Temecula Valley Wine Country

A world of wines on the west coast


A well-known secret lies in the heart of Southern California’s wine region: Temecula Valley Wine Country. About 85 miles south of Los Angeles and about 60 miles north of San Diego near the Interstate 15 and 215 corridors, sits Temecula. Meaning “where the sun shines through the mist,” Temecula has over 40 wineries and award-winning premium wines from over 28 varietals.

Visitors should not expect to find a drop of Pinot Noir here. Instead, wines like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier rule on the 35,000 acre land due to the cool coastal breeze between the Rainbow and Santa Margarita gaps. The best time to visit is during the harvest season in August through October, with the buds breaking in mid-March.

Thirsty yet? Read on to learn about wineries that will satisfy your taste buds!

Bella Vista

The first commercial vineyard in Temecula Wine Country is Bella Vista. Formally known as Cilurzo Winery on Calle Contento, it was established in 1968 and uses 80 percent estate grapes and 20 percent Temecula grapes. Visitors can sample six different varietals from the winery’s white, red and sparkling wines. Some favorites include a 2009 Rozmaring with flavors of apricot and honey, a 2009 Soiree Dry with peach flavors, a 2005 sweet Late Harvest Petite Syrah, a 2008 Black Magic made from late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with plum and cherry flavors, and a 2011 Muscat Canelli with exotic fruit flavors.

Just up the hill from the winery is a picnic area where you can enjoy spectacular views and walk out to a pond filled with geese (just watch out for Charlie, a goose who is protective of his friends!).

Briar Rose Winery

Once upon a time, up on the hill on Calle Cabrillo, lies the inspired Snow White cottage of Briar Rose Winery. Designed by an architect who assisted with the design of Disneyland in the 1950s, the layout is straight out of a fairytale, with Snow White, the seven dwarfs, frogs, an old carriage and even an enchanted garden with gnomes.

Briar Rose gives customers a standard tasting featuring a bubbly, sweet wine lager called The Talking Frog, a peach-flavored 2011 Estate Viognier, a sweet, orange blossom 2011 Estate Riesling, a peppery and berry 2008 Zinfandel and a sweet, black cherry 2005 Zinfandel Port. The winery also has a charitable “We Remember” red wine filled with blackberry, raspberry and vanilla notes. All proceeds from purchasing the bottle benefit the Veterans Research Corporation.

A reservation to visit the tasting room is required.

Leonesse Cellars

Perhaps one of the wineries in Temecula Wine Country most known for its breathtaking views is Leonesse Cellars off of De Portola Road. Leonesse, which means “village of dreams,” is known for its red wines, but carries everything from Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to White Merlot, Muscat Canelli and Cinsault Port.

The tasting room offers customers the choice to sample six of their white, red, premium, dessert or sweet wines. It is also the only winery in Temecula Wine Country to offer Cinsault wine, theirs showing cherry and hints of vanilla and strawberry. Another favorite is the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon with blackberry, vanilla and mint flavors.

Leonesse also offers a restaurant serving appetizers, salads, sandwiches and flat breads that are paired off with one of the Cellar, Vineyard or Signature Selection wines.

Wilson's Creek Winery

What makes Wilson’s Creek Winery stand out from the rest is its famous Almond Champagne. Known as the “OH MY GOSH” Champagne, it is the winery’s most popular selling item. Add Angelica Cream Sherry, with caramel and hazelnut flavors fortified with Brandy, and the result is the “Angel’s Kiss” cocktail. The winery is also known for its 2009 White Cabernet, with flavors of pear and peach with a hint of grapefruit, and the “Yes Dear” Chardonnay with honey, pear and peach flavors and sweet vanilla and oak on the finish.

Creekside Grille has appetizers (I recommend the Orange Mimosa Champagne Smoked Salmon), salads, sandwiches and specialties.

The winery is located right off of Rancho California Road.

Lorimar Vineyard & Winery

Lorimar Vineyard & Winery tells a song right upon walking into its tasting rooms. The Old Town Temecula Tasting Room has been downtown for years and the Wine Country Tasting Room off of Berenda Road opened in April 2012. Filled with artwork, a baby grand piano and even a guitar in the wine country tasting room, the winery is very passionate about the arts.

Visitors get six tastes to try from the red, white and dessert wines. Lorimar’s most popular is the 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a smooth wine with black cherry, boysenberry and a pomegranate finish. Other favorites include the 2008 Lydian Cabernet Franc with flavors of pepper, cherry and vanilla, a sweet 2009 White Merlot with cranberry and raspberry flavors and a crisp finish, and a sparkling wine with flavors of tangerine and lemon.

South Coast Winery

Named the “Best California State Winery of the Year” for the past two years by the California State Fair, South Coast Winery is Temecula’s only winery-resort. Just off of Rancho California Road, visitors can enjoy everything from tours, a spa, overnight stays and classic dining at the Vineyard Rose Restaurant to a tasting room with a background mural of Temecula Wine Country. The two-page tasting menu is filled with over 40 choices to sample six reds, rosés, sweet reds, whites and sparkling wines. Wines include Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Grenache, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Merlot Grenache, Muscat Canelli, Petit Syrah and Syrah.

A couple of the most popular red wines are the 2007 Carter Estate Syrah with flavors of berries, lavender and spice, and the 2006 Carter Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with flavors of black cherry and smoky oak tones.

Head over to the white wines and sample the 2010 Saint’s Valley White Zinfandel with berry and a sweet finish. The unique and fruity 2010 Pinot Grigio Sparkling is the first harvest of a Pinot Grigio for sparkling wine. The 2009 SCW Gewürztraminer is another favorite that is lightly sweet with rose scents and lychee fruit.

Hot Air Balloon Rides

To start the morning off right, Temecula Wine Country also offers breathtaking 60 to 75 minute hot air balloon rides. The gentle, tranquil ride offers beautiful views of the endless rows of vineyards, mountain caps and drifting fog. Birthdays, wedding proposals and anniversaries are unique ways to make a balloon ride even more memorable. At the end of the adventure, you’ll be presented with an honorary aeronaut certificate, continental breakfast and a toast of Champagne to celebrate the daring flight.

Old Town Temecula

Old Town Temecula, just south of wine country, tells the story of the 1880s golden west. The nine block stretch features historical residences, a Saturday Farmers’ Market, antiques, museums, the Temecula Olive Oil Company to try different homemade olive oils, and the Old Town Root Beer Company, which has many kinds of root beer flavors and even a wedding chapel!

Old Town hosts larger events as well, such as the Taste of Temecula Valley in April with all proceeds going to local schools. There are also the Old Town Temecula Bluegrass, World of Wine and Pechanga Wine Festivals in March, Old Town Temecula Western Days in May, the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival in June, the Temecula Valley International Jazz Festival in July and the Harvest Celebration in November.

Hungry? Try Rosa’s Cantina for homemade Mexican food that was voted “Best of Temecula” by Inland Empire Magazine. Also check out the award-winning Sweet Lumpy BBQ or The Gambling Cowboy Chophouse & Saloon.

Looking for a place to stay downtown? Try the historical 1920 Palomar Inn Hotel or the nearby Rodeway Inn. There’s also Pechanga Resort and Casino, the largest casino in the western U.S. found just a few miles south from Old Town, for all kinds of gaming fun.

Photo courtesy of Soraya S. via Flickr/cc

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,350

    You might want to be careful about the statement that Wilson's Creek Winery "is also the only winery in Temecula Wine Country to offer Cinsault wine." Mount Palomar Winery offers a rose of Cinsault,, and they also use Cinsault as a blending wine in other bottlings.

    As you indicated,the Temecula Valley growers are all over the place in grape varietals. I would not be surprised if other wineries used Cinsault in their blends. Similarly, I would not be surprised if Wilson Creek was, in fact, the only Temecula Valley winery that offered a red varietal labeled Cinsault wine.

    Jul 02, 2012 at 3:15 PM

  • Snooth User: mikey127
    935843 57

    Note to self, the article is primarily about what to see in Temecula.

    Jul 02, 2012 at 4:09 PM

  • Snooth User: lingprof
    Hand of Snooth
    155607 1,110

    Hey, GDP: if you want to do a virtual tasting from Temecula, Emark and I are very nearby and would be happy to host you. AND there is very little traffic because it's out in the country, so it would not be like West L.A. Just sayin..... :-)

    Jul 02, 2012 at 4:10 PM

  • Snooth User: burbmama
    364702 53

    I think you missed the mark on alot of wineries here.There are so many more that are producing really good wines.I live in the area so I try them and experience the wineries themselves.Showing a picture of Old Town Temecula is nice,but it ain't no winery.

    Jul 02, 2012 at 4:55 PM

  • Snooth User: Eric Tinch
    1008308 238

    Good timing for this article. Thanks Kateri.

    burb/ling, do you mind sharing a few of your favorites? I am traveling near Temecula in late July and would love to hear a few more opinions. My last request led EMark on a road trip :)
    Here is the post if you don't want to leave them here: http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/te...

    Jul 02, 2012 at 10:13 PM

  • Snooth User: patjano
    1021990 8

    We love Callaway and Leonesse!

    Jul 02, 2012 at 11:36 PM

  • I have never had a Temecula wine that I would drink again or recommend. To be fair, I haven't done any winery tastings up there - I'd like to believe, but nothing I've read here makes me want to drive the 40 minutes to find out.

    Jul 04, 2012 at 1:26 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,350

    Dave, lighten up. You really can't interpret these articles as in-depth reviews. They are like bullet point presentations. I will agree that I have not had a Temecula wine that I would consider great. However, I have had several that are quite drinkable--and one that, if I would not quite call great, I would say was damn good. I also confess that last month I was also willling to invest 60 whole minutes of one-way drive time to see what is going on, there. While this visit was not life changing, it was certainly informative. Check it out.

    Jul 04, 2012 at 2:47 PM

  • When I moved to San Diego from Sacramento, I was excited about almost all aspects of the move - other than my isolation from Napa and Sonoma counties. I asked all my wine friends about wine in the San Diego area and the consensus was 'Avoid Temecula'. I have spent the past ten years avoiding! I have made the much longer trek up to Santa Barbara and occasionally tasted wines that people brought to parties which in general confirmed my curmudgeonly ways.

    OK, I will venture outside the 'wine snob' box and give it a chance. I did the same with the Sierra foothills many years ago and was wiser for it.

    Jul 04, 2012 at 6:06 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,350

    Dave, I'm on the same page with you about the Sierra Foothills. Outstanding Zinfandel and Petite Sirah wines.

    Ten years ago, winemaking in the Temecula Valley was in the sewer. Pierce's disease destroyed most of the vineyards. It has been a long slog for them, since. They are experimenting with many grape varietals. I'll be blunt. Temecula Valley is not where even the Sierra foothills is regarding any kind of identity, but I do believe they are striving to find themselves.

    Also, did you see the discussion over on the Snooth Forum on the winery tasting rooms in Carlsbad and Solano Beach?


    Those might be even closer to you.

    Jul 04, 2012 at 7:31 PM

  • Snooth User: willco3rd
    807620 40

    I was there last March (2011). I was not impressed with the wine trail tasting rooms because of the herd mentality (get them in, charge them for the 3-4 tastings, give them a card to check off each tastings, send them on their way). However, in Old Town we found the tasting rooms to be worth the visit. Especially one called The Collective. They had great Temucula wines and, if you did not like these, they had some wines by the local wineries from grapes from other parts of California. Great experience.

    Jul 04, 2012 at 9:31 PM

  • Snooth User: Doublejack
    1029297 18

    Can't believe Thortons wasn't mentioned....It's one of the best wineries in Temecula!

    Jul 05, 2012 at 2:24 AM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,350

    Wilco, your complaints about the tasting rooms are reasonable. In my case, I visited 3 wineries, last month. In all three they were eager to collect the $10 tasting fee for which I was to get 6 tastes. However, in all three I was offered extra tastes. None of the wineries I visited really kept track that closely. I have to say, also, that the "herd mentality" in tasting rooms is not only endemic in Temecula. I find it in every region.

    I just remembered something I saw in Temecula that did tick me off--tip jars on the counter. Two of the three tasting rooms that I visited had them. I can't say that I have seen that, yet, in other regions, but I bet it won't be long before I do.

    Jul 05, 2012 at 1:45 PM

  • EMark, I found Witch Creek several years ago and enjoy going over there except during high tourist season! It gets crowded. I will check out the other recommendations and report back.

    Jul 05, 2012 at 1:54 PM

  • Snooth User: kauri
    135090 6

    Hi Snoothers while on the subject of "regional" wineries my wife and I are visiting San Francisco (We are from New Zealand) and moving on to Chico, Oregon and Washington. Could I have a few top recommendations from Snoothers please?. We have three weeks on the west coast. Thanks Chris

    Jul 08, 2012 at 9:44 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,350

    Kauri, if I might make a suggestion, post your question over on the Snooth Forum --


    I would suggest that you click on the "START A NEW TOPIC" button off to the right side of the screen, and ask your question on a new discussion thread. I think that in the Forum you will get more attention from Snooth participants in Norhern California, Oregon and Washington.

    I don't live up there, but I have some knowledge. San Francisco is, obviously very close to the Sonoma and Napa wine countries. You can easily get information on these areas. However, trying to "read between the lines" of your request, I suspect that you might be looking for "roads less traveled." There are Snooth participants that can give you insights to winery locations right across the bay from or a tad south of San Francisco that you can visit in a matter of a few hours.

    As you travel from San Francisco to Chico, you can drive through the "Gold Country" relatively easily. This area is much less frantic than the Napa/Sonoma areas. I think the best wines from the Gold Country are Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs. So, you probably won't taste anything dainty, here. I've never visited them, but my favorite Gold Country winery is C.G. di Arie.

    Again, I would strongly recommend that you move your question over to the Forum to get more detailed responses on different geographies. I would also suggest that you provide some specifics on your Oregon and Washington plans--especially, for Washington. If you are visiting Walla Walla in eastern Washington, you probably don't need recommendations for wineries closer to the western part of the state and vice versa. I don't think Oregon's wine country is as spread out. I think most of it is south of Portland.

    Please enjoy your visit, Kauri, and please report back to us afterwards.

    Jul 09, 2012 at 12:03 PM

  • As a follow up to my disparaging Temecula comments from last week, I was invited up to a wine club dinner and tasting at Vindemia winery (http://www.vindemia.com/) with owner and winemaker David Bradley and his team.

    I must say that the food, and the staff were wonderful! Best of all, the wine was far better than I expected. I'll be posting wine reviews for each of the wines tasted but one to watch for is the 2009 Syrah, just bottled but not yet released - it was the best taste of the night!

    Jul 09, 2012 at 2:21 PM

  • I have started posting my reviews for Vindemia - check them out!

    Jul 09, 2012 at 5:00 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,350

    Dave, I read your reviews on the Cab and the Viognier and found them very interesting--particularly the review of the Cab. I admit that I am a Napa Valley bigot when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon, and, when I made my tasting visit last month, none of the three wineries that I visited was pouring it. So, to read your comments is encouraging. Regarding the ABV, I was surprised that most of the wines that I tasted in Temecula Valley last month were less than 14%--the maximum bar that many people seem to set.

    I also find your comments about the Syrah to be encoraging. Again, in all three winery tasting rooms that I visited, I felt that the best wine in each of them was their Syrah. In fact I'm about to open the Mount Palomar 2007 Syrah that I bought.

    Jul 09, 2012 at 7:46 PM

  • Snooth User: andreajb73
    1118218 10

    It surprises me that some visitors fail to see Temecula for the gem that it is. Temecula Southern California Wine Country has won over 5,000 National and International Awards. Not only is the backdrop of the rolling Temecula hills beautiful but you may also be surprised at the hospitality you get on your visit. The wineries,restaraunt owners and community take pride in what the do. This indicates the type of service and product you will find to be typical for Temecula. I would say that Temecula has it all to offer: Award winning wines AND a friendly, inviting atmosphere. It is a destination not too far away from LA, San Diego, or Palm Springs that offers everything I would need for an enjoyable visit. I can go Hot Air Ballooning, horseback riding, golfing, exploring old town, shopping, gaming at Pechanga Resort and Casino, and touring the nearly 40 wineries any day of the week.

    Jul 13, 2012 at 3:38 PM

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