If you’re visiting San Diego or Los Angeles, and want to get out of the city for a day, I recommend driving out to Temecula Wine Country. Located 60 minutes from San Diego and 90 minutes from L.A., a day among the rolling hills will be a welcome respite.
Know Before You Go
Many of the wineries on Rancho California Road are larger and more corporate feeling, while the family-owned wineries branch off Rancho California. Additional smaller vineyards are located southeast on Pauba and De Portola Road.
Since there are so many wineries clustered in a fairly small area, there’s a lot of competition: the prices will be similar at most of these places. As a result, this is a great opportunity to use a Groupon—just make sure that you double check that it will be good on the day you’re going: most of these tasting rooms have higher prices on the weekend.
Split a tasting between two people if they’ll let you. Smaller sips means your dollar will stretch more, and you can check out more vineyards. You can always follow up with a full pour of your favorite wine if you’d like.
I’ve selected nine great options, although the region has many more than this. Each winery has its own feel, specialty, and attitude.
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Can’t Miss – Major Wineries
Wilson Creek Winery is a local’s favorite thanks to its casual atmosphere. They often have live music on the weekends. One of the reasons Wilson Creek stands out is their picnic area—you can bring your own food and relax for several hours while enjoying either a tasting ($20 gets 5 tastes) or a couple of glasses. They are regionally famous for their almond-flavored sparkling wine.
South Coast Winery is one of the most beautiful in Temecula. They focus more on their resort and spa, but that doesn’t mean their vineyard is any less important. This winery is excellent for lunch and taking photos. Their restaurant, The Vineyard Rose, has won several awards.
Ponte Winery is another large winery with a lovely view. They have a restaurant and inn on the sprawling 300 acre property (the largest in the valley). The inn is expanding in 2018 and adding amenities like a pool. Their website has a fascinating walk-through on a year in the life of a vineyard.
Smaller Temecula Wine Country Farms with a Family Feel
Longshadow Ranch Winery contrasts with the French-inspired wineries by embracing the Old West (Temecula used to be on a stage coach route). They definitely lean into the “ranch” part of their tile and offer carriage rides pulled by Belgian draft horses. They also have goats and alpacas.
Churon Winery stands out due to its French style “chateau” bed-and-breakfast and lovely views from one of the valley’s higher vantage points.
Leoness Cellars recently completed a jaw-dropping renovation of their upscale restaurant and terrace. They boast that they have been voted “best winery restaurant” two years in a row.
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Robert Rinzoni Vineyards follows many generations of Italian style winemaking as opposed to the rest of the region’s farms which follow more of the French style.
Miramonte Winery is one that pops up very frequently on Groupon. They offer a VIP tour that combines an in-depth look at winemaking with a food and wine pairing. Their vantage point offers a beautiful view of the valley.
Fazeli Cellars was founded a little over ten years ago. Their slogan is “Ancient traditions of Persia rooted in the modern expression of California.” Their Persian heritage, Moorish architecture, and highly rated wines allow them to stand out.
Your Day in Temecula
If you were lucky enough to stay at one of the lovely inns featured above, your day will begin with a breakfast provided by the establishment. For the rest of us, make sure to have something to eat before hopping in the car. You don’t want wine to be the first thing to hit your stomach!
PSA: I must emphasize caution and knowing your own limits. Don’t hop behind the wheel of your car and try to visit too many vineyards and have a full tasting at each. Unless you take a tour with transportation provided, just pick two or three wineries that pique your interest and draw out your time in each one. There is no trophy for visiting them all!
I would start at one of the smaller wineries for a tour and a tasting since you will get more of a personal experience.
Then I would head over to Wilson Creek Winery for a tasting and bring my own food for lunch. You can pick up cheese and cured sausage and DIY a charcuterie board to save money! Stop by Barons Marketplace (Rancho California at Meadows Parkway) before you head into Wine Country. At Wilson Creek spend a little time exploring the grounds and path that leads up through the vines.
Lastly, finish your day in Temecula Wine Country with dinner at one of the winery restaurants or head to Old Town Temecula to complete the experience. I recommend (affordable!) Rosa’s Cantina for the true local experience (I lived in Temecula for almost 10 years and it is still one of my favorite places). Other standout restaurants are Espadin, PUBlic house, and 1909.
I owe a huge credit to my BFF Angela, a Temecula local who gave me the detailed run-down on these wineries as I planned my own trip to the valley. Find her on instagram at @itsjustanji.
All photos by Doug and Staci Jackson for The Voyageer unless noted.