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When you think of California wine country, Napa Valley and Sonoma likely come to mind. But did you know there's a booming wine industry right here in Southern California?
Temecula California is one of the newest California wine regions.
After years of growing pains, Temecula wineries have now come into their own with sophisticated wines, a hip clientele and growing number of elegant Temecula wine tasting rooms.
It's no wonder that Temecula has become a hot spot for destination weddings, girlfriends getaways and romantic escapes.
Roughly 60 miles between San Diego and Orange County, Temecula Valley's unique microclimate and cool ocean breezes make it a great place to grow wine grapes. And if you're here for wine tasting, you'll find almost all of the Temecula wineries along Rancho California Road and De Portola Road, just a few minutes off the busy I-15 freeway.
How many wineries are in Temecula? There are roughly 20 wineries, but by far the most well known is Thornton Winery, a rambling French Mediterranean style estate known for its sparkling wines.
Winemaker Don Reha took me on a tour through the wine caves, where he crafts Thornton's sparkling wine in the Methode Champenois style.
We followed our tour with a light lunch and wine pairing at Cafe Champagne, where we enjoyed an elegant cheese platter and Kobe burger paired with some of Don's specialty wines.
Our day in the Temecula Vineyards took us past some of the appelation's most elegant wineries, from Wilson Creek Winery, known for its sparkling almond champagne, to South Coast Winery Resort, a 38-acre luxury property with its own spa and private villas. In the tasting room, I learned that South Coast Winery won the Golden Bear award for Winery of the Year at the 2008 California State Fair.
Next up was the romantic Briar Rose Winery, located inside a storybook Snow White Cottage that was actually built by a Disneyland artisan. Briar Rose Winery is home to one of the oldest Mission olive trees in the state.
I met with owners Dorian and Les Linkogle, who explained that their boutique hand-crafted wines have reached cult status, being served everywhere from the Playboy Mansion to the White House.
I especially enjoyed their light Citronier, made with a hint of lemon, and their rich, supple 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon. This upscale boutique winery is open by reservation only.
After touring the beautiful grounds, Les showed off his barrel room — a definite man space decked out with some of his son Larry's famous motocross bikes.
Here, I was among the first to try his trademarked Wine Lager, a fresh, fruit and bubbling beverage that was simply amazing.
Next, we traveled to Keyways Winery, the only woman-owned winery in Temecula. And this early California-style tasting room definitely has a woman's touch, from the cozy couches and fireplace to the elegant dining room.
If you're in the mood to picnic, Keyways sells a variety of meats, cheeses and wines that you can enjoy outside, sometimes with a live band to entertain you.
I caught up with owner Terri Pebley for a private tour and tasting of her award-winning wines.
We ended our day in Temecula with a stop at Ponte Winery, a country-style tasting room known for its cool Smokehouse restaurant and a really fun crowd. After enjoying a barbecue in the vineyards, I couldn't resist taking part in their annual Grape Stomp, reliving that famous "I Love Lucy Episode."
Owner Claudio Ponte gave me a few tips before I got to stomping, and the heat began.
I didn't win, but I came in second, which isn't too bad.
After that workout, it was time to wind down — and a sunset tractor ride through the vineyards was just the ticket.
I promise if you visit Temecula Wine Country, you're going to have a great time. And if you visit during the fall crush — maybe you can stomp a few grapes yourself!
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