfits. Charmingly, the label has kept things both family-friendly and fairly small, producing just 4,000 cases of wine a year. That means an intimate tasting experience with wines like Albariño, Arneis and Sauvignon Blanc if you like white – and Barbera, Petit Verdot, even the 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 is built directly into the earth, allowing for optimal winemaking conditions and a fresh tasting experience reminiscent of one of Europe’s oldest canteens. Discover the sparkling wines of the label, Roussanne, Grenache, Syrah and even Pinotage. And if you’re tired of wine at this point or just want to change things up, the estate even has its own Prohibition-style bar with cocktails to match.
Tucked away from the tourist buses is Vindemia, a more off-the-beaten-path affair focused on small batch wines and sustainability. You will find estate wines like Zinfandel, Petite Syrah and sometimes even Pinot Noir. The operation was launched by a former hot air balloon pilot, captivated by the rows of vines and the unique terroirs under his courses. Today, Vindemia is a standout producer that represents the more scenic side of the Temecula Valley wine scene.
One of the advantages of Temecula is that it is a relatively small and tight-knit wine community. This means you’ll likely be close to Old Town Temecula and its many bars, restaurants, antique stores, and museums. Check out 1909 if you’re in the mood for a good cocktail or The Goat & Vine for hearty dishes, like freshly made pizzas and hearty sandwiches.
Temecula Creek Inn is a great, relaxing place to stay, especially if you want the resort experience and maybe even want to play some golf while you’re there. If you want to stay in the middle of the vineyards, discover the top-of-the-range suites at Domaine Chardonnay. The French-inspired estate overlooks some of the oldest wine land in the region and has all the amenities you could ask for.
For the adventurous, a hot air balloon ride is highly recommended, especially given the great weather and often crystal-clear visibility. See California Dreamin’ for more information.