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Road Trip to Wine Country: Temecula Valley

Itching for an adventure, but still a little leery of flying? Then why not consider California’s South Coast – and the dazzling Temecula Valley in particular. Temecula is the largest winegrowing region in southern California. Once a small town, the region has exploded in popularity in recent years, now with more than 40 wineries and 80 winegrowers, as well as other attractions, high-end dining, and – of course – amazing tasting tours.

Oh, did we mention Temecula is only a five-hour drive from the Phoenix area? Or that most of the wineries allow for outdoor tastings and have taken measures – masks, disposable or sanitized stemware, reservation systems and sanitization protocols – to ensure the safety of guests and social distancing?

Yep, they have you (and themselves) covered. Are you ready to plan your trip? Allow us to help!

Getting There

It’s just over 330 miles away, but the drive is easy. There is a mountain option and scenic option through Palm Desert, but the generally best route is simply the I-10 west to California State Route 74, and then take the exit for Temecula. The morning of your trip, however, GPS or your phone know best depending on traffic and time of day.

Where to Stay

Yes, there are hotels, and we will get to those. However, while hotels and resorts are taking all CDC-recommended precautions to ensure the perfect stay, one of the ways to do Temecula right is by renting a home or manor in the heart of wine country. If looking to go this route, Temecula Vacation Rentals (TVR) is among the top options in the area with six premiere properties able to accommodate from 10 to 24 guests, not to mention cozy condos and other specialty spaces available based on needs, wants and date.

The coziest property is even a wow. TVR’s fully furnished 2,000-square-foot Meritage House sleeps 10 comfortably and has some of the prettiest views of the vineyards by day and the far-away city lights at night. If seeking something a little more spacious, consider the 6,200-square-foot Temecula Wine Country Grand Contento Estate, which sleeps 16. It is a “wow” on all levels. Contento is walking distance to several wineries (though we recommend The Grapeline, which you’ll read about soon), has a pool and is fully furnished. The property also has its own movie theater as well as a guest house with all sorts of games and entertainment.

Similarly impressive are the Sangiovese Estate – sleeping up to 14 and with its own putting green, home theatre and game room – the Palazzo Del Sol Estate – also sleeping 14 and with nearly unrivaled mountain views – and the Bailey’s Escape Merlot Estate – sleeping up to 18 on a sprawling one-level property that seems to go on for miles.

And then there is the big dog.

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Wilson Creek Manor

At 12,000-square-feet and with no bell or whistle missed, TVR’s most fabulous property is Wilson Creek Manor, which sleeps up to 24 comfortably.

If the name Wilson Creek sounds familiar to Valley wine lovers, it should. Not only is Wilson Creek’s award-winning almond champagne (and now other varietals) available for purchase across Arizona, but the picturesque winery has been featured on The Real Housewives of Orange County, Blind Date, The Golf Channel and even on Oprah’s OWN Network. Located directly across the street from the famed winery, the 12,000-square-foot estate sleeps up to 24 guests and features 10 well-appointed bedrooms – including a 1,600-square-foot master suite – 11 bathrooms, a game room, private outdoor pool and spa, barbeque, gazebo, workout area, basketball court, commercial-grade kitchen, and more.

We recommend reserving now for 2020 or 2021. It’s THAT worth it.

Of course, there are also some great hotels and resorts directly in wine country as well. Good options: The Inn at Europa Village, the brand new Bolero at Europa Village, Carter Estate Winery and Resort, Inn at Churon Winery, South Coast Winery Resort & Spa and Ponte Vineyard Inn.

Don’t Drink and Drive

Once in wine country, don’t even think about drinking and driving. Instead, look no further than the Grapeline Wine Tours for all of your adventuring needs. A family-owned business that has been operating in Temecula for over a decade, the drivers and tour guides are encyclopedias of the region, yet they do it while making guests laugh, sing and even dance on board.

A best bet is Grapeline’s all-inclusive Classic Wine Tour, which is a four-hour tour hosted by a wine country insider with snacks as well as tastings at three wineries only $95 a person. The Grapeline also offers a “Grapehopper” service, which is only $79 a person and gives guests the chance to taste on their own time and simply hop on and off Grapeline shuttles as they visit the wineries each day. Because sipping all day is hard work, there is also a deluxe picnic tour starting at $119 per person, which offers tastings as well as a gourmet local picnic lunch.

For those seeking to ensure distance from others, there are also dozens of private tour options as well as by-the-hour chauffeur services using sedans, limos, executive SUV’s, and deluxe coaches for all group sizes and budget levels. We highly recommend this option, where you can work to sip on your own schedule as well as pick and choose some special places where you most want to sip.

Where to Sip

Speaking of special places, Temecula has a tasting room tailored to every taste imaginable, from historically impactful wineries with tastings to contemporary and cutting-edge tasting rooms to even those with full-serve restaurants and airborne adventures. Many of the wines you will taste when in Temecula are strictly sold at the wineries themselves or only locally versus mass distribution.

Here is just a taste of tastings (and more) that await:

For an immersive experience, visit Leoness Cellars for its Vineyard Tour & Taste or another of its curated (and often food-filled) curated offerings. The immersive tour and taste is a guided adventure through the award-winning brand’s winemaking process and journey and gives a behind-the-scenes peek at the wine-making facility. The grand finale is a luscious private tasting of their wines with artisan cheeses and other surprises. Wine recommendations: 2017 Cellar Series Zinfandel, 2016 Signature Series Merlot and 2019 Cellar Series White Merlot (which is actually pink).

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Leonesse Cellars

For an OMFG view of the entire region along with perfectly balanced wines, check out Callaway Winery. An innovator in the area, it was founded by Ely Callaway – of Callaway Golf fame – and is now privately owned by a local family. The breathtaking estate and tasting room is built high above the city and boasts award-winning Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc varietals.

If a fan of Disney, Briar Rose is a “must” during your visit (please note it does require advance reservations though). The tasting room is an actual replica of Snow White’s cottage with the Seven Dwarves. How can they get away with that, you ask? The original owner happened to work for Walt Disney and was one of many artisans who built Disneyland’s Fantasyland and Toon Town. So, he got a pass! There are nods to Disney throughout the property, and in the cleverest of ways. Even one of its specialty wines – The Talking Frog wine lager – is named in homage to the Frog Prince.

If traveling with dudes, after taking them through the fabulous and feminine Briar Rose, head over to Doffo Winery. Opt for the Cork ‘N Torque Tour at  $65 per person, which whisks your group off in an open-air, eco-friendly vehicle to view the vineyards and wine making facility up close followed by a tour of the family’s rocking MotoDoffo Vintage Motorcycle Collection and a private tasting of the premium wines.

While maybe not right away, pending what happens with COVID, put Oak Mountain on your Temecula bucket list for its super-cool cave experience, or enjoy it now with a tasting and lunch on its expansive patio (seriously, it’s bigger than a football field)

Another one for the long-term planner: Lorenzi Estate. They have a seated tasting, on hold in the short term due to COVID but coming back soon, where they treat guests to five of their 90-point red wines on their vineyard patio, paired with cheese and charcuterie included. If coming sooner, opt for the traditional tasting as this small-batch winery is not to be missed.

For those who love history, be sure to stop in to Hart Winery, which is the oldest continually owned and operated winery in Temecula. Originally founded by Joe and Nancy Hart and now run by their children, it is known for premium estate-grown reds.  Wine recommendations: 2017 Driveway Red, 2019 Albariño and 2017 Estate Syrah. 

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Fazeli Cellars

Looking for a little romance…or the perfect place to propose? Enter Fazeli Cellars, which has some of the most beautiful architectural elements anywhere in Temecula, and the high-quality wine to match. Being on property almost feels like being in a dream, and their wines all tell a story. One of our favorite collections is called Embrace the Chaos and has wines called Pandemonium, Uproar, Mayhem, Ruckus and BJ (a nod to owner BJ Fazeli). Sort of a nice fit for right now, don’t you think?

Any beer fans? For those with beer lovers joining you, be sure to stop at Wiens Family Cellars. There, enjoy a tasting of their big reds or reserve a private tasting, which comes with scrumptious small bites. After, head to the family’s Wiens Brewing a few miles away, where you can sample their IPAs, pilsners, wheats, coffee stouts, beers aged in their wine barrels, and seasonal specialties, notably their Grove Swarm, a blood orange and honey wheat ale.

Oh, and if you need a taste of adventure while tasting across wine country, head over to Carter Estate Winery and Resort, which has an overnight package that includes a hot air balloon tour for two that soars over wine country, complete with a champagne toast and then two tickets for a full wine tasting as well.

Where to Dine

Robert Renzoni Vineyards needs to make your “must” list if a foodie. The winery offers tastes of premium California wines made using Italian grape varieties that sing in the hands of talented young winemaker Olivia Bue. There is also a decadently delicious restaurant onsite called Mama Rosa’s Trattoria offering elevated Italian classics and brick oven pizzas. It’s a hot spot for all ages. If looking for fine dining while sipping – or after – visit South Coast Winery Resort & Spa. Their on-site restaurant, The Vineyard Rose Restaurant, is warm and inviting, with a definite Tuscan vibe. Other venues that will make your mouth water include: Baba Joon’s Kitchen at Fazeli Cellars, Meritage Restaurant at Callaway Winery, The Restaurant at Leoness Cellars, and Creekside Grill at Wilson Creek.

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Creekside Grill

Oh, and most importantly: make sure to plan a stop at Maurice Car’rie as much as for a wine tasting as for their world-famous BREAD. They feature this homemade sourdough bowl from heaven simply exploding with bubbly hot brie cheese. Call in advance to order it. We are not kidding. It is that good.

For more, visit www.visittemeculavalley.com or www.temeculawines.org.

**Please note that as with Arizona, California is in various stages of re-opening. Please bookmark these venues and consider not only for now, but for a trip in the future, especially when we successfully overcome this pandemic.

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