A Short Roadie into Temecula Valley Wine Country

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I first heard about the Temecula wine region while I was in an airport lounge on my way back from a wine event in the Valle de Guadalupe a few years ago. I spoke to a woman who raved about Temecula as her favorite low-key wine region in the USA. It piqued my interest at the time, but I thought that if I were making the trip to San Diego with intentions to visit wine country, my choice would be to cross over the border to spend more time in the Valle. 

This pandemic has changed the way I travel, so when I started looking into a trip to San Diego, the border crossing (and the mandatory testing that’s required for re-entry) made a roadie to the Valle seem inaccessible. But then Temecula popped into my head. I did a quick exploration, it seemed like the perfect spot to spend a few days. 

The hour+ drive northeast from San Diego to Temecula wasn’t particularly scenic but as we wound down into the valley, the vineyards started popping up with horse stable scattered into the landscape. My mind released into happiness to be exploring this new (to me) wine region. 

I researched the heck out of Temecula, trying to find the hidden gem wineries that I’d normally visit on my trips to wine country. It was difficult to get beneath the surface of the top 10-ish that hit everyone’s list. Most of the winery tasting rooms seemed to be the tourist-driven type that I normally shy away from. The other challenge was that the price point per bottle at some of the wineries I was interested in, started at $75. I enjoy a good wine, but wanted to keep it real on this journey with price points per bottle. Since I was only in Temecula for a couple nights, I decided that I’d take down a few names that were interesting to me, in hopes that I’d hear about others word of mouth, while I was there.

Arriving in Temecula late in the afternoon, there was just enough time to stop at one winery. I chose Baily because it was highly recommended on the lists as  a smaller boutique winery and when I browsed their online wine list , I saw they specialized in Cab Franc’s (which is my favorite varietal right now). 

Baily’s tasting room is considered large by my standards, but there were only a handful of people there which meant more attention from the wine staff. The cost was $25 for 6 tastes but 6 turned into 10 since “we were from Vancouver”. The wines sat more on the bolder jammier side which resulted in an ambitious tasting experience and I was fully satisfied that this was my only tasting of the day. 

Finding dining choices  in Temecula was a similar task to finding wineries where only a handful were mentioned over and over again. I tried to crack to online waitlist system at the most popular restaurant, The Goat and Vine, but I pushed the timing too late and wasn’t able to get a reservation. Driving through Old Town Temecula, there wasn’t anything calling to me, so we settled on a California-classic.

Temecula Valley is famous for its hot air balloon rides and they provided an incredible view first thing in the morning. 

The first stop of the day was Hart Winery which was on my “must” list, plus a handful of other possibles. I crossed my fingers to meet people along the way who would help guide the rest of the day with their suggestions. 

I was excited to see how tiny Hart’s tasting room was, but then quickly disappointed to see the tasting bar was completely packed (with 8 people). They other tasters were quick to move aside to make room and as I started tasting, I quickly realized our companions were the winemaking team from Weins winery. It was the perfect meeting and I was able to learn so much about the Temecula wine region from them. What was most interesting was they solved the mystery of why it’s so difficult to find information on Temecula wines. It was explained to me that the wineries in the region don’t sell outside their tasting rooms/ clubs and that visitors to the region drive their business. This information made me understand why the tasting rooms were so large. 

At the end of the tasting at Hart, Joe (the head winemaker at Weins), extended an invitation to drop by his winery and then to ask for him. It was just the opening into the region I was looking for!

For lunch, we went into Old Town and while I had EAT Marketplace on my list, I was curious to try Havana Kitchen, a Cuban restaurant. I’ve been craving a Cubano since I’d recently watched the movie Chef again and Cuban food is not anything I eat at home.

The food was good but be prepared to wait. It took over 30 minutes to be served this meal.

Weins Family Cellars was not on my list of wineries to try, and driving into the parking lot, I became a bit weary of its size and the number of cars parked there. But the conversation with the Weins boys at Hart winery was so educational to me and I was eager to taste their wine. 

Given a choice of tasting at a table outdoor/indoor or at the bar, I chose the bar of course. The tasting at Weins was lovely, and I enjoyed all of their wines. During the tasting, one of the winemakers came out to say hi, and then before I knew it, the whole team was out with us, chatting and sipping. 

We were invited to the production area to taste wine from the barrel made from special grapes from a Native American reservation in Temecula that were dry-harvested (essentially grown wild). This was just the special experience I’m always hoping to find and very grateful to have experienced.

The tasting at Weins had me overserved and past my limit so the focus was forward towards dinner. Asking the boys of Weins for dinner suggestions, they came up with The Goat & Vine (the same as everyone else) or a newer restaurant, Small Barn. I checked out Small Barn’s farm-to-table menu and it seemed perfect for the night. 

The one thing I did find in my research for Temecula was a cool speakeasy, The Apparition Room. I made reservations the day before through whatsapp after trying to find them the evening before. The Apparition Room is located behind a wooden wall inside Devilicious restaurant, and as you walk into the tiny room, you’re quickly transported back into Prohibition times.

I ordered my first drink from the menu, a campfire sour which was smoked with a burning marshmallow. After that, I asked for a bartenders choice, with the requests for a margarita-esque cocktail. Both drinks were well-made and perfectly balanced. 

Small Barn in Old Town Temecula is a cute restaurant with a fantastic well-heated outdoor space. Not in the mood to make any decisions we asked the server to guide us to their best which was a roasted beet with labneh salad and steak frites. It’s been a while since I’ve eaten steak and my taste buds were happy for the indulgence.

I hadn’t intended on going to a winery on departure day, but felt like I needed one more stop to gain a better understanding of Temecula Valley wine country. Of the suggestions I was given along the way, I was most curious about Robert Renzoni because I’d learned the Italian varietals they have grow very well in Temecula Valley. 

Robert Renzoni was also a “bigger” winery and their huge tasting room was already busy at 11:30 but they were able to accommodate a walk-in tasting.

I enjoyed the wines at Renzoni but found the service of the tasting experience itself leaving a bit to be desired. But this is the one of the challenges in large crowded tasting rooms.

Temecula Valley was a fun adventure for a few days and I’d definitely recommend it as an easy side-trip from San Diego or Los Angeles. I am happy to have experienced it, but coupling the wine experience with my desire to eat deliciously my choice would be to head back to the Valle de Guadalupe on my next visit to the San Diego area.

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