Temecula Wine Country

By: Darla Hoffmann

The beauty of living in Arizona is the accessibility to so many wonderful places. You can hop in your car and pick your pleasure. My latest adventure was to Temecula, California, a five hour drive from the Phoenix metro area.

I rolled into town and met the folks at Europa Village. Tasting Room Manager, Matt Rice, gave me a tour and tastings of their European varietals. I recommend the Viognier and the Grand Melange Bordeaux Blend. A major expansion plan is underway on the property to include three separate buildings for Italy, France and Spain, each with their own tasting room, restaurant, and inn making it a true Europa Village.

Next up was Briar Rose, a replica of the house of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Owner Dorian Linkogle shared the story of the long-lost Mission grape. It was found growing wild in a field and they were able to save cuttings and create their own style of wine using the grape. It is a must-try, but personally I fancied their Barbera.

I ventured to Vindemia where I was greeted by Owner, Dave Bradley, who prompty asked, “You want to go for a drive? I have to test a wine at the lab.” We hopped into his truck and were off. This was very Eric Glomski-esque. He took me to South Coast Winery with whom they share testing equipment. Jon McPherson, Master Winemaker at South Coast and Carter Estate Winery, kindly and without hesitation took me around the facility as we sampled wine from the tanks.

Back at Vindemia, Dave led me through a tasting of his wonderful wines on their charming outdoor tasting room; my favorites were the Viognier and the More Cowbell Zinfandel. Lastly, he showed me the temperature-controlled trucks he uses to store wine. This is a man with an exploratory mind, hence the pilot in him, he is also the owner of a Hot Air Balloon company.

Day one ended at the Airstream Airbnb, right in the heart of wine country. Owner, Linda, was so welcoming. The mobile home sits on her property with a private patio. You can also utilize her gorgeous pool. She has two other Airbnb rentals on site. It is the best location in wine country.

Day two started at the spectacular Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards. Owner, Mick Wilson gave me a private tour and tasting; my favorites wines were the Zinfandel Port and the Angelica Cream Sherry. We quickly realized we were kindred spirits; we are both Certified Sommeliers, Certified Specialists of Wine and both do wine river cruises. A river cruise with Wilson Creek? Talk about an education in pure indulgence. They do concerts and events on the property and have a beautiful restaurant on site.

I ventured on to Robert Renzoni Vineyards where General Manager, Phillip Randall gave me a private tasting in a room above the members lounge. I highly recommend the Concerto red blend and the Sonata Super Tuscan. He shared stories of the Renzoni family and how the winery still opens and closes with the ringing of the tower bell on top of the castle. As I walked to my car, Phillip graciously rang the tower bell leaving me with a smile and a special place in my heart for the Renzoni family.

That evening I stayed at the Coral Tree House in Fallbrook, just west of Temecula. They have three Airbnb rentals on their property. Owners, Greg and Michelle LaLonde showed me the amenities. The lights over the pool at night felt like something out of Disneyworld. I slept under the stars in the screened-in bedroom, and woke up to a glorious homemade breakfast tortilla and fruit burrito served out on the patio overlooking their waterfall. I drove away that morning with a tear in my eye.

I was off to taste the big reds at Doffo Winery. Tasting room associate, Rebecca Ream told me about the history of the Doffo family and their Argentinian roots. Apparently, the family has two passions, wine and wheels. Racing is a big part of their family tradition. Their wines are big and bold; I recommend the Syrah and the Motodoffo GT red blend. Go big or go home.

Next up was Leoness Cellars winery. Director of Hospitality, Jason Curl, led me through a flight, on the members-only patio. My favorites were the Deegan Vineyard Zinfandel and the Cellar Selection Grenache. Their flights come in a tree rack to add to the already elaborate ambiance. The views on the property are stunning and everything in their restaurant is homemade, including their ketchup. I could tell this level of hospitality trickled down to every staff member as we walked through the kitchen and the winery.

Later, I had dinner at Crush & Brew with Director of Restaurant Operations, Spencer Szczygiel. He suggested the Umami Burger and truffle fries; I was satisfied to the core. He told me about the philosophy of the restaurant and hidden speakeasy, Thompson and Twain Prospecting Co., which had a classy western feel to it, so when you go be sure to have a classic old cocktail.

My last two nights I stayed in the Grape Seed Loft, a property of Temecula Vacation Rentals LLC, which was the first rental company since 2005 to cater to guests and get a five-star lodging experience in wine country. This huge loft included a pool table, sauna, six-seater bar and a patio overlooking old town. It was so extravagant I felt as if I should be entertaining guests. Since I only had me to entertain, I bellied up to the bar with my glass of vino and took it all in. The accessibility to restaurants and shops was an elevator ride down to town.

The hospitality during my trip was above and beyond across the board. The Airbnb owners were enthusiastic about their creative styles in lodging, and the winemakers were humble and true to their craft. It was time to head back to my beloved Arizona, yet it was admittedly bittersweet. All of my visits ended with a hug and I made some good friends in a matter of four days. I guess I’ll have to visit them again, and I hope that you will consider Temecula for a quick getaway. It’s well worth the drive.

Darla Hoffmann, passed both her Sommelier Level 1 and Certified Level 2 exams with the highest score in her class, earning the esteemed “Walter Clore Scholarship”. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine and Hospitality Beverage under the Society of Wine Educators, and a member of The Wine Century Club. She works in the tasting room of Scottsdale’s LDV Wine Gallery, has written for City Sun Times, MYnewsMesa, and The Society of Wine Educators’ website. Darla is the sole proprietor of About Wine, which focuses on wine education and marketing through means of tastings, classes, and promotions. She conducts customized classes at various restaurants and events in Phoenix. For more info, visit: www.aboutwineinaz.com.

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