California is home to some of the best wineries in the world. Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Paso Robles and Santa Ynez Valley have all gotten loads of attention for their wineries and award-winning wines. But there’s another California wine destination moving quickly up the ranks and worthy of consideration. Wine tasting in Temecula Valley has come of age as a world-class experience.
Located less than 90 minutes driving distance from LA/Orange County and 45 minutes from San Diego, Temecula Valley is a little gem enjoying a fresh polish. Making delicious wine since 1968, the wineries in Temecula Valley have long been underrated. I admit I have lived in San Diego for 30 years and hardly visited more than a couple of times. Now with nearly 50 wineries – some quite serious contenders – wine tasting in Temecula Valley has come into its own.
We’ve been to visit Temecula Valley wineries several times recently. Here’s a rundown on some of our favorite wine tasting experience, and why.
Why Go Wine Tasting in Temecula Valley?
For many years, there were a few intrepid winemakers in Temecula Valley, churning out well-made small batches of great wine. Early wine pioneers include Phil Baily of Baily Winery & Vineyard, Gerry Wilson of Wilson Winery, and Joe Hart of Hart Winery. These and others began to put Temecula Valley on the wine map, and began drawing attention from serious connoisseurs and oenophiles.
However, the area had not reached critical mass to gain widespread attention until more recently. Young winemakers, dedicated wine-trepenuers and solid players started moving here to set up shop, and Temecula Valley gained important cred. Turns out its’ rich terroir is idea for growing wine grapes, and the weather conditions are near-perfect. During the growing season, warm, long days give way to chilled nights with frequent coastal fog creeping over the hills from nearby Oceanside.
Now producing more than 500,000 cases of wine per year, the wineries of Temecula Valley have organized into the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association. Resorts, restaurants and entertainment have rounded out the experience of wine tasting in Temecula Valley.
Best Places for Wine Tasting in Temecula Valley
Of the many great wineries in Temecula Valley, we’ve visited several. Here’s the rundown on some of our favorites so far:
Carter Estate Winery
This well-appointed tasting room with windows into the winemaking operation, is connected to a wonderful resort hotel (see below). Carter Estate Winery offers a plethora of wines to suit most tastes. We particularly enjoyed the Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine.
South Coast Winery
Sister winery to Carter Estate, this larger facility has significant indoor and outdoor tasting areas. They host live music and concerts here that have recently resumed, and the fine dining restaurant is among the Valley’s best. Here we enjoyed South Coast Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon.
Perched on a lovely hilltop overlooking the vineyards, Leoness Cellars is a class act. Complete with well-appointed tasting room and ample outdoor garden seating, this is a place we could stay for hours. We especially loved the Leoness Cellars Mourvèdre and Sauvignon Blanc. A must-see location on your wine tasting in Temecula tour.
A larger operation with very good restaurant and lovely grounds, Ponte Winery offers a very large tasting room with multiple areas to try their delicious wines. Here we tasted several reds, and the Petit Syrah and Super T were particularly nice.
One of the original pioneers in the Temecula Valley, Phil Baily has been making delicious wine at Baily Winery & Vineyard for decades. Consider trying the Cabernet Franc, which we found so interesting and educational that we bought many bottles to bring home.
Another OG winery, Hart Winery is not large but offers a more personalized tasting experience in their cozy tasting room. Just outside, comfortable chairs and picnic tables are positioned in the shade overlooking the vineyards. We enjoyed a peaceful tasting here, and liked their Sangiovese.
Hip, contemporary design is a hallmark of Akash Winery, from their tasting room to patio garden and even wine labels. A newer winery in the Valley, Akash is making some delicious wines (and beers) including Three’s Company Blend and Parlez Vous Rosé. Extra props for having a delicious taco truck onsite, which made our wine tasting in Temecula experience even better.
The tasting experience here felt like visiting a Mediterranean villa. Our patio seats offered a sweeping view of the valley and vineyards as we sipped on several vintages presented in a fun tiered stand. The Uproar red blend and the Montepulciano at Fazeli Cellars were big favorites of our group.
Peltzer Winery is a big experience with vast grounds and lots of entertainment choices. We enjoyed tasting the Viognier and Rousanne in their spacious barn surrounded by patio seating. Also onsite was a full-on outdoor ice skating rink (!) and plenty of areas for large group activities, concerts, pumpkin patches and more.
One of our favorites because of its design and vibe, Bottaia Winery makes delicious wines and is a sister operation to Ponte Winery down the street. We sat outside overlooking the vineyards while we enjoyed our tasting flight of full-bodied reds and delicious charcuterie board. If wine tasting in Temecula offers places like this, we’re coming back to this area again and again.
Gershon Bacchus Vintners
Hidden up a winding road and tucked behind a hill, Gershon Bacchus Vintners is a labor of love by its owners and team. This winery enjoys a dedicated wine club of enthusiasts who love their vintages. We particularly enjoyed the Erato Cabernet Franc here.
Standing large and white on the hill, Altisima Winery makes a delicious Sauvignon Blanc which I enjoyed very much over lunch in their restaurant overlooking the valley. If you go, I highly recommend their hamburger which was one of the best I’ve had in a long time!
The grand daddy experience in the Valley, the Wilson Creek Winery complex is just enormous. I counted at least six bars in their downstairs tasting room, and there were more upstairs in their members areas. Outside there are still more, along with a concert venue, grassy picnic areas and more. Wilson Creek is known for their flavored sweet sparkling wines, which come in many varieties.
Places to Stay in Temecula Valley
There are several sweet places to stay here, where visitors can enjoy a restful night between days of wine tasting in Temecula Valley.
Carter Estate Winery & Resort – Situated in the actual vineyards, this luxurious resort offers villa rooms with patios opening up to the actual vines. Really charming and quite large, each villa is well appointed with enormous bathroom, tub and shower. Each room also has a sitting area, dining area and views for days. Loved this place!
South Coast Winery Resort & Spa – A sister resort to Carter Estate, this hotel offers villas and suites alongside the vineyards. Added benefit is the spa, which we did not experience but gets raves from guests.
Need More Wine Tasting in Temecula?
For more information, a map of all the wineries in the Temecula Valley and other great information go to TemeculaWines.org. And if you go, check out their great SIP Passport where for $50 you get 5 tasting tickets to redeem for wine tasting in Temecula Valley wineries. Since all of the wineries charge for wine tastings in the range of $20-$30 per person, this SIP Passport works out to be a really great deal.
Other Wine Tasting Options
If you enjoy wine tasting tours, check out these experiences: