Wine tasting in is a no-brainer for Southern Californians. My husband and I left the L.A. area and arrived at our first winery in 90-minutes. There are now more than thirty wineries and vineyards sprinkled along the countryside of Riverside County. The hot days and cool nights, coupled with the clay soil, has made the area ripe for growing grapes. Mostly all family owned and operated, visiting the vineyards was like walking into a small gathering at a friend’s house.
Baily Vineyard & Winery:
A must see, sip and sample. One of Temecula’s oldest wineries, Phil and Carol nailed it at their family owned winery. They not only offer industry recognized wines made entirely from grapes harvested on site, but serve incredible food as well. Between chef Carol’s juicy Reuben sandwiches, and Winemaker Phil’s silky Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s a win-win experience. What a duo!(33440 La Serena Way, 951-676-9463)
Not only is one of Temecula’s newest wineries, but liveliest ones too. We walked up to the entrance where there was a busy pizza making station, and inside a guitar player and singer who had the place jumping. This had FUN written all over it. The artwork even exuded energy. Manager Patrick McIlvain explained how they hire genuinely nice people with good smiles, and then train them in wine. There are good wines and times to be had here! (39990 Anza Road, 951-240-5177)
The beautiful outdoor patios and views sold me on. I could spend all day here in the sun. But wait, besides the tasty wine known as “adventurous,” the charcuterie platters are not to be missed. I always say a perfect meal is a good meat and cheese board, and these are perfection. Moving inside, the tasting room is large, casual and contemporary. I was waiting for a DJ to start spinning tunes.(33410 Rancho California Rd., 951-506-5500)
Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery:
This winery is off the beaten path, and no wonder. It’s Nick Palumbo’s home and farm. Starting out as a grape grower to sell his crop to wineries, decided to try his hand in wine making in 2002. And we are glad he did! The tasting room is simple and intimate. It used to be Palumbo’s “man cave” before he started serving his artisanal wines there. With his wife and four children just down the pathway, it’s no surprise that his son Dominick popped in to say hi. Described as “farm elegance” this winery is warm and welcoming.(40150 Barksdale Circle,951-676-7900)
Danza del Sol Winery:
Seeing two girls on horseback, coming to wine taste, set the mood right away at this new boutique winery. Tucked amongst rolling hills and thirty-five acres of vineyards, you feel like you’re ducking into a cozy bar where everybody knows your name. Our server, Walter, had us laughing with his spot on wine descriptions, “hints of popcorn and caramel”, “fruity without being sweet”, and my favorite “summer in a glass”. wines were unique and affordable.(39050 De Portola Rd.,951-302-6363)
Doffo Vineyard and Winery:
Where do I begin? I felt like I was back in Argentina tasting wine at a Ma and Pop winery. I quickly found out, that’s how the family of Argentine and Italian decent wanted us to feel. Lead winemaker and owner Marcelo Doffo made sure we felt right at home. He and his son Damian spent time taking us through the terraced vineyards that had speakers which played classical music to the grapes. Also proud of their vintage motorcycle museum, we viewed more than a hundred motorbikes on display. Their love of superb wine, food, family and friends shined through. The tasting room sign says it all: “Enter as strangers, leave as friends”.(36083 Summitville,951-676-6989)
Eats and Sleeps:
Wilson Creek Winery:
This property is big, and so is the Wilson Family! With seven grandchildren, Gerry and Rosie Wilson, along with their four children, have created a fun, family-friendly winery. The picnic area, gardens, bocce ball and jungle gym give guests of all ages something to enjoy. We visited The Creekside Grille where we sampled the shrimp ceviche, chicken club sandwich and burger. Yummy, solid food, is a good thing when you’re spending the day sipping vino, or the almond champagne that is known for.(35960 Rancho California Rd.,951-699-9463)
Ponte Vineyard Inn:
Dinner at Bouquet Restaurant at was so relaxing after a day of wine tasting. The beautiful restaurant is adjacent to the lobby, but quiet and dimly lit, with a large working fireplace and seating area. This is the most upscale of all the eateries on site, offering unique dishes such as diver scallops and tagliata steak. Good food, service and ambience.(Entrees range from $18-$34,951-587-6688)
Ponte’s tasting room is in another building next door. It’s a large space with a really nice gift area. Remember, drinking and shopping do mix. But I was here to sample the wine, which is available only at the winery. The Super T 2010 is their most popular red wine. Exiting out the back doors is a great patio area with additional dining options.
Although the winery has been established since 2002, the hotel at Ponte just opened last year. The new 60-room mission-style hotel is well appointed with nice artwork, fabrics and furniture throughout. Our room was spacious with a balcony and a view of the valley. The only complaint I had was there wasn’t a bathtub. After a full day of visiting wineries, I wanted a good soak! (There isn’t a pool or Jacuzzi on site either.) (King room starting at $219 per night)
Temecula Valley wine isn’t the only thing that made me light-headed, it was the hot air balloon ride that took me nearly a thousand feet off the ground. Seven of us safely floated over citrus groves, vineyards and rolling hills thanks to Balloon Rides. All the while our licensed pilot, Dave Lynch, told us interesting stories about the area below. It was worth getting up and out the door at 6:00 a.m. for, and of course the champagne breakfast at the end was a nice touch after our hour-long flight. (Sunrise flights $148 per person,800-373-3359)
Mark your Calendars:
The World of Wine Winter Barrel Tasting is coming March 2nd and 3rd to Temecula Valley! Wineries will open their cellar doors for guests to sample showcased wines, along with special food pairings. A ticket will get you a self-guided wine tour of some 30 wineries, souvenir glass and two days to enjoy a bevy of varietal wines. ($99 per person, )
Sponsored by: Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country
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