If you are looking for a quick get-a-way from Los Angeles or San Diego or are making a road trip to or through California, Temecula is appealing spot to escape for a few days to enjoy peaceful pastoral views, some good wines and inspired food. Just 85-miles southeast of L.A. and 65-miles northeast of San Diego, seconds after you exit the freeway, Old Town Temecula appears like an old west mirage. A couple of miles away, Temecula’s Wine Country vineyards, pastures and horses dot the landscape and snow-capped Mt. Baldy, San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonia soar in the distance. A veritable salve to urban living will also likely cure some of the pandemic-inspired ennui and recharge internal batteries.
Set on just over 100 acres, Carter Estate Winery & Resort’s 60 duplex-style suites set in a U-shape configuration have just two suites positioned tandem per bungalow. Parking is directly in front of each suite’s door, yet all windows and patio sliders face outwards for privacy and idyllic vineyards views. Large, high-ceiling suites have an electric fireplace, sitting area, and truly excellent bedding. Well-appointed bathrooms contain an immense walk-in shower, separate make-up area, and two-person bathtub with a wide marble brim, perfect for holding wine or champagne glasses. A separate coffee bar area, four-person dining table, and spacious patio all mean leaving Carter Estate is challenging. However, you’ll want to at least meander to the tranquil pool and of course head to their tasting room. Dog-friendly Carter Estate even provides a welcome bag for furry, four-legged guests with treats and a take home blanket. Woof.
Opening two months ago, Altísima Winery’s hilltop perch provides intoxicating views. The winery’s architecture married its Spanish roots to modern design. The result is a blissful structural union to enjoy some fine wines. Try the 2020 Sauvignon Blanc with a hint of passion fruit, the 2018 La Reina, a cherry forward Grenache, Sangiovese and Mourvedre blend. And if there’s a crème brulée in your future, purchase their light bodied 2020 Muscat to perfectly pair.
At Carter Estate Winery, wines are 100-percent estate grown, bottled and certified sustainable. In its modern tasting room with windows on one side into a bottling area, wine-flight tastings can be combined of whites, reds or sparkling. Since I possess no grape bigotry, I tried several. The 2014 Malbec with its blackberry and red plum bouquet was blissful while strawberry and raspberry impressions in their 2015 Blanc de Noir had me planning future celebrations. Across the street at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa a plethora of award-winning wines to sample in its tasting room awaits with food offerings available and live music on weekends.
With a population of just 115,000, the level of culinary talent in Temecula alone makes visitors ache to return.
Eating at Bolero Restaurant a few months following its 2020 opening, I was bowled over by the meal’s elegantly tasteful artistry. I’m thrilled to report to the foodies among us that nothing has changed. The culinary Rockstar status of Chef Hany Ali above – formerly of the Four Seasons – continues unabashadly. The organized Caeser salad remains like no other: served as Japanese sushi rolls encased in jicama. The braised short rib nest under a potato croquette beret followed by a grilled skirt steak reminded me that I will never, ever in this lifetime be a vegetarian. Those were perfectly paired with Bolero’s fantastic 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. The Chilean sea bass bathed overnight in citrus was a taste explosion and the mixed seafood paella with Spanish chorizo was exquisite too, but after a forkful it was wrapped to enjoy another day. This permitted me to concentrate my devotion to the delectable cayenne pepper chocolate cake.
At South Coast Winery’s Vineyard Rose, Chef Jose Esparza prepared an excellent seared scallops and shrimp dish atop pommes purée with hot sauce caviar. It paired well with the 2018 South Coast Viognier with hints of honeysuckle. Not a pudding fan of any variety, I was convinced to order apricot bread pudding for dessert. It was a great decision. The confluence of taste and texture of creamy vanilla ice cream, sprinkled granola and tangy apricot sauce had me reminiscing of a perfect spring day.
At Soro’s Grill in Old Town, Culinary Institute of America-trained owner Chef Dylan Soro took a more traditional Middle-Eastern restaurant started by his father and fused it with his acquired skills. And we are the beneficiaries. Standouts were the Vegan cauliflower wings on Moroccan couscous that kissed my tastebuds owing to tangy Harissa. The Greek salad and homemade hummus trifecta sent me mentally swimming to the Mediterranean. With Chef Dylan at the helm, vegans and vegetarians will swoon, though several kabob and Shawarma dishes delivered to other diners made me yearn to return.
Jogging amid the vineyards and up through service pathways to the hills is without doubt an antidote to civilization. Clear blue skies and crisp air make morning runs here particularly pleasurable. That and of course knowing that wine tasting is in the foreseeable future allows one to go the extra mile, two or three.
In nearby Aguanga, Saddle Up Ranch is surrounded by panoramic rolling emerald hills – thanks to recent significant rainfall – and is a Mecca for horse and animal lovers. Owner and former Marine Corps officer TJ Davis has ridden, rescued and trained countless horses over the years. In the last 10 alone she has rescued over 200 abandoned or abused horses and now has 45 horses on her six-acre slice of heaven. As an experienced rider, TJ took me up on advanced trails, but Saddle Up caters to all riders, from first timers to expert riders seeking a thrill, all in a tranquil rural setting. Davis also has two ponies, 30 adorable Nigerian dwarf goats, eight pigs and two rescue dogs.
After two hours of mid-day riding – there is often a 30-plus degree temperature change from mid-day to evening – I was ready for a massage. At Southcoast Resort’s Grapeseed Spa things got off to a very good start when at check-in I was provided a menu for a post-massage sip to enjoy the terrace’s views. Selecting the 2017 Sparking Brut, I dreamt of those bubble-to-be while a terrific masseuse made me forget I’d have to return to the city at some point.
The lesson learned
A dreamy setting with magnificent sunsets, local culinary talent, and good wines, not to mention friendly locals and blessedly, a complete lack of parking meters, there is much to love about Temecula. Once you enjoy the respite and experience its delights, you’ll be thinking of an excuse, any excuse to return.