How to do a day in Temecula Wine Country, the right way

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Wine tasting in Temecula Wine Country can be a blast, but it also can educational and enlightening. It all depends on how you plan your trip. Jeff Pack photo

So, you’re ready to tackle Temecula Wine Country. Of course, there is a right and a wrong way to do it, and we’re here to help.

First, you have to understand the region that you’re visiting.

Grapes have been growing here for the purpose of winemaking since 1966 and the area’s warm weather climate suits varietals such as chardonnay, merlot and sauvignon blanc, as well as Mediterranean varietals like viognier, syrah and pinot gris and Rhône varietals, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel.

In fact, if you ask around and a local winemaker trusts you, they might tell you that small clusters of wine grapes introduced to the area by mission padres during the 1800s can still be found in hidden spots around the area.

But for the official record, the first commercial winery was opened in 1968 by Vincenzo and Audry Cilurzo and you can still visit those vineyards at what is now called Bella Vista Winery.

Once you have a little history to reference, you can plan your trip. First and foremost on the list is transportation. Utilizing a tour company is always an excellent choice and leaves the decision-making to the driver or the tour you choose.

There are plenty to choose from including Grapeline Wine Tours, which even has a convertible Mercedes Sprinter party bus for large groups that want to go big; Destination Temecula Tour and Executive VIP Wine Tours.

If you want to go a little more intimate and retro, check out Van ‘n Boozy, which offers tours of Temecula wineries and Temecula craft breweries in vintage Volkswagen buses.

Of course, if one person in your party doesn’t want to imbibe, the best way to see all of the wine country is to drive with a safe driver, of course. That way you can vary your tour, checking out some of the bigger wine houses while ducking into some of the smaller, boutique shops.

Also, make sure not to miss the De Portola Wine Trail which features some really good up and coming wineries such as Robert Renzoni; Lorimar; Gershon Bachus; Oak Mountain, which even has a wine cave; the Italian varietal obsessed Cougar and the newly opened Somerset Winery, which has some of the older vines in the area.

For history’s sake, you’re going to want to take in the originals such as Hart Winery, Mount Palomar, Bella Vista, Baily’s, Thornton, and Callaway. There’s a legacy there that just shouldn’t be missed.

Some of the new kids on the block include Akash, Bottaia, Somerset, and Peltzer Family Cellars, which has a working farm adjacent to the winery with a pumpkin patch each fall.

Be sure to stop in and grab a bite to eat at some of the dining establishments in wine country – wineries like South Coast, Ponte, Callaway, Renzoni, Fazeli Cellars, Thornton and others all have in-house restaurants.

On the weekends, nearly every winery has live music featuring a wide array of artists from country to jazz. Wilson Creek, Thornton, and Wiens are known to host big-name acts with tickets concerts throughout the year. Lorimar, Bel Vino, Churon, Miramonte, Danza Del Sol, and Frangipani are ones to check out.

As the sun goes down, make sure to take in a spectacular view from wineries such as Monte De Oro and Bel Vino.

Motorcycle fans will want to visit Doffo Winery at the end of Rancho California Road to check out the collection of motorcycles they have on display. While you’re there, stop in next door at Chapin Family Vineyards and relax on the expansive patio overlooking acres and acres of vineyard.

Once you’ve had your fill of vino and tasty dishes featuring seasonal ingredients, you’re going to want to find a place to sleep it off.

South Coast, Carter Estate, Europa Village, Wilson Creek, and Ponte each offer accommodations ranging from standard hotel rooms to villas and suites. Of course, nearby Temecula and Murrieta proper has a host of hotels waiting for your rest your weary feet, but if you’re still not ready to call it a night, many wine tasting adventurers like to stay at nearby Pechanga Resort Casino and try their luck at the tables.

Before heading home the following day, you might want to take one more look at Temecula Wine Country and the 33,000 acres that encompass the Temecula Valley American Viticultural Area with a hot air balloon ride early the next morning. A Grape Escape Balloon Adventure and California Dreamin’ are two of the leaders in the area.

If you need a little more help planning your trip, make sure you visit the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association at www.temeculawines.org or Visit Temecula Valley at www.visittemeculavalley.com for more tips and information.