A stone’s throw from the millions of people who inhabit Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego, the Temecula Valley sits in western Riverside County. Winegrowing goes back almost 50 years here, when John Moramarco and Ely Callaway planted its first vineyards. The rather warm region is cooled by Pacific Ocean wind and fog that sails through the “Rainbow Gap” of the Santa Margarita Mountains. Today, thanks to more than 40 wineries and their multifaceted tasting rooms, the hospitality industry is thriving, with restaurants, hotels, golf courses, breweries, distilleries and even a casino. —Matt Kettmann
You can find almost every familiar variety in California here, from Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache and Merlot. There’s also some grapes that aren’t so common, like Vermentino, Falanghina and Counoise. Red blends are popular, whether they’re classic styles like Rhône and Bordeaux mixes, or amalgams that break all of the Old World rules. Grapes that originate in warmer climates, like Sangiovese and Tempranillo, also do well. And keep a lookout for wines that come from the De Luz Hills, where the cooler climate and mosaic of volcanic soils may one day produce world-class wines.
Where to Taste
The estate experience rules, especially along the lavish De Portola Wine Trail. Enjoy a variety of tasting formats and pairings at Fazeli Cellars, Robert Renzoni Vineyards & Winery and Leoness Cellars. Check in with industry veterans at Hart Family Winery, South Coast Winery and Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards, or sample the next generation’s efforts at Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery, Wiens Family Cellars and the new Bottaia Winery, where a predominantly female team presents Italian-inspired wines. Explore a vintage flight at the Estate Tasting Room of Baily Vineyard & Winery, or see how vintage motorcycles complement rich reds at Doffo Winery. Learn why Syrah goes with Zinfandel at Lorenzi Estate Vineyards and Winery, or take in epic views at Falkner Winery. Something stronger? Galway Spirits Distilling is a small-batch distillery run by a husband-wife team, while Thompson & Twain Prospecting Co. saloon provides Wild West authenticity to the Old Town scene.
Where to Dine
Old Town Temecula is a bustling series of blocks with enough restaurants to fuel a weeklong stay. The current hotspot is Espadín Mezcal + Cocina, where agave-fueled cocktails pair perfectly with regional Mexican cuisine. On the district’s outskirts sits E.A.T. Marketplace, where Leah Di Bernardo’s inventive deli has thrived since 2011. Most wineries serve food like the Italian-inspired fare at Robert Renzoni Vineyards & Winery and alfresco scallops and squash blossoms offered seasonally at Avensole Winery.
Where to Stay
Some wineries double as full-scale resorts with on-site restaurants, pools and spa service. South Coast Winery Resort & Spa offers villas amid the vines. At Ponte Vineyard Inn, you can enjoy a meal out by the pool or visit The Cellar Lounge, a stylish place to sip indoors. The Inn at Europa Village offers a more intimate bed-and-breakfast experience, with two courses served every morning. You can also go big, and hopefully win big, with a stay at Pechanga Resort & Casino, a mini-Las Vegas with all-night entertainment.
When to Go
SoCal is warm and pleasant most of the year, but be aware that the high desert gets very hot in the summer.
A sunrise hot-air balloon ride from California Dreamin’ Balloon Adventures or Sky’s the Limit Ballooning Adventures is a great way to start your visit. Hit the links at CrossCreek Golf Club or the Journey at Pechanga. Check out the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve for sweeping grasslands, vernal pools and historic adobes. Savor artisan chocolates while you pet farm animals at Sugarplum Farm of Temecula.
It may seem crazy to spend almost $20 on a loaf of sourdough bread, but not from Maurice Car’rie Winery. It’s filled with enough gooey, garlicky Brie to keep four to six people full for hours.