If California were a country, it would be the world’s fourth largest wine producer. It is certainly the number one wine-producing region in the US, making 90 per cent of the country’s wine. Proof of its success is that a bottle of Californian wine – red or white – is no longer sniffed at disparagingly by top connoisseurs.
Movies like Sideways helped to make California even more feted as a wine-growing area. The film followed the flagging fortunes of two 40-something n’er-do-wells (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) who took a few days out of their disappointing lives to visit wine country. Who didn’t see the movie and want to take to the road?
Historic and nostalgic
Southern California has now acquired a reputation as an excellent wine-producing region, one to even rival the more famous Napa Valley to the north. The Temecula Valley, in particular, which has been growing grapes since the 1700s, has become very popular over the past decade.
The 35,000 acres of rolling hills of Temecula are a short drive away from San Diego, Orange County and Palm Springs. The valley is never really cold and – thanks to its proximity to the Pacific – benefits from cooling breezes in the summer. Its cool, condensation-filled early mornings and hot dry days create the perfect micro-climate for grape-growing.
Before we get on to the area’s magnificent wineries, we should point out that Temecula is also one of southern California’s most historic communities. The town has a museum that revives the feel of the Old West a century ago. The area is also known for its fine dining, weekly farmers’ markets, great golf courses, bustling shopping malls and antique shops as well as its year-round cultural calendar that includes many concerts and theatrical performances.
Temecula Valley is also ideal for hot air ballooning – a particularly enthralling way to experience the magnificent scenery. And, if you fancy a little fun after dark, then try the Pechanga Resort and Casino, the largest resort/casino in the western US with 10 restaurants, golf courses and 200,000 sq of gaming options. All these attractions, as well as the wonderful wineries we are about to explore, are available with a Temecula car rental.
Wine on the vine
Temecula Valley is now attracting top-notch chefs, great restaurants and boutique hotels. But the area is perhaps most famous for its grape. We will list several wineries – although all are recommended. The Leoness Cellars was primarily a citrus and avocado farm before it turned to wine. You are encouraged to walk right through the vineyards, to fully appreciate the agricultural experience. There’s a beautiful porch and tasting room as well as guided tours, wedding facilities and tasty weekend food. The most notable wine here is probably the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Nick Palumbo is a busy man. Not only is he father to four children, he has run one of the area’s most up-and-coming wineries – the Palumbo Family Vineyards – for the past eight years. Citing respect, not profit, as his key arbiter of success, his kick comes through mixing with legendary names in the wine business and finding that his own produce is now highly regarded. His 13 acres produce some particularly fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese varietals.
Sustainable and green
California is becoming a world leader in sustainable viticulture, through technology like solar energy. Going green has been shown to benefit everyone – locals, employees and consumers as well as the region’s soil and water. One of the best role models is The Ponte Winery, a family-run vineyard spearheading the kind of sustainable practices that are proving popular state-wide. Theirs is the largest grape farm in Temecula, a place for great food, lavish events and particularly fine Cabernet and Merlot wines. Here, you can enjoy a meal prepared by chef Clay Blake who prides himself on producing locally sourced ingredients, complemented by a great vintage from winemaker Mark Schabel. Every tank of wine is individually climate-controlled; you are even encouraged to return your cork and empty bottle to get a discount on your next purchase.
We hope you enjoy the wonderful wineries of Temecula Valley and that you use a cheap car rental firm to explore the area.