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Though the world is no stranger to California wines, the Temecula Valley is probably not the first place that comes to mind when thinking of the state’s wine regions. In recent years, however, this southern California area has attracted notice for its increasingly refined product and charming, boutique wineries. On a recent trip into Temecula, I discovered not only what makes this region perfectly suited for wine making, but also what makes it a welcoming and convenient attraction for a variety of visitors.
Wineries in southern California can be traced all the way back to the 1800s, when friars planted the region. Temecula, however, began to see real success only after Pierce’s Disease devastated the area in the 1990s, wiping out 40 percent of the crop. What could have been a disaster, however, became a rebirth for the wineries; a shift toward the planting of Mediterranean varieties took advantage of the natural attributes of the soil and climate, which fostered the growth of better and more competitive grapes.
Now, Temecula is also seeing a growth in its winemakers, who are truly embracing the art of their craft, as well as bringing new spins to the traditional winery offerings.
What attracted many of the winemakers and vineyard owners to this area is the same thing that will appeal to visitors — the sense of friendliness and community that exists throughout the valley and even between competing businesses. In fact, it’s easy to forget that these wineries are, in fact, competing, and are not simply all members of the same family. On my various tours and tastings, it was not uncommon to hear that winemakers were close friends with or former employees of other local wineries, and I was frequently given recommendations to try wines from other brands.
Robert Renzoni, proprietor of Robert Renzoni Vineyards, characterized the valley as a “teamwork environment,” in which an open door exists to share expertise, help each other and collaborate.
This feeling of respect and spirit of collaboration not only distinguishes Temecula from other California wine regions, but also allows guests to really enjoy all the various offerings in the area.
These boutique wineries range in size and price of product, and also offer unique spins on the wine tasting experience. For example, the recently opened Lorimar Winery offers social events and classes, as well as live music and a functioning art gallery in the wine tasting room. Robert Renzoni Vineyards hosts vineyard walking tours and includes a scenic picnic site available for lunches and parties, while Wiens Family Cellars includes a concert venue, as well as a reserved tasting room for special seated tastings. For a truly exceptional experience, the owners of Vindemia Winery, David and Gail Bradley, also run California Dreamin’ Balloon Adventures, which offers sunrise hot-air balloon rides over the local landscape.
Another distinguishing feature of the wineries here is that many of them also include on-site restaurants and accommodations, as well as fewer restrictions on events than areas such as Napa. This is a great selling feature of the region, as clients don’t have to worry about finding places to eat (and eat well, at that) or getting to and from tastings. Other options also exist for limiting transportation issues, such as the Temecula Carriage Company, which offers horse drawn tours and transfers between some wineries.
Though this region will never grow to be the size of some other California wine areas — and has no desire to — its charming, unique style and dedication to its product and customers give it a welcoming atmosphere that is almost impossible to resist.
Many wineries and hotels feature unique extras, and are currently undergoing, have recently completed or are planning future renovations to further increase their offerings:
Ponte Winery opened the boutique Ponte Vineyard Inn this past spring, featuring 60 rooms and views of the vineyards. It also features The Cellar Lounge, with the only late night offerings in the area, and The Restaurant at Ponte, which provides fresh and sustainable fare on a patio overlooking gardens and vineyards.
Callaway Vineyard & Winery recently underwent a major facelift, adding a new restaurant, courtyard, tasting room and extended outdoor seating. Private tastings can be booked here as well as winery tours.
The newly-renovated Miramonte Winery now features an open-air veranda, lawns and increased parking and accessibility, and has plans to redo its tasting room as well. Come here for the popular live music shows on the weekends, and be sure to try the delicious Charcuterie, Mediterranean & Cheese Boards.
The already picturesque Europa Village has plans for three wineries, which will be modeled with the separate ambiences of Italy, France and Spain and have three distinct wine labels.