The South Coast
The South Coast appellation encompasses many smaller areas: Temecula Valley in Riverside County, Cucamonga Valley in San Bernardino County, and the wineries of San Diego County’s Ramona Valley and San Pasqual. It also holds Los Angeles County, which—despite romantic notions about vineyards in Malibu—is relatively miniscule grape-wise.
Within about an hour’s drive of San Diego and Palm Springs, San Diego County’s wineries—about 60—spread northeast of the city outside of Escondido. Many buy their grapes from elsewhere though; only about 200 vineyard acres exist. Temecula is home to about 35 wineries and 60 growers, with just a small percentage of its acres—about 2,000—devoted to grapes.
Viticulture on the South Coast dates to the 1769 founding of the Mission San Diego de Alcala where Father Junípero Serra planted the state’s first vineyards. However, substantial planting in Southern California didn’t take place until the late 1960s, with Brookside Winery and Callaway Winery in Temecula leading the way.
Near Temecula, Cucamonga Valley serves as a source of dry-farmed old-vine Zinfandel. Sonoma-based Zinfandel producer Carol Shelton makes a version every year from Cucamonga’s Lopez Vineyard, which was planted in 1918, describing the stunted 18-inch gnarls as “bush vines.” She calls the Asian-spice-tinged wine Monga Zin. —Virginie Boone
South Coast winemakers know the region’s scary-consistent climate (also known as perfect, gorgeous and envy-inducing) is what sets it apart from the rest of California and are choosing the grapes that play to this powerful strength.
Semi-rural and sparsely planted, the South Coast wine region is a getaway playground in San Diego’s backyard. In particular, the Temecula Valley’s resorts, restaurants and golf courses cater to legions of urban visitors.
Wine-wise, the area has suffered viticultural vicissitudes over the years, only to find itself today in the midst of a modern and major enological revival.—Virginie Boone
Loss Yields Inspiration
Warm, with minimal coastal influence, the Temecula Valley was recognized as its own American Viticultural Area in 1984, and originally pursued the growing of Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. But when Pierce’s Disease—a fatal grapevine blight—hit almost two decades ago, it had the chance to rethink.
Out of tragedy came inspiration. Many of the area’s growers realized that their climate was not always suited for these kinds of grapes, and ultimately, why try and compete head-to-head with so many other areas of California?
Instead a new generation has focused on growing Mediterranean varieties like Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Syrah—grapes that love a warm, hot, dry climate. These growers and winemakers are reinventing Temecula and the wider South Coast region by finding the right grapes for their conditions and reaching new levels of quality in the cellar.
Setting Down Roots
Among the earliest adventurous souls to put down vine stakes were Vince and Audrey Cilurzo. A television lighting director, Vince Cilurzo and his wife planted Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah and sold grapes to Brookside Winery. They inspired plenty of followers before opening their own winery in 1978.
No longer in operation, the Cilurzos have another claim to fame: their son, Vinnie, is the brewmaster behind the perpetually packed Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. His sister’s name is Chenin.
Callaway Vineyards and Winery was among the earliest to plant in any sizeable way here, on a 1,600-foot-elevation plateau, becoming Temecula’s first winery. A 1974 Callaway White Riesling was served for Queen Elizabeth’s bicentennial lunch in Manhattan, where, it was reported, she partook of two glasses.
Founded by business mogul Ely Callaway, Jr., who became good friends with the Cilurzos, Callaway always believed Temecula was only suitable for white wine grapes, a position many others never agreed with and felt was harmful to the region’s reputation.
By 1981 Callaway was ready to move on. He sold the winery to conglomerate Hiram Walker for $14 million and went on to become the world’s largest maker of golf clubs as well as to develop the Big Bertha driver; his mother’s cousin was Bobby Jones.
Hiram later re-sold the property to Allied Domecq. Years of stagnation ensued until 2005 when Callaway once again became privately owned and revitalized by the Lin family of San Diego. It remains amongst the area’s most popular winery, restaurant, golf and wedding destinations.
Over the Rainbow Gap
The Temecula Valley appellation is partly defined by its Rainbow Gap, which separates the Santa Rosa and Santa Margarita mountains. The gap lets in air from the Pacific Ocean, two-dozen miles west, and serves as both a geological and geographical landmark.
Lower elevation vineyards in the valley sit between 1,200 and 1,600 feet, while the La Cresta and Agua Tibia Mountain area, dripping with good Syrah, is 1,600 to 2,400 feet, with the mountain’s peak at 4,779 feet.
A muddle of old and new, the area maintains Old Town Temecula, a restored version of its circa-1859 Old West heritage, along with the posh Pechanga Resort and Casino, the largest casino in the western United States with over 500 rooms and eight restaurants.
The region is also marked by an abundance of winery restaurants, each one more luxurious than the next. This dining profusion contrasts with an agriculturally preserved area such as the Napa Valley, where very few winery restaurants have historically been allowed.
Callaway, Leoness Cellars, Falkner Winery, Ponte Winery, Thornton, Baily and Wilson Creek Winery all have restaurants onsite, as does South Coast Winery Resort and Spa. South Coast makes big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah from higher elevation vineyards and has won awards for its sparkling Gewürztraminer, Malbec and Tempranillo.
The Stars of San Diego
In San Diego County, Fallbrook is among the biggest and best producers. Like Fazeli Cellars, Lorenzi Estate and Mount Palomar, Fallbrook tends toward Meritage and other red blends. Orfila Vineyards and Winery in the San Pasqual Valley outside of Escondido makes some nice Syrah and Viognier from estate-grown grapes.
Established in 2008, Vesper Vineyards in the Ramona Valley is one to watch for Marsanne and Roussanne. Vesper’s founders Chris Broomell and Alysha Stehly are committed to boosting the reputation of San Diego County wines and vines. Both from citrus-growing families, they have given up stints in other parts of California to focus exclusively on San Diego, unexpectedly growing Pinot Noir, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc.
The Argentina Connection
Orfila Vineyards and Winery in San Pasqual was founded by Alejandro Orfila of Argentina, where his family-run Jose Orfila Winery still exists. Orfila served as Embassy Secretary in the Argentine Foreign Service and as Argentine Ambassador to Japan, and his father was governor of the Argentine state of Mendoza.
San Diego Beer Trail
Take a day trip down from wine country, belly up to the bars and taste why San Diego is the Napa Valley of American craft beer. With more than 60 brewhouses of all sizes and artisanal inclinations—five of which recently won best-in-their-class awards either nationally or internationally—visitors can indulge in everything from aggressively bitter India pale ales to silken stouts and acidic sour ales all across San Diego County.
At the North County tasting space cohabited by Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey, all that and more await in one place. The similarly named chain of highly decorated coastal Pizza Port brewpubs is just as wide-ranging in its offerings.
Others known for quality across styles include AleSmith, Ballast Point and Karl Strauss—San Diego’s first post-Prohibition brewery. Ballast Point added an award-winning distillery in 2010, kicking off a new local craft spirit culture that’s picking up serious steam.
Amid all that variety, San Diego’s lofty reputation was built on highly botanical, über-hopped IPAs. Stalwarts of this style include Stone, SD’s largest brewing business and operator of the county’s two largest farm-to-table restaurants. Other IPA icons include far-flung East County cult favorite Alpine and the rapidly expanding centrally located Green Flash, as well as young upstarts Societe and Rip Current.
Must-Try IPAs: AleSmith IPA, Alpine Nelson, Amplified Ale Works Electrocution, Ballast Point Sculpin, Coronado Idiot, Green Flash Palate Wrecker, Pizza Port Swami’s, Port Brewing Wipeout, Rip Current Lupulin Lust, Societe The Pupil, Stone Enjoy By IPA—Brandon Hernandez
South Coast’s Top Varieties
Weighty Temecula Zin is often aged in American oak and tends toward a rich and full-bodied profile, with soft tannins and ripe blackberry and plum.
Temecula Syrah is often deep, dark and ageworthy, displaying powerfully rich, oaky blackberry and plum flavors, with swirls of black pepper and chocolate anise.
Happy in this warm Mediterranean climate, South Coast Tempranillo is both rich and powerful yet Pinot-esque with notes of earthy, spiced cherry, soy and herb.
South Coast Cabernet Sauvignon has intense aromatics of black cherry, plum and cassis, with smoky overtones that venture into vanilla and licorice.
Rich in honeysuckle, apple and stone fruit, especially peach and apricot, South Coast Viognier is also long on the finish, with traces of grapefruit and white pepper.
The Restaurant: South Coast Winery
Prosciutto Alaskan Halibut
6 to 7 ounces Alaskan halibut or your favorite white fish
1 piece thinly sliced prosciutto
2 heirloom tomatoes, any color
1 to 2 ounces wild baby arugula (sometimes referred to as rocket salad)
Salt and pepper to taste vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon minced shallot
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Temecula Valley white balsamic vinegar or you favorite white balsamic
¼ cup Temecula Valley extra virgin olive oil or your favorite brand
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 200°F.
Slice heirloom tomatoes about a half-inch thick, season both sides with salt and pepper and lay out on a baking sheet.
Cook for about a half hour and check; they should be slightly shriveled around the edges but still juicy. Take out and let cool at room temperature.
Set oven temp to 350°F.
Lay out your prosciutto flat. Set the halibut on it and wrap the prosciutto all the way around. Season with salt and pepper.
Bake until internal temperature is about 120°F (check after 15 minutes) for medium doneness; cook longer if desired.
After tomatoes have cooled, cut in half and shingle on to your plate.
Place vinaigrette ingredients in a squeeze bottle or mason jar and shake well; if it does not emulsify that is okay, just remember to shake well every time before you use it.
In a small mixing bowl, place the arugula, add a small amount of vinaigrette and toss. Remember you can always add more vinaigrette but you can’t take it away, so start small. You just want to lightly coat your salad. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Put salad on top of tomatoes in a nice tight pile then gently lay your fish on top.
Add a small drizzle of your vinaigrette to the fish and around your plate for effect. Garnish with fresh herbs like chive or parsley. Serves 1.
The Chef: Mike Terry, South Coast Winery
People come to Temecula from busy Los Angeles and San Diego with a few things in mind: good food, good wine and relaxation. South Coast Winery Resort & Spa provides all three. Not only a well-appointed resort with spa and restaurant, it boasts a working winery and vineyard.
The marriage of food and wine remains foremost in the mind of chefs like Mike Terry of South Coast’s Vineyard Rose Restaurant. He works closely with South Coast Winery’s master winemaker Jon McPherson and winemaker Javier Flores in designing seasonal specialties for the menu and figuring out appropriate pairings for each entrée.
The access to fresh produce from the Temecula Valley’s surrounding farms also drives the dishes with an emphasis placed on “Field to Fork” items from the resort’s own estate garden. The ultimate expression of this comes out during the Chef’s Table Dinner, a five-course menu of fresh meat, seafood and produce with wines.
Other top restaurants to know include Sorrel Bistro, Viva Vino Spanish Tapas Wine Bar, Jalapenos Mexican Grill, La Cocina Temecula, Rusticos and Masia De Yabar Winery. In the heart of town, EAT (Extraordinary Artisan Table) is an eatery and marketplace of fine local fare that also hosts special events and classes.
One of the better ways to get to know Temecula’s best chefs is the annual DePortola Wine Trail event called Big Red Fest held every April. The DePortola trail is a collection of southern-area wineries that partner up with local chefs at the festival to come up with well-imagined pairings for each of their wines.
But there’s more than just haute fare in Temecula, with many of the more casual spots centered in Old Town Temecula. Goodies to look for include olive oil, salsa, mustard, pickles, heirloom dried beans and fruits, olives, meats and cheeses
The Old Town Root Beer Company, with its shelves of 300-plus vintage and old-time sodas, provides a cool root beer float fix on a hot day; Sweet Lumpy’s BBQ is known for Texas Beef Brisket and Brisket Cheese Melt, with fresh rolls and fresh-cut fries. Lienzo Charro Mexican Bar and Grill and Qdoba Mexican Grill reflect the region’s proximity to Mexico.
For picnics, Temecula Valley Cheese Company carries more than 100 cheeses to sample and pair with wines, including many of its own.
Favorite Farm-to-Table Finds
These subtropical trees love warm weather and moist, well-drained soils. Common varieties here include Carmen-Hass, Hass, Lamb Hass, Jan Boyce, Holiday, Bacon and Reed.
Chef Terry sources balsamic vinegar and olive oil from the Temecula Olive Oil Company, which makes inspired balsamic flavors ranging from Hatch chili to honey and pomegranate.
DeLuz Farms & Nursery in Temecula grows what they call “live herbs” with roots attached, which help them stay fresher longer. Locals particularly love the nursery’s three types of basil: Mammoth, Pesto Perpetuo and Basil Pistou.
Brew masters in Temecula Valley abound. Look for beers from Wiens Brewery, Black Market Brewing Company, Ironfire Brewery, Brew-Ligion Brewhouse and Grill, Aftershock Brewing Co. and Refuge Brewery.
Trekking in Temecula
Temecula means “Where the sun breaks through the mist,” in the language of the Luiseño, a Native American tribe from the area.
Little could they foresee how much the rural earth and sunny clime would dazzle the urban dwellers of San Diego and Los Angeles, an hour and an hour and half away respectively, who venture regularly to the Temecula Valley in search of fun.
Fun they shall have. The Pechanga Resort and Casino (run by the Pechanga band of Luiseño), is packed not only with games to play but a jam-packed schedule of music and comedy concerts, boxing championships and high-end shops.
And then there’s golf, a Temecula specialty. Journey at Pechanga, a challenging 18-hole course by Arthur Hills, unfurls around native oak trees and sacred rock outcroppings. The Temecula Golf Resort at Temecula Creek Inn has 27 holes on 300 acres of spectacular scenery. At Legends Golf Club each hole is named for a famous player.
The region’s calm, warm climate ideally is suited to soaring in a hot-air balloon—a memorable way to see the scope of the vineyards and defining landscape. California Dreamin’ takes folks up in both balloons and biplanes.
Others come to Temecula simply to relax. The Grapeseed Spa at South Coast Winery and Resort gives grapeseed renewal scrubs and Moor mud and seaweed body wraps.—Virginie Boone
Drink Local: Hendricks Grape Fizz
Recipe courtesy Sorrel Bistro, Temecula, CA
Before moving to the back of the house, Sorrel Sous Chef Doug Sims bartended for the better part of a decade. He’s still mixing up specialty drinks like this refreshing number designed to combat wine country’s summer heat.
In a shaker, muddle together 3 slices of English cucumber, 5 red seedless grapes and 3 ice cubes.
Add 1½ ounces Hendricks Gin, 1 ounce sweet-and-sour mix and a dash of raspberry vinegar. Shake and strain into a Collins glass. Top with soda water and serve.
And Don’t Miss
California Restaurant Month, month of January
World of Wine Winter Barrel Tasting, first weekend of March
Old Town Temecula Bluegrass Festival, third weekend of March
Taste of Temecula Valley, late April
Temecula Wine & Music Festival, early May
Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival, first weekend of June
California Wine Month—SIP Passport, month of September
Temecula Valley CRUSH— A Wine & Culinary Showcase, mid-September
Harvest Celebration Barrel Tasting Weekend, first weekend of November
Great Temecula Grape Drop, New Year’s Eve
Beer Fest: How the Bruery’s Patrick Rue Throws Down
Brewmaster Patrick Rue’s The Bruery is set in an Orange County industrial park. While the setting looks predictable, the beers are anything but. Rue makes a range of Belgium-style craft beers from unconventional ingredients like beets, Thai basil, truffle salt and lavender, none filtered or pasteurized. He’s become a cult favorite of beer aficionados for Black Tuesday, his burly imperial stout; as well as Mischief, a golden pale ale; and beers made from Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez wine grapes. In his early 30s, Rue inspires a loyal Southern California following. Currently his innovative mind enjoys experimenting with Japanese-inspired brews made with rice and spices. He shares how he likes to entertain at home with wife Rachel and friends.
Recreate the Region
“I’m big into both Asian-inspired flavors and BBQ,” Rue explains.
Thai spring rolls
Braised short ribs in Rugbrød and then smoked with oak
Brussels sprouts pan-seared in butter with roasted chestnuts and Neuske’s bacon
Peach tart with pecan maple bourbon ice cream
Guests gather at a casual dining table and couch seating area outside next to the pool, overlooking a giant oak tree and the chaparral. “My wife Rachel would have found an excuse to buy new placemats and have the area well lit with candles,” Rue adds.
Light classical music. “That may sound a little snobby, but Rachel and I enjoy music that serves as background music, something that would calm our guests and so that no one feels the need to actively listen.”
Libations include a keg of Rue’s Humulus Lager and a case of Fess Parker Rodney’s Vineyard Syrah. He also may offer a pre-mixed variation on an Old Fashioned using tangerines from his parent’s back yard, bitters and Eagle Rare Bourbon.
Smoked and Braised Short Ribs
Rue loves smoked meats, and this recipe is unique in that there are two cooking methods. The braising reduces the intensity of the smoke but integrates it very nicely into the meat and onions. There’s a great mix of umami, smoke, sweetness and the meat will be incredibly tender. While it’s time consuming, it’s difficult to screw up this recipe as nothing needs to be actively watched, so it’s wonderful for entertaining.
Smoked Portion Ingredients
5 pounds of bone-in short ribs, cut into 10-inch-long sections
Rub the short ribs generously with olive oil and salt, then place on a 180°F smoker with oak for 5 hours.
Braised Portion Ingredients
4 large red onions
Smoked short ribs
2 bottles Rugbrød, The Bruery’s Danish-style brown ale
½ cup olive oil
Dice onions and caramelize on the stove in a large Dutch oven with olive oil. Place short ribs tightly in the Dutch oven so that liquid can cover all of the meat. Pour in the Rugbrød, ensuring all meat is covered with beer. Place lid on the Dutch oven, and put in 325°F oven for 4 hours, or until fork tender. At the 2nd hour, test the salt level of the liquid to ensure it is salted enough. If it isn’t salted well enough, adjust accordingly. Keep in mind evaporation will occur, so salt a little less than what is ideal as salt concentration will increase. Once cooked to desired tenderness, remove meat from bone and excess fat. Serves 10.
6 cups corn (fresh cut preferred, but frozen will do the trick)
1 cup diced celery
1 cup green onions
½tablespoon smoked garlic powder
¾ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon smoked chipotle powder
Combine all ingredients to form a thick batter. In a wide, high-wall frying pan, heat 3 inches of soybean oil to 350°F, and drop in small clumps of batter (no larger than 1-inch thick by 3-inches wide). Fry for 5 minutes or until surface is golden brown. Drain on paper towels and salt when hot. Serve immediately. Makes about 25 fritters.
Rue likes to dip these corn fritters in a sweet/savory dipping liquid that has a little bit of funkiness from the fish sauce.
1 cup Trade Winds Tripel, The Bruery’s summer golden ale
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
½ cup white sugar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 cloves minced garlic
Mix all ingredients, let rest in refrigerator for a few hours prior to serving.
- 1Weather Rapport
- 2South Coast: Food
- 3South Coast: Travel
- 4South Coast: Entertaining