I recently had the pleasure of visiting one of Wine Enthusiast’s “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations”: Temecula Valley, California! Although this was my third time in California, it was my first visit to the SoCal region, and I was blown away. My previous trips to California were short visits to Lodi and Sonoma, so I never really had the chance to explore the state. This trip to Temecula was exactly what I needed to experience another side of this famed state known for its incredible wines.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I had the opportunity to try Temecula Valley wines via Zoom with some winemakers. It was a great introduction, but I always wondered what made these wines so special. This year, I was invited to spend a few days in Temecula, and it truly changed my perspective! Temecula Valley’s low elevation points draw in a cool, marine breeze and offer a Mediterranean-like climate, making it an ideal spot to grow a variety of grapes like Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Grenache, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, and Merlot. With so many grape varieties, it can be hard to decide where to start, but many wineries grow a wide selection and offer wines for every palate, which was a pleasant surprise.

Sometimes, I find myself craving a Tempranillo but not necessarily from Spain, and now we have Temecula to bring us just that! Most of the wines here are direct-to-consumer, and many of the wineries can ship to most states (except Tennessee). Temecula is perfect if you’re planning a trip to wine country and want to avoid the hassle of Napa while still enjoying great dining, spas, hotels, and wineries. The soils here, made of granite and sandy loam, drain well and are enhanced by grape pomace, which adds organic material for extra oomph.

We stayed at the Ponte Vineyard Inn, which was absolute heaven! The rooms were stunning, with most of them facing the vineyards. My room overlooked the vines, and it was wonderful to sit and enjoy the gorgeous weather. Since it was my first time visiting in June, I brought a fan, sweat wipes, and other items to combat the heat, but I ended up needing none of it! The weather was perfect during our stay from June 4th to June 7th.

The Cellar at Ponte Vineyard Inn was fabulous and underground, keeping things nice and cool. They offer a great selection of wines from their tasting room, which were all impressive as well as cocktails in which I enjoyed the Italian Margarita. The breakfast at the hotel was absolutely delicious; I would go back just for the hash browns and coffee.

Our first night was spent at Miramonte Winery, just a few minutes down the road. The beauty of Temecula is that you can visit many wineries in one weekend because they are all so close to each other. Miramonte welcomed us with an incredible spread, including a Chef’s Seasonal Charcuterie and Stuffed Baby Bella Mushrooms paired with the 2021 Rosé and the 2022 Albariño. I became obsessed with Albariño from this area and kept going back for more “tastes.” The 2019 Tempranillo paired with the Filet Mignon and Mediterranean Chicken was absolutely delicious and stole my heart. The evening ended with a delightful dessert of Cherry Gelato with fresh plums, strawberries, cherries, and blueberries paired with their Bin 380.

Day 2 began with a wonderful wine tasting and overview of Temecula. We tasted a variety of wines, including the Ponte Winery Vermentino, Robert Renzoni Pinot Grigio, Wilson Creek Viognier, Robert Renzoni Montepulciano, Ponte Tempranillo, Bottaia Nero D’Avola, Wilson Creek Mouvedré, and the Bottaia Vermentino Late Harvest. These wines showcased the versatility of the land, region, and winemakers in Temecula.

Next, we headed to Danza del Sol Winery for UTV tours of the vineyards and wines. We began with the Espumosa Sparkling Wine and took our glasses for a beautiful vineyard ride, stopping to taste more wines along the way. Our guide, Walter, was charismatic and passionate, making the tour even more enjoyable. They have a ton to offer including horseback rides through the vineyards, picnic lunches, pairing experiences, Weddings, and so much more. We finished with a barrel room tasting and paired each wine with a bite of food, which was a fabulous experience.

Lunch at Altisima Winery was delightful, with courses paired perfectly with their wines. The Mediterranean Salad, Fried Calamari, Seared Salmon, Steak Frites, and Crème Brûlée Cheesecake were all delicious, and the restaurant’s open-air seating and gorgeous views added to the experience. The wines from here were really fantastic and ideal for gastronomy including the 2021 Perezosa White and the 2020 Fortaleza Red. For dessert we enjoyed the 2023 White Merlot which was super cool, refreshing, and ideal with desserts.

In the afternoon, we returned to the hotel for a sound healing meditation, which was a relaxing and zen experience. We then visited Peltzer Winery for a “speed tasting” with winemakers of Peltzer, Doffo, Palumbo Family, and Wilson Creek. They all showcased some of their favorites, and it was lovely to get to know each winery one by one through this tasting before we all sat down together. It was a perfect evening: the sun was setting, there was wine everywhere, and sitting with the winemakers and their families was just the “icing on the cake.”  You really get to know the winery teams this way, learning a bit more about what got them into wine, winemaking, and living out here. I love hearing about their lives because it’s such a different way of life than most people live, and it’s truly incredible to hear some of their inspiring stories. Peltzer, in particular, does an amazing event. From the table setup to the beautiful amenities, if you’re looking to have an event with great wines, you should book here. I mean, come on, how stunning is this table scape?

Our final day in Temecula included a morning tasting with Carter Estate to learn about their impressive sparkling wines. Carter Estate focuses on sparkling wines made in the Traditional Method, and their vintages were outstanding including the 2016 Blanc de Noir the 2017 Blanc de Blanc, and the Brut. Before heading to the airport, we had lunch at Leoness Cellars, a fantastic winery with amazing views and an incredible restaurant. The Duck Liver Mousse, Ranch Citrus Salad, French Fries, Grilled Mishima Hanger Steak, and Chocolate Spoon with gold were all delicious, and the hospitality was unmatched. With the dishes we enjoyed the 2022 Mélange D’Ete which was fruity with elegant pops of acidity that made the wine dance on your palate. Alongside to pair with the steak was two reds: 2021 vs Syrah and the 2021 SS “The Farmer”. Both of these reds stole the show and are a must purchase if you visit the winery; they’re outstanding. The grand finale dessert was paired with the Leoness Port which, if you’re a port fan… you will love!

In just a few days, I experienced so much of what Temecula has to offer. I absolutely recommend visiting Temecula and look forward to sharing more in-depth posts about the wineries and top dishes I enjoyed. Stay tuned!

Always remember, eat what you like and drink what you love. Please pair responsibly!