Wine Institute Series Offers Tips on How to Sip, Stay and Play in Wine Country, from Temecula and San Diego to Los Angeles
California’s many scenic wine regions offer a wide variety of experiences and wines to enjoy. California is the number one U.S. state for wine and food tourism with dozens of wine regions, 138 American Viticultural Areas and 4,600 wineries that produce 85 percent of U.S. wine. Established in 1934, The Wine Institute is the public policy association of nearly 1,000 California wineries.
To help visitors explore them all, The Wine Institute’s California Wines Road Trip series highlights a different region each month. To ring in the new year in style, consider taking a trip to Southern California, a region famous not only for surfing, Hollywood and iconic theme parks, but also home to several surprising wine regions, from Temecula Valley and San Diego County to Cucamonga Valley and the Los Angeles area.
SIP: Southern California’s wine region is home to well over 200 tasting rooms, wineries and vineyards. Taste your way through this roster of Southern California wineries or use the discovercaliforniawines.com interactive map to search wineries by amenities such as tours, gardens, art, food for purchase and more. Wine lovers can choose a variety of ways to sip. Explore the San Diego Urban Wine Trail or leave the car behind and board the San Diego Wine Train Tour, where you can enjoy coastal scenery and tastes at urban wineries and restaurants.
Wine trails are a great way to sip, such as the acclaimed North Mountain Wine Trail, 25 miles south of Temecula Valley in East San Diego County. In Temecula Valley, 60 minutes from San Diego and 90 minutes from Los Angeles, the De Portola Wine Trail features wineries set in a rural, equestrian area, while the off-the-beaten path Calle Contento Wine Trail offers sweeping views. North of Los Angeles, try the Ventura County Wine Trail with its artisan wineries, outlet shopping, fine dining and five top museums or the Malibu Wine Trail with the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains and Pacific Ocean as a backdrop.
STAY: There are any number of wine country resorts, golf resorts, boutiques and bed and breakfast inns in Southern California, from Temecula Valley and San Diego to Los Angeles and Ventura. Stay on site at a winery at Temecula’s South Coast Winery, Ponte Vineyard Inn and Wilson Creek Winery.
PLAY: Southern California offers many ways to play while enjoying wine county. See movie sets and catch a glimpse of a celebrity on the Malibu Wine Tasting & Sightseeing Tour. In Ventura County, take part in guided weekend Sip & Savor Wine Tours, starting from Ventura’s historic downtown. In Temecula Valley, visitors can pedal to their favorite wineries, or take a hot air balloon ride over vineyards. Explore the historic Gaslamp Quarter‘s shopping, galleries and dining, paired with a So Diego Tours walking wine tasting tour. Moving inland, wine lovers can enjoy wine country towns in Ramona Valley, including the gold-mining town of Julian and Ramona with its numerous antique shops — about 15 minutes away from the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Other favorite towns include Fallbrook and Escondido, both of which have thriving art and dining scenes.
MAKE: Apple pies are a specialty in Julian, and you can learn how to make them at Mom’s Pies. Aspiring amateur chefs can enjoy any number of cooking classes in San Diego, or sample hands-on educational programs at many wineries or wine schools such as Wine Smarties in San Diego. Combine these passions at Curds and Wine, where guests learn to make wine and cheese. Make great art with wine as your muse at Red Brick Art‘s Paint & Sip classes at a local Ventura winery. Or take a fun hands-on cooking class at a Temecula winery with take-home material to make cooking at home successful.
GROW: The South Coast AVA is the largest viticultural area in the region, stretching from Malibu to the Mexican border. San Diego County is home to 115 wineries and where California wine began. Franciscan monks planted winegrapes in 1769 and produced wine at California’s first mission, Mission San Diego del Alcala. Today, about 60 varieties are farmed by its small, family owned wineries. Temecula Valley is a viticultural area in Riverside County, located between Los Angeles and San Diego, home to more than 40 wineries. The region’s Mediterranean climate is marked by warm days moderated by cool ocean breezes at night — producing a veritable A-Z of grapes. East of Los Angeles, the Cucamonga Valley — known for Old-Vine Zinfandels and Port-style wines — was a dominant region during the first half of the last century and some founding families are still making wine here. North of Los Angeles, visit the Malibu Coast Wine Trail and its seven wineries growing limited production wines in this marine climate near the Santa Monica Mountains. Ventura County’s dozen wineries are all located within minutes of each other in a casual coastal setting.
EAT: Temecula Olive Oil Company’s Old Town store offers free tastings of their locally grown and produced olive oils and balsamic vinegars for sale. A new crop of Temecula Valley chefs are using regional ingredients and creating innovative menus at eateries such as Baba Joon’s Kitchen at Fazeli Cellars and PUBlic House. With San Diego County‘s proximity to the border, it’s no surprise it has some of the best Mexican cuisine in the state. Los Angeles has one of the most dynamic dining scenes in the country, offering everything from street food to 5-star restaurants; try them all during the Dine L.A. restaurant weeks in January and July. Visitors can also enjoy a Downtown Ventura Tasting Tour, stopping at six shops and restaurants for tastings and conversations with the chefs and shop owners behind some of the county’s best eats.
SHOP: In addition to regional wines and antiques in Ramona, a unique gift one can find there is the camel’s milk soap at Oasis Camel Dairy, the first camel farm in the United States. Camel milk is not sold for consumption, but the farm offers an entertaining, up close experience with these animals. The Temecula Lavender Company offers farm tours in summer, showing how the oil is extracted and offering tastings such as lavender cookies and lavender lemonade. They also sell handmade lavender body and beauty products at their year-round store in Old Town.
Visit discovercaliforniawines.com for information on wines and wineries throughout the Golden State and for planning a trip to California wine country.