California is, as everyone knows, the apex of wine making in the United States. There are now, according to Wine Spectator, wineries in all 50 states and some are making wine that has promise. Napa and Sonoma counties have already realized that promise and are even still continuing to improve, with many vineyards producing products of world class caliber. The regions are easy to visit from San Francisco.
Then there are other areas in the Golden State that are cracking into the big time, notably in Paso Robles and Santa Barbara, the so-called Central Coast, which stretches so far that it’s hard to call it a single wine-growing region. It’s at least a two-hour drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara and a minimum of three hours from, well, anywhere to Paso Robles. In other words, if you want to visit these regions it will probably mean at least one night in a hotel, not a day trip.
Then, if you’re in Southern California, you also have a destination for wine tasting. San Diego is a wonderful city with perhaps the best climate in the United States. If you go, drive north on I-15 to the Temecula Valley, about an hour away, to experience the local Wine Country.
Photo courtesy of Temecula Wines.org
Don’t expect the same level of quality that the great Napa and Sonoma vineyards produce, nor the glorious vistas you can see in the northern and central parts of the state. But it is very definitely Wine Country that you’ll be in, with all the attendant opportunities that go with such a region. What’s most amazing is that the local grape farmers have used the popularity of wine drinking in America to make the desert bloom. This is not the sort of Wine Country with the lush verdure of, say, Russian River nor with the grand chateaux of Bordeaux, Burgundy or, in its way, Napa Valley. Part of the allure of Temecula is that you have a chance to see it and taste it before it becomes famous, which is a good reason to go.
If you are among those that think that the quality of a wine comes exclusively from the skilled hands of the farmer and the wine maker, then Temecula has a chance at making it big. If, however, you are like us and think that terroir – the soil and the climate – are the dominating factors in a wine’s character then it may just be that Temecula is reaching its apogee. Of course, don’t take our word for it; taste for yourself and make your own evaluation.
Two of the wineries we like best are conveniently closest to the Interstate. If the name Callaway is familiar to you, you must be a golfer. The club maker and the winery owner are the same folks. Depending on your perspective, they are either the best or the most pretentious winery in Temecula Valley. They are the only one there with a wine, the Owner’s Private Reserve, that runs $175 per bottle. Is it worth it? Only your mouth can tell.
Just next door is Hart Family Winery. It is one of the oldest wineries in the valley, going back to 1970. The Hart family are farmers and winemakers, with no corporate empire behind them. A visit to their winery, even today, brings back thoughts of what Napa Valley was before Robert Mondavi and other pioneers brought that region to the forefront. And they are still among the few who will let you drink a glass of wine and take the logo-engraved glass with you.
A very nice feature of a visit to Temecula Valley is that many of the wineries have restaurants, running from Meritage at Callaway, which is similar to a sophisticated urban restaurant, to salads and flatbreads at Lorimar’s Pairings bistro. Flower Hill is at Miramonte; there’s Café Champagne at Thornton (guess what the specialty wine might be); and Avensole has a “restaurant and marketplace” of the same name.
We enjoy visiting Temecula because we enjoy outings in Wine Country, wherever it may be. We have tasted some pleasant wines but nothing that has ever excited us. Your experience may be very different in that regard. So come for the experience, keep your mind (and your mouth) open and have wonderful day so near to San Diego.