By Jeffrey Orenstein | Simply Smart Travel
Most wine enthusiasts know the award-winning wines from California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys, but the Temecula Valley, between San Diego and Los Angeles, is another California wine region worth knowing.
Temecula means “the land of sunshine and mist,” and the valley is aptly named because it enjoys warm days (not hot) and nightly sea fogs that travel 22 miles from the Pacific through mountain passes and fill the valley with mist. The resulting great growing conditions for wine grapes have attracted more than 40 winemakers who are now producing some memorable wines.
Starting with pioneers such as Joe Hart of Hart Family Winery, dating back to 1970, Temecula winemakers have bought up acreage, planted grapes and made fine wines at a steady pace. Their wines are so popular locally that almost all of the valley’s production is consumed in the valley’s tasting rooms, in nearby restaurants and by members of the wine clubs that most wineries offer. Specializing in Rhone-style varietals such as Syrah, Vigonier and Petit Syrah and in “hot weather” grapes such as Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, the valley’s growers have taken advantage of well-drained soils to produce some incredible wines.
Simply Smart Travel journeyed to Temecula to visit wineries, meet winemakers and sample some of the valley’s best wines. One of the noteworthy stops was at the Baily Winery, where winemaker Phil Baily provided a “library tasting” of various vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon, showing how his wines have matured over the years.
We also enjoyed the spectacular views and the restaurant at the Callaway Winery and a wide variety of memorable vintages at Robert Renzoni Vineyards, Leoness Cellars, Monte De Oro Winery, Wilson Creek Winery and Wiens Family Cellars.
Before You Go
Los Angeles’ Ontario Airport is 53 miles away, and San Diego’s Lindbergh Field is 60 miles south. Amtrak and commuter trains serve Oceanside, about 22 miles away, and Interstate 15 goes through the Temecula Valley.
While you can drive to the wineries, I recommend using one of the many tour and limo services that allow you to enjoy the scenery and the wine without worrying about driving while intoxicated. For choices, visit www.temeculawines.org/plan-your-trip/transportation.php.
When You Are There
If you have a few more days, add these activities to your itinerary:
- Visit nearby Oceanside on the Pacific coast. From there, catch a Coaster commuter train to San Diego and explore its waterfront and Old Town.
- Take a dawn or dusk hot-air balloon ride over the valley.
- Visit more wineries.
- Try your luck at the Pechanga Resort & Casino.
Temecula at a Glance
Mobility level: By using a winery tour, people of all mobility levels do fine.
Senior considerations: None. Temecula can be enjoyed by people of any age and is a great destination for over-50 travelers.
When to go: With its perennial warm days and cool nights, Temecula is a good place to visit year-round. To avoid crowds at the wineries or Old Town, visit on weekdays.
Where to stay: The area has many good bed-and-breakfasts, national hotel franchises and resorts.
Special travel interest: Wine
Jewish Life in Temecula and Murrieta
Temecula has attracted many new residents, including Jews. The valley’s Jewish community numbers about 5,000, many moving from San Diego or Los Angeles.
Jews have played an important role in the area’s history and figure prominently in its civic and economic life.
Jewish houses of worship include Chabad of Temecula Valley, Reform Congregation Havurim and Congregation B’nai Chaim. Congregations Havurim and B’nai Chaim have joined to form a Jewish community center. Temple Beth Sholom is a Conservative group that lacks a permanent house of worship.
A prominent Jew in Temecula history was Alsatian immigrant Louis Wolf. The city of Temecula website says: “The Wolf family influenced Temecula with their civic minded and entrepreneurial spirit. Wolf arrived in Temecula in 1857 (and) partnered with John Magee to run the first store in Temecula. After the Magee Store burned to the ground, Wolf started his own store that served as a center of the community. At the same time, he served as the Postmaster, Justice of the Peace and the Secretary of the Board of Education.”
Wolf and his children are buried in a tomb overlooking Temecula’s Wolf Valley. He was married to Ramona Place, an Indian of European and African ancestry, and associated with the local Luiseo Indians. He offered them credit in his store and was made an honorary chief.
A current prominent Jewish citizen is Selma Lesser, who moved from greater Los Angeles in 1989 and bought 30 acres near Wolf Valley. In her 80s, she decided to plant a vineyard with the help of her son, Eric. Vineyard Tucalota took five years to become productive, but in 2002 she sold her first harvest, from which Miramonte Winery made a rosé that won a double gold and best of class at the San Diego International Wine Competition. She has now started a small winery for her family.