First-Time Visitor’s Guide to Temecula Valley Wine Country

  • Travel
  • by DEVIN PARR
  • on SEPTEMBER 8, 2020
  • 2393
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Courtesy of Visit Temecula Valley
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Located about an hour north of San Diego and two hours South of Los Angeles, there are few regions more accessible from city centers than Temecula Valley. This Tuscan-like wine region is within a one- to two-hour drive from most of Southern California’s major cities and airports, making it an ideal Wine Country getaway for SoCal natives, or those traveling to bigger cities like San Diego, Palm Springs, and Los Angeles.

Just 22 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, Temecula Valley is not just a great place to vacation; it’s home to the perfect Mediterranean climate in which to grow grapes. The region is bordered by coastal mountain ranges and inland valleys. As the sun warms the valleys east of Temecula, the warm air rises, forming a low-pressure area which pulls the cooler, much heavier air from the Pacific Ocean in through two breaks in the mountains — the Rainbow Gap and the Santa Margarita Gap. This cool air creates the pattern of warm sunny days, breezy afternoons, and cool nights, resulting in ideal conditions for the wine grapes to develop complex flavors and aromas, while retaining pleasant balance and freshness from desirable acidity levels.

Think about it: With virtually year-round sunshine, warm temperatures, cool nights, and relatively little rainfall, not to mention quality wines, unique wine-tasting experiences, and the relaxed vibe that is synonymous with Southern California, Temecula Valley should be added to your list of wine destinations to visit, whether you’re a wine enthusiast or just looking for a dream vacation.

COVID-19 Note: Most businesses in Temecula Valley are currently open, however it’s important to note that they may be operating with limited hours. Restaurants and tasting rooms are all open for outdoor service, as well as to-go/delivery. Please be sure to check with each business to confirm hours, visitation guidelines, etc. as things may have changed since being posted.

Where to Stay

Courtesy of Facebook: The Inn at Europa Village

Unlike most wine regions, Temecula Valley has lodging and dining on-site at several of the wineries themselves. This means you can spend a day wine tasting, fall into bed at your hotel, and then wake up to enjoy breakfast and the view from your private patio overlooking the vines. If you are planning on staying a few days to enjoy the region (pro tip: midweek is best!), book yourself at one of the hotels located right in the heart of Wine Country. South Coast Winery Resort and Spa, perched on 38 acres of rolling vineyards, is home to every amenity a traveler could ask for, from spacious suites with plush bathrobes and in-room gas fireplaces, to all-day dining and an attached winery producing world-class wines.

Courtesy of Carter Estate Winery and Resort

South Coast’s sister property, Carter Estate Winery and Resort also offers an amenity-rich experience with its 60 private bungalow suites, daily in-room continental breakfast, and welcoming winery and tasting room specializing in Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines, as well as still wines. Those looking for a Wine Country bed and breakfast experience can book one of the suites at The Inn at Europa Village, or arrange to rent out the entire Wilson Creek Manor, a breathtaking property that sleeps 24, making it the perfect lodging for corporate retreats, wedding parties, or family getaways (when we can all gather in large groups again).

Those preferring to stay in town can opt for one of the many hotels throughout Temecula. For a dose of history and charm, check into The Hotel Temecula, built in 1891. The new Home2 Suites by Hilton is a great hotel option when traveling for business or pleasure, thanks to its central location close to freeways, businesses, Wine Country, and Old Town.

Where to Sip Wine

Monte de Oro Winery, Courtesy of Shawna Sarnowski Photography

Temecula Valley is known as Southern California Wine Country for a reason — the wine! Dotted with over 40 wineries located relatively close to one another, some small and rustic, some large and state-of-the-art, it would be tough to visit Temecula Valley without swinging by a tasting room or two.

If you like your wine like your breakfast — early — Hart Winery opens at 9am and is one of the most historic wineries in the area. Visit midweek and you are sure to find owner and winemaker Jim Hart and his wife Christine pouring wine or bottling one of their expertly made small production wines in the back. Other boutique wineries worth visiting include Lorenzi Estate Vineyards, whose portfolio of award-winning, top-scoring wines are sure to impress, and the family-owned and operated Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery, specializing in full-bodied reds made from estate fruit. Palumbo is home to a few animals as well, including chickens, pigs and, of course, dogs, who are just as welcoming as owners Nick and Cindy Palumbo.

If you’ve never sipped wine underground, you will want to visit Oak Mountain Winery, featuring Temecula Valley’s first subterranean wine cave. This stunning location is also a unique venue for special events and weddings. In normal times, you can stand on the glass floor (pants advised) at Monte de Oro Winery and sip one of their award-winning wines while you look down into the barrel room to see where all the magic happens. For now, outdoor tastings are held on the patio. Reserve a tasting at Danza del Sol Winery and hang with some of the friendliest tasting room staff around as they pour you sips of petite sirah, vermentino, or any of the other dozen or so selections.

Wine not your thing?

Thompson & Twain, Courtesy of Jimmy Fu Photography

Fortunately, there are plenty of other drinks options in Temecula Valley. If you love a good craft cocktail, check out 1909 in Old Town Temecula. Not only do they have a pet-friendly patio (and menu!), they mix up some pretty mean tipples with fresh ingredients and creative flair. If you’re more the mysterious type, grab an artisanal cocktail to-go from Thompson & Twain Prospecting Co., the old west-themed speakeasy hidden in the Crush & Brew restaurant in Old Town. Leave your revolver at the door.

Temecula is also known for great breweries. Garage Brewing Co. is the perfect place to bring the family — even the kids — for some tasty suds and house-made pizzas. Refuge Brewery specializes in Belgian-style ales, although they offer up to 20 different beers on tap. If you’re lucky, they will test-drive a new batch on you and let you help decide if it will go into larger production. Wiens Brewing (sister property to Wiens Family Cellars) offers a hefty selection of craft brews made on-site to enjoy at the brewery or take home in a growler.

Ever tasted mead? This unique, gluten-free beverage, made from honey, water, and yeast, is sort of like a hybrid of beer and wine, and is what’s on tap at the family-owned Batch Mead. Though in-person tastings aren’t currently available, you can order ahead to get your mead to-go. For a much-needed dose of caffeine after all of that imbibing, head over to Bean Coffee Roasters. Their selection of hot, iced, and blended espresso and tea drinks, as well as almond milk smoothies and snacks are sure to revive you.

Where to Eat

Pizza at Mama Rosa’s Trattoria, Courtesy of Robert Renzoni Vineyards

After all those beverages you will probably want to put some food in your belly. Thankfully, Temecula Valley is emerging as a noteworthy culinary destination. Start your day at Le Coffee Shop in Old Town to fuel up on coffee and delicious house-made French pastries and baguettes with butter. Need something a little heartier to kick off a day in Wine Country? Head to E.A.T. Marketplace, also in Old Town. “E.A.T.” stands for “Extraordinary Artisan Table,” for good reason — the restaurant specializes in clean, sustainable, and locally-sourced foods that are both delicious and healthy. They also offer plenty of vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and gluten-free options.

If you are looking to dine among the vines, grab a patio table overlooking the vineyards at Mama Rosa’s Trattoria located at Robert Renzoni Vineyards for brick-oven pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and pastas, not to mention healthy pours of their top-scoring wines, mostly made from the Italian grape varieties that thrive in Temecula Valley. For upscale vineyard dining, book an al fresco table at the award-winning Restaurant at Leoness Cellars, where you can sip a glass of bubbly while slurping oysters and scratch-made fare. Or, enjoy modern takes on classic dishes in an unbelievable setting at Meritage, located at Callaway Winery. If you’re not stuffed to the gills by now, be sure to order the world famous sourdough bread and Brie at Maurice Car’rie Winery (with a glass of wine, of course). You may never eat again, but it will be worth it.

What to Do

Courtesy of Temecula Creek Golf Club

Thankfully for your waistline, there’s lots more to do in Temecula than just eat and drink. The region offers plenty of activities for adventurous types. Hit the links at Temecula Creek Golf Club, surrounded by 300 acres of mountain and valley beauty. Saddle up at Wine Country Trails by Horseback for a one-of-a-kind scenic tour through Temecula Valley vineyards on — you guessed it — horseback. Or, take in the view of all of Wine Country from 1,500 feet in a hot air balloon. Both California Dreamin’ and A Grape Escape offer daily hot air balloon rides, complete with continental breakfast, sparkling wine, and wine tastings, weather permitting.

If you prefer to move at a slower pace, luxuriate at one of Temecula Valley’s many spas. The minute it reopens, you’ll want to take in a private yoga class or enjoy a massage at Grapeseed Spa, South Coast Winery Resort and Spa’s on-site facility. Pechanga Resort Casino also features a state-of-the-art spa. While temporarily closed, when the opportunity presents itself again, you won’t want to miss unwinding with one of their signature treatments before checking out the Casino floor for some blackjack and roulette.

Courtesy of Temecula Olive Oil Company

Love to shop? Temecula Valley offers an array of spots to pick up gifts or treat yourself. Explore the many local and handmade products in Old Town’s beloved boutiques, like Temecula Lavender Co., Old Town Spice & Tea Merchants, and Temecula Olive Oil Company. Browse clothing, housewares, soaps, jewelry, and more at The Gardener’s Cottage or hit up some of your favorite well-known store brands at Temecula’s main mall, Promenade Temecula. Just be sure to double check which stores at the mall are currently open.


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Author

Devin Parr

Devin Parr is a San Diego-based freelance writer and consultant specializing in wine, travel and lifestyle. In addition to covering the global wine industry, she is the resident expert in Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country, serving as the region’s ambassador on behalf of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association. She holds a certification in wine expertise from the Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence, Italy, and is currently pursuing her WSET Diploma. In 2017, she was named one of Wine Enthusiast Magazine's Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers. Follow her adventures at @thesocalwinegal and www.devinparr.com.

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