Pondering what to do with your 48-hours of freedom? Consider this: a wine tasting day trip to stain your teeth purple. This recurring column will guide you to some of the most exciting wine road trips around Southern California, complete with tips on what to drink, what to eat, and where to stay.
An hour and a half south of L.A., the Temecula Valley is in the midst of a burgeoning food and drink renaissance and it’s official: there are great wines to be had.
Of the many different grape varieties grown, some common themes emerge: lower-tier white and red wines show a lot of bright, ripe fruit character and several contain some residual sugar making them a touch sweet. The upper echelon, small production, premium-tier wines are fermented dry, and the best whites are made from Chardonnay, Arneis, and Vermentino grapes whiles Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Sangiovese hit it home for the reds. This duality of styles (sweet vs. dry) is largely the result of a duality in clientele—novice winos and retirees vs. an in-flux of younger connoisseurs who are educated and opinionated about wine.
Head to Ponte Family Estate where 300 acres of vineyards surround a divinely picturesque property. The tasting room is large with plenty of space to swirl and sip through an extensive portfolio of stellar wines crafted by Mark Schabel and visiting winemaker Daniel Gomez from Argentina (wines are only available through the tasting room or their wine club). Tastings are $15 weekdays, $20 on weekends (definitely ask to try the Super T and their Montepulciano). Definitely consider booking a room at the Ponte Vineyard Inn, a luxurious 60-room boutique hotel adjacent to the winery, with gorgeous grounds for casual strolling through rows of vines and around a small pond with a dock (a popular backdrop for wine country weddings). And you have options for dinner: go al fresco dining at The Restaurant where Executive Chef Salvatore Giuliano dishes up locally-sourced, seasonal delicious and expertly crafted cuisine to pair with Ponte wines (the wood-fired pizzas are a must). For a more fine-dining, indoor experience, reserve a table at Bouqet Restaurant where the food is equally exceptional and a small wine list of other local and global wines is available.
Stop off at Wilson Creek Winery to taste the infamous sparkling almond wine that has become associated with Temecula Valley. Almond flavoring is added along with a solution of grape juice and sugar (final dosage) before bottling. Once you’ve tried it and judged for yourself, move on to the wide-ranging portfolio of nice wines made by Gus Vizgirda and Greg Pennyroyal. Whites are expressive with tropical fruit notes and reds are muscular and pair well with the seasonal cuisine served at their outdoor restaurant. Tastings are $15 weekdays, $20 on weekends.
And if you’re up for hanging at a Tuscan-style villa with a fast-talking former New-Yorker with a penchant for nice cars (Ken Gershon) head to Gershon Bachus Vintners and just revel in the splendid scenery and hearty wines—lots to choose from. Tasting are $16.
Also visit: Palumbo Family Vineyards, South Coast Winery, Old Town Temecula, and the Temecula Farmers Market.
Winery Spotlight: Lorenzi Estate Wines
Barely visible from the road, this charming and quaint winery opened its doors in late 2013. Owned by Don Lorenzi (publisher of Inland Empire Magazine), no more than 2,000 cases of exceptional Bordeaux-style wines are produced by this self-taught garagiste, who started making wines 13 years ago at his home in Riverside. His family grew grapes in Cucamonga in the 80s and Lorenzi’s cousin acquired some cuttings from 100-year old vines from the region and planted them in Temecula. The 2014 vintage will be the first produced at the new facility. Grapes grown on primarily decomposed granite, sand, and limestone soils on the property give Lorenzi’s wine verve and structure. Favorites included the Lorenzi Estate 2009 Zinfandel, a medium-bodied wine of bright fruit and spice notes and the Lorenzi Estate 2009 Syrah, a powerful wine redolent of black raspberry, coffee, and cocao with high toned white pepper notes. Lorenzi is often in the tasting room himself, pouring, chatting, flirting and conducting private tastings in the barrel room. Groups of four or more should make a reservation. Tastings cost $20-$25 per person.
Tasting Etiquette Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more you ask, the more you’ll learn about how wine is made, and why you like certain wines over others.
Where to Eat:
A meal at E.A.T. Marketplace & Eatery is a must. Chef and owner Leah Delyte Di Bernardo is an avid Slow-Food proponent (and founder/president of Slow Food Temecula Valley). She opened shop in May, introducing a serious artisan eatery and marketplace to the area. The place feels like it belongs in a hip Brooklyn neighborhood with an industrial chic design meeting modern country flare. A slow-bar coffee and tea station serves up smoothies and wellness shots while an open kitchen dishes out fresh, brilliantly prepared fare. Try the charcuterie plate with Fra-Mani meats from San Francisco, local tomatoes, and hard-boiled duck eggs and the Eggs Benedict with Distyl Farms sausage, and crispy kale. Di Bernardo and Chef de Cuisine Jason Rivas have cultivated a sharp, eager, and knowledgeable staff eager to talk wine pairings and anything else farm-to-table (especially when the farmers they work with drop by).
Where to Spend the Night:
If you don’t crash at the upscale Ponte Vineyard Inn, look into the Inn at Europa Village—a charming bed and breakfast run by Chef Dean Thomas and his wife Nicole. The property is dotted with citrus trees, gardens, a fire pit and outdoor Jacuzzi. The real draw is Chef Dean’s two-course gourmet breakfast (included), prepared with seasonal ingredients from his gardens—his creativity and passion shows itself on the plate with fine sauces, expertly cooked meats and eggs, and vividly colored fresh veggies.
Hours & Location:
Ponte Family Estate
35053 Rancho California Rd., Temecula
Wilson Creek Winery
35960 Rancho California Rd., Temecula
36095 Monte De Oro Rd., Temecula
Gershon Bachus Vintners
37750 De Portola Rd., Temecula
E.A.T. Marketplace & Eatery
28410 Old Town Front St., Temecula
Inn at Europa Village
33350 La Serena Way, Temecula