Bucolic and serene, Southern California’s Temecula Valley boasts 35,000 acres of rolling hills dotted by citrus groves, avocado plantations and a vast array of vineyards. Known as the jewel of Riverside County, the area is only 60 miles north of San Diego and is a popular getaway destination for city dwellers seeking a relaxed weekend in wine country. There are more than 30 wineries to explore, many of which include beautiful tasting rooms, intimate inns and onsite restaurants serving gourmet field-to-fork cuisine paired with vino straight from the source. While it would take several sojourns to sip and sample them all, here are some to call on during your travels to Temecula.
Ponte offers all the essentials for a wine country weekend. Check into The Ponte Vineyard Inn for an overnight stay, and be sure to take a guided tour of the property and tasting room before settling in at The Restaurant at Ponte for lunch. Surrounded by 300 acres of vineyards, this alfresco eatery serves farm-fresh fare, such as rhubarb, red leaf and crispy fried fennel salad tossed with orange-thyme vinaigrette. Artisan pizzas from a hearth fueled by reclaimed grape vines are another delicious option. When it comes time for dinner, visit Bouquet, the estate’s fine-dining venue. Begin with polipetti affogati, a mouthwatering mélange of sautéed baby octopus, peas, cherry tomatoes and white wine garlic sauce served over venere black rice. Follow with a main dish of quail and black truffles paired with a stem of Ponte wine, such as a 2009 malbec, or your personal tasting room favorite.
Leoness is a charming Rhône-style boutique winery perched on a hill along the winding, wooded De Portola wine trail. The winery’s namesake loosely translates to “village of dreams” (from the Scottish word leonesse), which seems appropriate for the warm, enchanting setting. Explore the rolling estate through a hosted tasting tour and savor exclusive sips of library wines, such as the 2002 Cellar Select merlot paired with artisan cheeses and chocolates. Stick around for a meal at The Restaurant at Leoness Cellars and enjoy Italian and French provincial palate-pleasers, such as spring lamb, pan-seared duck or smoked salmon pasta. Partner your plate with Leoness Signature Selection vinos, such as the 2008 SS merlot or the 2009 SS syrah. Visit on Friday evenings or Sunday afternoons to enjoy live music, or time your trip with one of the cellars’ special events, such as the annual winemaker barbecue (set for June 23 this year).
Sparkling fans will want to make a stop-off here. This winery is known for its assortment of unique sparkling wines, including as orange mimosa, peach bellini and its fantastic almond champagne. Enjoy the effervescent collection during Wilson Creek’s new Sunday bubble brunch buffet served at the winery’s onsite restaurant, Creekside Grille.
If you’re in the mood for food with a view, head to Falkner Winery for lunch at The Pinnacle. Relish picturesque panoramas from its perch atop a 1,500-foot hillcrest as you nosh on a salad of field greens with candied walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, apples and strawberries dressed in Falkner riesling-lavender vinaigrette. For tasty tapas paired with velvety vinos, head to Meritage at Callaway Vineyard and Winery, where local organic ingredients mingle to form plates with Mediterranean flair, like the wild shrimp and scallop spaghettini with roasted mushrooms, shrimp reduction and chives.
Photos Courtesy of Ponte Family Estate, Wilson Creek Winery and Leoness Cellar