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Temecula Wine Country

I want to plan a wine tasting day trip for a us and another couple (we're in OC). Does anyone have any suggestions for wineries to visit? We aren't aficionados by any means, but would like to learn more about wine. I'm thinking at most 3-4 wineries. Also, I wanted to bring a picnic lunch with us. What wineries have picnic grounds/allow you to bring your own food if you taste there? Thanks for the help.

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  1. There are many posts on this board that will probably meet your needs, just do a search for "Temecula wineries". That being said, I have a couple personal suggestions. The first is to find out from your friends and your SO what kind of wine they like, sweet or dry, reds or white. Secondly, try to stay away from the big commercial places that advertise organized tours, like Wilson Creek or Callaway. They generally have too many people off huge tour buses and will dominate the tasting room.

    Hart Family Winery is a small family owned winery. It is the first winery on the left on Rancho California Rd. <http://www.thehartfamilywinery.com>
    The another suggestion is Falkner <http://www.falknerwinery.com>.

    Most of the smaller places accommodate picnics.

    Enjoy the trip.

    1. I'd put Orfila Winery, in Escondido, on your list, they produce some pretty good grape and have a nice picnic area to enjoy the views.

      3 Replies
      1. re: cstr

        I agree with araknd: stay away from places that attract the big tour groups and the limo crowd, especially if you're coming on a weekend. Go for the smaller wineries; they're not as overcrowded and they have, in my opinion, better wine. These are some of my favorites:
        Palomar: one of the oldest in Temecula, has really interesting whites and Italian reds. I love their Cortese, a dry, aromatic white with a hint of creme brulee on the finish. They also make the only true solera sherry in the U.S.; it's sweet but not overly so and tastes like hazelnuts. Fabulous!
        Faulkner: some really good whites (like the Viognier) and their reds aren't bad
        Palumbo: only open Fri-Sun; the best in the valley in my opinion, makes some amazing, top-quality reds. Small, at the end of a dirt road on which buses and limos can't fit, and no gift shop. Now that's a winery!
        Cougar: a new place, in a barn, good wines, good prices.
        Filsinger: good for lighter whites (reisling and gewurztraminer)
        To avoid: Wilson Creek, Callaway, South Coast, Ponte, Thornton, Stuart (big, commercial, loved by the limo crowd, and their mediocre wines are just not worth the hassle). Temecula is really coming into its own and if you go with a spirit of adventure you'll encounter some nice wine finds. Have fun!

        1. re: SDgirl

          I live in San Diego, so the idea of having a wine region nearby is interesting. The problem is that most of the wineries in Temecula aim to be mediocre at best. Even wineries that open up with really good wines go downhill within a few years.
          I would have to say that the best Temecula winery would be Frangiaopani. Their Petite Syrah is actually pretty good.
          As far as SanDiego County wineries, Orfilia has light, sweet whites, and their reds aren't much. Belle Marie has some really good wines. Their problem is that they have a consistency problem, and they also make some pretty bad stuff too. The interesting thing about them is that they use some interesting, but unusual varietals.
          The best one I have found is Cordiano. To get there, you get off at Pomerado (in Escondido) go east ans make aleft on Highland Valley Road and drive at least 10 miles until you see their sign on the left. Their owner is an Italian wine maker, and his wines are very good. The view up there is fantastic.
          Ov erall, my suggestion is to skip Temecula and go up to Paso Robles.

        2. re: cstr

          I agree that Orfila has some good juice, but it's almost 40 miles south of Temecula. I'd plan a separate trip to explore the San Diego county wineries and restaurants.

        3. SDgirl gives some great advice.
          I also really enjoy Hart, a great, friendly, informal experience in my opinion. In Temecula, glitzy, shiny, and big almost always equate with poorly made wines.
          In town, the Temecula Olive Oil Company is worth a stop, they do a pretty informative tasting of their products.

          1 Reply
          1. re: juantanamera

            Try the Temecula Valley Cheese Company also. Nice place to sit and sip and have some great cheese pairings.

          2. I agree with many of the above, but here's my suggestions:

            Hart is great. Good wine extremely low-key environment (no room really for picnic)
            Weins is really good and has a nice outside area where you can feel free to pull up to a table and eat (we had a picnic lunch for 10 for a friends birthday, no questions asked)
            Stuart is as well pretty nice. I have not been back in a while, but what i remember, i totally disagree with SDgirls addition on the big/commercial list (though i absolutely agree with the rest)
            Faulkner is one of my favorite for a picnic (and is the setting for my pending wedding). The wine are decent to good (not the best, but good), though their reisling is great if you like sweet whites. The have a beautiful side yard with picnic benches and an outside bar for crowded days.

            As well I remember Lioness being really stuffy (uppitty) and load inside, but was a great outside location for "hanging out". Ponte was similar inside (to much hustle and bustle).

            1 Reply
            1. re: csils

              We really like the Olive Oil Company and its tastings; we just found out about the Cheese Company the other day at a wine tasting and are looking forward to checking it out the next time we're in Temecula. Csils, the issue I have with Stuart is that the couple of times we were there we were treated as though we were an inconvenience. The pourers were too busy trying to impress the 20-somethings crowding the bar to give any attention to the middle-aged couple from the burbs (us). I know other people who like Stuart's wines, but I'm old enough now that I have no tolerance for what you so aptly termed "uppity" attitudes, especially if I'm handing over my hard-earned cash. Like juantanamera, I enjoy the friendly, informal, casual approach, and with so many good wineries to try in Temecula I don't need to subject myself to uppitiness. That's a great word! Curmudgeon is another -- it's one of my favorites because I am becoming one.

            2. it would be foolish to skip South Coast Winery. Sure it is big, modern and often crowded on weekends. Who cares? It's the wines that count. And theirs are top notch. For TWO years in a row they have been named winery of the year by the California State Fair wine competition. They were the top medal winners at last year's Temecula Wine Competition. They make both sparkling and still wines. If you want to learn by tasting some of the best-visit here. (I have no $$$ ties to this place--I just like their wines)

              4 Replies
              1. re: Bob Foster

                I agree with you Bob, that South Coast Winery has good wines. We were at a tasting (though we are local and can just go to the grocery store for Temecula wines!) and found they had a large variety of wines. I mostly went for the reds. I enjoy a buttery Chardonnay by habit, but was impressed with their Chardonnay Reserve. I would not compare them to the inticacies of an old French vintner, but as far as California wines go, they are in the top best with SOME of their wines. There was one I did not want more than one sip, and others I wanted to take home and enjoy again. We got in just before they closed the tasting room, so it was kinda slow in there, the way I like it.

                I have to say that they DO have that glitzy, commercial feel. My friend lives in San Luis Obispo area and I have been to many wineries along the California coast. Some people just want a relaxing room sometimes. South Coast Winery even has a few large convention rooms, a very commercial gift shop, and . . well, after all, it IS a resort and spa. But, Bob, I definitely agree South Coast Winery should not be missed for good wine.

                1. re: Bob Foster

                  Wine competition and medals mean less than nothing. Enter a wine, get a medal. I've sampled a good number of Temecula wines, including South Coast, actually hoped to have liked them, and never found any that were worth the money being asked.

                  Temecula is what it is. A nice place for a picnic, and a good place to pick up drunk chicks from the O.C. As long as you go for those reasons, you'll have fun. If you go there hoping to have world class wines, you'll be disappointed.

                  Spend a little longer on the road and hit Santa Barbara County.

                  1. re: Strawman

                    Agreed! Have you tried Palumbo? He's really an anomaly in Temecula. And how about Paso Robles? Some of the zinfandels coming out of there are outstanding.

                    1. re: SDgirl

                      I also think that Palumbo is a hidden gem, but I still feel that Hart is the class of the valley. I think South Coast is interesting and not in a good way. I must admit that I have put down a couple of reds for a few years and they were really pretty good. The aging relly helped them. However, I find the winery offputting. They seem to be putting on airs that I don't feel their wines warrent. I found the above discussion of wine competition to be on the money. I am with SDgirl and Strawman, I would rather get up at 6am and beat it thru LA and go tasting in SB or even up in SLO. It is just getting back down thru LA in the summer traffic that stinks.

                2. We went to just two last weekend, ones that Mrs. O had been to with girlfriends on two previous visits, Ponte and Thornton. Ponte for the mob scene and interesting grounds, the wine ranging from kinda drinkable to swill. Thornton because they have flights of bubbly, which is what she drinks, and they have the sit-down tasting room with a good appetizer menu. So she got four bubblies, I got four zinfandels, and we shared a bread basket and some garlic chevre. Three of hers were nice, especially the pink one; two of my zins were well worth drinking, one just adequate, the late-harvest sweet one ghastly. The pours were generous - I was very glad I hated one of them, so I wasn't tempted to finish it! - and the room and service comfortable and friendly. I did check out this thread Friday morning before we left, and have saved most of the recommendations to guide us next time. But I really did not feel that Thornton was the kind of Yuppie scream-a-thon I'd almost expected, and glad Mrs. O insisted on going there.

                  1. my wife and i have recently moved into the area (canyon lake), and, having been wine tasting all over california and a bit in upstate new york and in tuscany, are greatly enjoying the wineries of temecula. our favorite so far is wiems family winery - we even joined their club.

                    we have not been to south coast yet, but are looking forward to checking it out. i find the disparaging remarks unnecessary. every one has a different palate, some are more developed than others (not necessarily a good thing, by the way), and, as we all know - there is no accounting for tastes. yes, there are various levels of wineries, there are many who only schedule tastings by appointment and make small batches, and there are those who try to be all things to all people.

                    all this being said, however, facts are stubborn things:

                    1. My girlfriend and I have been down to Temecula about a dozen times in the last couple years and by and large have been disappointed. We were not impressed by South Coast Winery, and most of the others tend to have the overly commercial, excessively sweet wines that we don't enjoy (though clearly some do).

                      I would recommend two in particular that we do find to be quite good. First, Doffo Wines is a neat little winery off past most of the main wineries on Rancho Cal. They make good wines, and tend to be... Argentinian in style? Lots of Malbec, Cab Sauv, no whites of note. Overall some good ones, some decent ones, but definitely worth the trip.

                      The other one is Briar Rose Winery. You need a reservation, but we've never had any trouble getting one (of course, we're wine club members, so that helps). Their wine stands up against all the other wineries in the Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara and Paso areas that I've tried. Not all of them are the best in the world, but especially if you're a fan of complex and delicious reds, you won't be disappointed. I'd be curious to see if anyone else has been there and has any other perspectives...

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Gavin499

                        Hi Gavin,
                        Hubby and I have not heard of Doffo, but we'll make it a point to try it the next time we're in Temecula. Same with Briar Rose. We do like complex reds, which is why Palumbo is our favorite. If you haven't tried him yet I highly recommend that you do so -- you may be pleasantly surprised.

                        1. re: SDgirl

                          Been to Palumbo, and I think they're quite tasty. They're another one that we try to stop by when we're in the area. Please report back after you try Doffo and Briar Rose (especially) and let me know what you think. Always interested in another opinion!

                          1. re: Gavin499

                            Will do! We usually avoid going anywhere during the summer (heat and crowds aren't really fun), but are planning a run in September. Hubby and daughter left today to return the child to school in San Francisco. They're staying at his mom's house in Cambria tonight and he did some tasting in Paso Robles today (he's planning on hitting Santa Barbara coming back down). He discovered Windward, which he said has great pinot, and then concentrated his efforts on zinfandels from the Dante Dusi vineyard (Martin Weyrich, Turley, J Dusi). Grapes from this vineyard produce some of the best zinfandels in California (just my opinion) -- rich, jammy, complex zin unlike any other I've ever tried; the wines made from that land are our current favorites. If you like zinfandel you should try a Paso Robles Dante Dusi product.

                            1. re: SDgirl

                              Fair enough re:summer visits. I've gone a couple times this summer, though I agree with you on the weather and crowds. I've found that Doffo, since it's somewhat hidden is MUCH less crowded (I've never had more than 1-2 other groups in at the same time, and usually small groups of not more than 4). Also since Briar Rose is appointment only, they are never too crowded. Also, great AC in both cases!

                              Thanks for the tips on Paso, if you've got any other good ones, I'd love to hear it. I've been up to SB county a couple times, but only once to Paso. We're heading up there next weekend, so I need some good ideas! I've been to Martin Weyrich and Turley, and you're right. Very tasty zins. Of course zin is not my favorite. I'm in a major grenache kick, and LOVE any of the Bordeaux grapes (if done well obviously). Also do enjoy a tasty pinot from time to time.

                              If he/you haven't already, you should try to hit Demetria in the SB area. Delicious wines, appointment only (but easy to get, especially on weekends). Beautiful property, but most importantly some of the best wines I've had in the area.

                              1. re: Gavin499

                                Try Nadeau Family Vintners. They are very small, but Robert has been making excellent wine of his own of all varieties, but also specializes in Zinfandels from many local vineyards. He is a native and has worked with many of the new wineries as a consulting winemaker, getting them started. They are located on Peachy Canyon Rd.
                                To the south east of Paso is Creston, where Chateau Margene is, their main varietal is Cabernet Sauvignon and some Merlot. They have also diversified into other varietals under Mooney Family. IMHO, worth the trip out.

                                1. re: araknd

                                  Hubby just returned this evening from his excellent adventure. Although his main focus was zinfandel (araknd, thanks for mentioning Nadeau -- they're on the list for next time), he does have a couple of recommendations for the SB-Paso run: Sea Smoke (this one he did not visit but has heard great things about) in SB for pinot; Tensley/Carina Cellars in Los Olivos for Rhone-styles wines. Tensley was started by the winemaker for Carina and they share the same tasting room. Both wineries make Syrahs and Rhone blends (he tasted Carina's syrah/grenache/mouvedre and Tensley's syrah and thinks both are great). Apparently, the Los Olivos area is known for their Rhone wines. Lastly, Windward in Paso makes only pinot -- all 100% pinot, most from single vineyards; he says it is some of the best he's had. If you stay west of the 101 on the 46 you'll have a better chance of finding good pinots in Paso (west is cooler). There are some Rhone-style wineries in Paso, but we don't know them. Happy hunting and please let us know what you find. Cheers!