California Wine Country:
A Relaxing Nearby Get-Away
lovely invitation arrived from the folks at Visit Temecula Valley
inviting a select group of travel writers to cover their annual Balloon
and Wine Festival, along with visits to some of their restaurants
and award-winning wineries. In two delightfully packed days, we experienced
a cross section of what this tiny gem of a bucolic vacation destination
has to offer.
Just a relatively short distance from Los Angeles,
County, and San
Diego in southwestern Riverside
County, this relaxing wine-growing region, with a population
of less than 105,000, is quite picturesque with its rolling hills
and vineyards framed by a background of high mountains. Temecula
is wine-lovers paradise, as it boasts 40 wineries, with the region
being recognized for its award-winning premium varietal and proprietary
blended wines, and for its talented winemakers. If wine tasting is not
your thing, there are diverse activities from hiking and horseback riding,
to shopping, luxurious spas, or gambling at the famous Pechanga Resort
& Casino, one of the largest in the U.S.
DAY 1: Our Temecula adventure kicked off
with a spectacular dinner at the Corke/Fire Kitchen, a charming restaurant
surrounded by 350 acres of pastoral grounds belonging to the Temecula
Creek Inn. Artistically prepared by Executive Chef Igor Krichman,
who sources his ingredients from local farmers and merchants, the delectable
food was a symphony of tastes that would make anyone's palette rejoice.
Left: Our welcoming dinner began with Amuse Bouche,
the chefs creation a tasty morsel ready to pop into your mouth.
Right: A glorious medley of snap peas, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. Photos:
So tender were these delicious lamb chops that a
knife was not necessary.
Photo: Beverly Cohn
The feast began with Amuse Bouce, Chef's Creation
served on a spoon, followed by Watermelon Gazpacho, made with
local honey, feta, black sea salt, and Arbequina Olive Oil; a
Summer Salad with buttermilk goat cheese dressing, and for the
entrée, perfectly Grilled Lamb Chops with roasted turnips,
arugula and fennel salad, and bing cherry gastrique, a sweet and sour
The complex Almond Cake, topped with candied citrus
syrup, was sinfully delicious.
Photo: Beverly Cohn
The meal was crowned with a delicious almond cake prepared
with Margarita Semifreddo and candied citrus syrup. (A semi-frozen
dessert with the texture of frozen mousse achieved by combining two
equal parts of ice cream and whipped cream.)
Early morning crews prepare the balloons for take
off. Photo: Beverly Cohn
DAY 2: Up at the crack of dawn for a balloon
ride, the first event of Summerfest, which officially kicks off
the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival. It was interesting
to watch the flight preparation as crews of anywhere to three to ten
brought life to the inert balloons sprawled out on the ground.
"Up Up and Away My Beautiful Balloon"
would be an apt description.
Photo: Beverly Cohn
If you've never experienced a balloon ride, you are
in for a magical treat as you slowly ascend and glide over vineyards
thousands of feet in the quiet, still air.
The Summerfest festivities continued into the evening
as balloons lit up, creating illumination against the night sky. Photo:
Catherine Pepe, one of the owners of the Temecula
Olive Oil Company, pours a sample of one of her many savory varieties
of olive oil. Photo: Beverly Cohn
That evening, with live music playing in the background,
each of the multi-colored balloons was illuminated in unison, creating
the spectacular Hot Air Balloon Glow. Balloon rides are
available throughout the year, depending on the weather, of course,
and are offered by A Grape Escape, California Dreamin',
D & D Ballooning, and Magical Adventures Balloon Rides,
to name just a few.
We returned to the Ramada Inn for breakfast after
which we were off for a guided tour through charming Old Town,
which began with a visit to the Temecula Olive Oil Company. Makers
of 100% extra virgin olive oil, co-owner Catherine Pepe
treated us to a tasting of their hand-blended olive oils, created using
sustainable practices. These olive oils have a vast array of flavors
including, Le Caprice de Nature, White Truffle, Hickory Smoked,
Fajita Frenzy, Picante Pepper, Fresh Basil, Luscious
Lemon, and Citrus Reserve, their premier olive oil with the
flavor of fresh blood oranges. Their vinegars include blends like Pomegranate,
Hatch Chili, Vanilla, Fig, and Honey Balsamic.
After this tasting, you will never look at olive oil in quite the same
way as the diverse varieties have distinctively different tastes.
Left: Old Town Root Beer owner, Cory Montgomery,
opens a bottle of Root Beer using an old-fashion cap remover. Right:
The store is stocked with over 500 different varieties of Root Beer.
Photo: Beverly Cohn
Just a few steps away is the family-owned Old Town
Root Beer Company. Owner Cory Montgomery offered tastings
of some of the 500 different flavors stocked on their shelves
a far cry from one flavor Dr. Pepper Root Beer, which many
of us drank as kids.
Left: A product shelf with everything lavender
from soaps and lotions to cooking herbs and teas. Right: Try dipping
your hands in a bowl of lavender water and you'll find the soothing
scent staying with you throughout the day. Photo: Beverly
Next up was the Temecula Lavender Company, a
store that carries homegrown all things lavender, from soaps, lotions,
creams, candles, lip lotion, salt scrubs, essential and massage oils,
lavender shea butter, shampoo, conditioners, culinary lavender, and
sachets, as well as pillows, dryer bags, cooking herbs, and teas.
An interactive museum designed to stimulate intellectual
curiosity. Photo: Beverly Cohn
Fascinating live science
demonstrations designed to tickle the imagination are offered
and with an entrance fee of only $5.00, this is a fun, educational
experience. Photo: Beverly Cohn
For the whole family, no walking tour of Old Town
would be complete without a visit to the remarkable Pennypickle's
Workshop, Temecula's Children's Museum. With interactive
opportunities, the museum is a repository of electronic equipment from
the past and is a wonderful peek at the good old days. There are things
to crawl through and buttons to press, as well as Rube Goldberg-type
contraptions, with a jumble of moving parts that go nowhere.
Our next extraordinary dining experience was at Palumbo's
Ristorante, a landmark Old Town Italian eatery with indoor
and outdoor seating. Family recipes guide the preparation of their cuisine
with an emphasis on using organic ingredients sourced from their one-acre
restaurant garden planted on their five-acre property. Their garden
yields herbs, fruits, and vegetables used in the restaurant's entrées,
as well as desserts, utilizing their pears, plums, figs, oranges, and
The Oak Mountain Winery storage barrels. Photo:
It's incredibly relaxing to sit on one of this vineyard's
patios, sip your wine, and enjoy the breathtaking panoramic vista laid
out before your eyes. Photo: Beverly Cohn
With tummies filled with fabulous food, we were off
to a wine tasting and tour of the Oak Mountain Winery. Quietly
tucked away atop the northeasterly hills of Temecula Valley Wine
Country, the hillside vineyards produce a cross section of wines,
which are sampled in their Tasting Room. This winery is the only
one in Temecula with the distinction of housing two wineries under one
roof Temecula Hills Winery and Oak Mountain Winery. It's incredibly
relaxing to sit on one of their patios, sip your wine, and enjoy the
panoramic vista laid out before you.
People belly up to the tasting bar of Renzoni's
friendly Tasting Room.
Photo: Beverly Cohn
Another vineyard you might want to experience is the
Robert Renzoni Vineyards whose family dates back to 1886
in Tuscany. Beside their inviting Tasting Room, walking
tours are offered that talk about soil conditions, varietals, and the
process necessary to produce great grapes for their wines, including
their classic Bordeaux, as well as their Pinot Grigio,
Sangiovese and Brunello Clones.
The South Coast Winery Resort & Spa has both
a four-star rating for its hotel as well as hundreds of awards for its
wines. Photo: Beverly Cohn
The last stop of this packed two-day Temecula
get away, culminated with a gorgeous dinner at the South Coast Winery
Resort & Spa, whose hotel has earned a four-star rating. Under
the leadership of Owner/Vintner Jim Carter with Master Winemaker
Jon McPherson and Winemaker Javier Flores, this vineyard
is considered the diamond of Temecula Valley, having earned over
600 awards for their wines, including the distinguished "Golden
Bear" award naming it "California Winery of the Year."
With views of the estate vineyards and surrounding hills,
the Tuscan-inspired Vineyard Rose Restaurant serves California
contemporary wine-country cuisine. This farewell dinner began with Charcuterie
consisting of imported and house-cured meats, including Duck Prosciutto,
Lonzino Pork Loin, Nostrano Salami, Cypress Grove Humboldt
Fog & Midnight Moon Cheeses, with a wine pairing of South
Coast Sparkling Brut.
Left: Connelly Gardens Heirloom Tomato Salad. Right:
Roasted scallops heaven right here on your plate. Photo:
The next course was a most unique Connelly Gardens
Heirloom Tomato Salad, with Wild Rocket Arugula, Roasted
Tomato Oil, and Parmesan Chip, topped with Fresh Herbs
and a Balsamic Glaze. The entrée was a mouth-watering
Roasted Scallops served perched on top of a bed of Confetti
Quinoa and Shallot Beurre Blanc. The wine pairing was a 2012
South Coast Grenache Blanc.
Life doesnt get much better than savoring
this scrumptious Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake. Photo:
This meal, fit for the gods, was topped off by a Blood
Orange Olive Oil Cake consisting of Tempranillo Rose Macerated
Berries, Honey & Drake Goat Cheese Infused Whipped Cream,
Candied Orange Peel, and Toasted Pistachios. Life does
not get much better than this.
Temecula is truly a destination that has something
for every one. Every Friday throughout the summer, the 12-blocks
of Old Town are filled with the sounds of live bands performing
on special stages with a variety of music from blues, reggae, and cajun/zydeco,
to big band, alternative rock, and country. There are quant boutiques,
restaurants, and cafes galore for every taste and budget, as well as
live theatre. With so many events taking place throughout the summer,
do go to their link for the Daily Events Calendar on the table
at the upper right rail of this page.
This was an extraordinary experience thanks to Annette
Brown and Marlene Wallace, two lovely ladies representing
Visit Temecula Valley. Their joint effort created a trip that
was fun and informative. It is a pleasure to share this experience with
my readers who may be planning their summer get-away as we "speak."
A Little Piece of Heaven Off the 101; Coasting
Through San Luis Obispo; Agua
Dulce and the Sierra Pelona Valley; Wedding
Bells in Charming Ojai; Warner