This whole trip came up as a last minute change of plans. For Father’s Day, I had planned to go wine tasting with my dad in Santa Barbara. Then, Santa Barbara caught on fire. So frantically, on the day of his arrival, I started looking into other options so as to salvage the wine weekend. After some quick searching, I came up with and decided on Temecula for our wine tasting weekend.
And I am so glad I did.
Many people either don’t know or forget about Temecula as a premium wine tasting destination. When people think California wine, they think Napa, Sonoma, maybe Santa Barbara, and Solvang/Santa Ynez Valley (backdrop for the movie Sideways). But many people, even some wine connoisseurs in SoCal, don’t think to make the trip down to Temecula for a luxury wine tasting experience. And that should definitely change.
Temecula is nestled between San Diego and Los Angeles in Riverside County. I will admit that I knew generally where Temecula was, but didn’t realize how accessible it is from both San Diego and Los Angeles. The city’s Old Town is a cute row of eateries, bars, shops, and boutique hotels, framed in the rustic, wild west style. In the evening, you hear live music and crowds laughing, enjoying the evening.
We stayed up the street at the Hampton Inn & Suites, just a few minute walk from Old Town. The hotel is extremely convenient for not only walking around Old Town, but also freeway access and access to wine country, as it is just off the main road that leads to the wineries. It was the perfect choice for us as we embarked on our tasting weekend. (A detailed hotel review is coming soon!)
Just up the street, about 15 minutes away, is where the magic happens. Enter wine country. Rolling hills and windy roads make for beautiful vistas both at the foot of the hills and from the hilltops. Various wineries are sprinkled along the road and as you wind yourself through the hills. It seems to be less expansive than some other wine-producing areas of California, but it makes it more convenient and easy to get around.
The Wine Tasting
The wine in Temecula is fantastic. Even though my dad and I prefer sweeter or lighter whites, we even enjoyed the reds we tasted at the various wineries. We had the opportunity to experience a few wineries in the area, each with its own unique charm.
The first stop on our wine adventure was Leoness Cellars. We had the awesome opportunity to do a hosted tasting in the barrel room. Yes, you read that right, amongst the walls of huge oak barrels aging wine.
It was a site to behold. The barrel room was dim and cool, a welcome relief from the sweltering temperatures outside. The tables were set up with various cheeses for our tasting delight. As we waited for more people to arrive, our sommelier explained to us the difference between the process of creating French versus American oak barrels as we sipped a light summer white.
Our host was absolutely fantastic. He talked us through the proper technique for tasting, why the cheese was so important, and various distinctions in the Temecula climate versus other regions. He was able to tailor each person’s tasting experience to their tastes in wine on the fly, no small feat for a dozen people.
And then, the wine. It was absolutely fantastic. By catering to our likes, which tend to be sweeter wines, Leoness hit the jackpot. We sampled both whites and reds, which my dad and I am usually not the biggest fan of, and we loved them. The White Merlot was absolutely heavenly on a hot day, as it was a chilled rose wine. And was sweet and light and perfect for summertime. We sampled Reisling, the Melange de Reves and Blanc, and dessert wines, and actually really liked them all. Leoness has a great variety of wines for every taste, with none of them being too heavy and overpowering. My dad actually ordered a case and had it shipped home, we were so impressed with the selection.
I definitely give Leoness a Grade ‘A’, and highly recommend a hosted tasting if you can score one. In fact, I’m sipping on one of their wines now.
South Coast Winery Resort and Spa
South Coast Winery is an acclaimed name, not just in Temecula, but in all of California. In fact, just a few weeks ago, South Coast was named the Golden State Winery of the year, the first winery to win this prestigious award four times, topping the Napa wineries. Yep, the Temecula powerhouse topped Napa.
Upon visiting the property, I could see why. The sprawling estate features a full resort and the vineyards just steps away from the main entrance. The resort itself is expansive, with both the hotel and separate villas for guests to enjoy. And across the street is Carter Estate, the newest resort area owned by the company.
We had the chance to take the Behind-The-Scenes Wine Tour and we were fortunate enough to have a private tour because no one else was booked at our time. Score! When I say behind the scenes I truly mean it. Our tour guide was thoroughly knowledgeable, having spent years in the wine industry. We first went through the vines and she showed us the growing technique that South Coast employs, all while sipping a delightful Ruby Cuvee (yes, I bought a bottle). Mind you the vineyards are steps from the entrance, giving the grounds an even more unique charm.
After walking along the vineyards, we got to see the crush pad where they separate and squeeze the grapes. There’s no more Lucille Ball grape-stomping going on, but it was such a unique experience to see the process. We also got to see South Coast’s Sparkling room, including its state of the art bottling machine for sparkling wines. It is so impressive that other wineries ship their wine to South Coast to be bottled.
Then, the last part of the tour was, of course, the tasting. We tried several wines, including reserve vintages, all paired with cheese and fruit. We had the chance to sample some lovely Reisling, a rose, and a fruity and light Voigner. South Coast is also known for its sparkling wines, and we already adored the Ruby Cuvee. We had a great smattering and really delved into the correct way to taste wine. And since it was a private tour and tasting, we were really able to get the amazing attention and have a tasting catering to our tastes and preferences. And, I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind staying at the South Coast and experiencing the villas and the spa next time I’m in Temecula, as the grounds were absolutely gorgeous (shameless plug LOL).
Before we went out of town, I was able to make a stop to do a mini tasting at Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards. The front desk attendant at the Hampton Inn is a Temecula native, and she said that Wilson Creek is known for their amazing sparkling wines that already taste like mimosas and Bellini’s and other brunch cocktails, no added juice required.
You know I was intrigued. And you know I had to have a taste.
And taste I did. I had the Orange Mimosa wine, and it tasted just like a mimosa. Huge score. Then I sampled the Peach Bellini Wine and it actually topped the Mimosa wine. I never thought it could be. I was ready to settle on my purchase, when the ladies next to me asked me had I tried the Sparkling Sangria or the Almond Sparkling wine. “Come again?” I asked them, and immediately requested a taste of each.
The sparkling sangria was a great mix of sparkling wine and still sangria. But it still didn’t top the Peach Bellini. I then tried the Almond Sparkling Wine. It was amazing! It tasted perfectly of almonds, so you almost felt healthy drinking it, because it’s almonds, right? I ended up getting a bottle of that for my sis, who is an almond fiend, and the Peach Bellini for myself. Needless to say, after this weekend, I had a pretty large haul of wine.
I would be remiss, in my recounting our Temecula adventure, if I didn’t mention the amazing view from Miramonte Winery. This winery has become the Saturday-night venue of choice, with live music, dancing, and a standing room only crowd. The outdoor space overlooks the sprawling hills of Temecula and makes for a great view to bring in the evening with some live soul music.
Temecula wine country is an absolutely amazing, premier wine destination. The wines were all top notch, and the wineries could rival some of the best I have seen. I certainly came away with a bigger haul of delectable wines from here than I have from other wine tasting areas in California. Californians, especially those from SoCal, need to get hip to Temecula. It’s a wine-lovers gem. I can’t wait to go back.
This visit was a media visit sponsored by Visit Temecula Valley. All opinions (it was awesome) are my own.