By Susan Montgomery
Last weekend some friends from Wisconsin visited us in Temecula. Jeri and Dawn are my partying girlfriends who were looking for a really good time and a break from their demanding jobs and family lives at home. Also, they had never been to the Temecula area before so we wanted to give them a good overview of our great lifestyle here. So what to do in three nights and two days? We had promised a focus on the wine country and that’s what they got. We could have done so much more, but time was limited. We are expecting many more visitors from the Midwest and we would like your advice on where to go and what to see.
Here’s what we did: Jeri and Dawn arrived late Thursday afternoon and, after some snacks and freshening up, we headed out to give them a view of the wine country’s gorgeous rolling hills. We drove down Rancho California Road, pointing out the many wineries along the way as clouds billowed over the hills around us. It was a beautiful afternoon in the wine country and we were so glad (and yes a little bit proud) to be showing good friends the area in which we live. Being city girls, Jeri and Dawn loved the rural ambiance with horses and cows around them. Then we turned on Anza Road and headed to De Portola Road where we knew Danza del Sol would be open until 6 p.m. At Danza we each grabbed a glass of their mellow Tempranillo and sat outside with some late afternoon regulars, as we all enjoyed the cooling breezes and the beckoning sunset. What a perfect beginning to our friends’ visit.
At home we grilled fresh local vegetables and steak. Sitting around our backyard chiminea, we savored some more Temecula wines and went to bed. On Friday morning, after a big country breakfast, we headed to Old Town where our guests were hoping to see some real cowboys. We didn’t promise any cowboys but, sure enough, they there were: several pony-tailed guys with big-brimmed hats, and even spurs, sauntering down Main Street, which was lined with vintage cars. This was not a scene they would ever see back in Milwaukee. We did an olive oil tasting at the Temecula Olive Oil Company—a real novelty for our guests—where they bought gifts of unique oils and soaps to take home. We also stopped by the Temecula Lavender Co. for some fragrant lotions right from the local area. After wandering through the charming Painted Garden on Main Street, we finished our morning’s excursion with a relaxed wine tasting in Lorimar’s comfortable tasting room, where we heard from owner Mark about Lorimar’s plans to have a Tuscan tasting room in the wine country soon.
After brief power naps at home (it takes energy to keep drinking wine), we headed to Oak Mountain Winery where a pre-arranged group of friends brought all kinds of snacks and we sampled a variety of wines, including favorites, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and the luscious 2008 Compilations from Temecula Hills Winery. (This is the only winery in Temecula that houses two wineries at one site—Oak Mountain and Temecula Hills.) Jeri and Dawn loved the picturesque views at Oak Mountain and the congenial camaraderie among the wine drinkers. Our knowledgeable wine country friend, Patrick Neal, took Dawn on a walk through the vines, pointing out the different kinds of grapes and discussing harvesting technology methods.
We then headed over to Cougar Winery with our friends who are members there. The owners were kind enough to let our guests see the containers of fermenting grapes and also Cougar’s bottling equipment. Sitting at a picnic table outside while the sky changed from orange to pink to lavender was an ideal way to wind down after our busy day of wine tasting. (By the way, in case you’re concerned, my husband, Todd, was the designated driver during all these winery forays so our guests could sample to their hearts’ content, which they did without hesitation!)
But our day was not over. Next we headed back to Old Town to one of our favorite places, The Public House, where a band was rocking in the outside bar area. There was no room to sit anywhere but at the bar, which was fine with us and we took a break from wine to sample the local micro-brewery Black Market’s beers. We all agreed these beers rivaled Milwaukee’s famous micro-brews. After all the earlier snacks, we weren’t too hungry so we enjoyed a cheese platter that was beyond delicious, even for my Wisconsin friends who come from the “other” cheese state.
Saturday, their last day here, was even busier. The challenge: how much could we squeeze into one day? Our first goal was Old Town’s Farmers Market, where our guests were in awe of the great variety of colorful and uniquely California organic vegetables and fruit. We tasted delicious samples throughout the market, including dragon fruit, figs, melons, goat cheese and multi-hued little tomatoes. It was especially fun to be in Old Town that Saturday morning because storefronts up and down Main Street were covered with intricate, colorful quilts that we all admired. Then it was time for a bit more shopping. Of course the girls each needed a new purse and some jewelry (at a big discount) at Silver Fever and then we had to recover from our shopping spree with a wine tasting at Tesoro’s wine tasting room, where we were fortunate to meet Tesoro’s owner, Buzz Olson, who talked enthusiastically to us about Tesoro’s plans for a tasting room in the wine country.
Our goal was for our friends to experience a sampling of wineries and we were well on our way. I always like to take guests to Leonesse, not only because their wines are so wonderful, but the setting takes your breath away. We sat outside and sipped their luscious Reserve Syrah, which may have been our guests’ favorite wine during their two-day tasting tour. Next we visited Europa Village to show them the newest winery in the Valley. We sat in their enchanting courtyard drinking our favorite Europa wine, an enticing red appropriately named Libido, and commented that we felt like we were in southern France. Europa’s manager, Denis Ferguson, stopped by to welcome our guests and talk about plans to expand Europa. During our wine country tour, our guests were fortunate to meet several key wine country people who shared their exciting plans for the future of the area. (There will be so much to see when they come back.) To give our guests a feel for a small family-run winery with excellent wines, we ended our afternoon at Doffo where we sampled some wonderful reds created in the Argentine style. This was great preparation for our evening’s dinner.
After another quick power nap at home, we were off to Masia de Yabar for their annual, savory Argentine barbecue. We grabbed a table just as the sun was setting and enjoyed a rich Malbec. We ran into our friend, Otto, a personable goat farmer who entertained our guests with stories of raising goats in the wine country, another unique experience our guests would be unlikely to encounter in any Milwaukee bars. The buffet dinner was scrumptious and included both beef and pork ribs, roasted chicken and spicy sausages, all with smoky south American flavors, including delicious chimichurri sauces. All evening we enjoyed mellow South American background music and even some elegant tango dancers. But we didn’t stay to dance because we still had one more essential wine country stop.
We were meeting friends at Longshadow Ranch where every Saturday throughout the summer and early fall they have a live band playing outside. Surrounded by horses, goats, wandering dogs, and relaxed families with their children, it’s a congenial country experience—enjoying the mellow evening weather with friends, along with wine, snacks and dancing to great California rock ‘n roll music. But lately Long Shadow has also had a bucking bronco where for $5 brave souls can climb aboard and see how long they can stay astride the rocking mechanical beast. Much to my surprise, Jeri and Dawn decided they had to show their Midwest stuff and ride the bull. (Could this decision have been colored by a day of wine drinking?) Despite their skirts, they climbed over the inflatable enclosure (or should I say “fell” over the enclosure) and headed toward the bull. Later they said that pulling themselves up on the big bull was the hardest part of the ride. But we all whooped and hollered as they each stayed on the bull for quite some time. They entertained everyone since usually it’s the young buff marines who brave the bull. One of them fell off, but they both were the hits of the evening at Long Shadow. Our friends are still talking about our crazy Midwestern friends who rode the mechanical bull.
We went home exhausted and our guests headed out early Sunday for their flight from San Diego back to Wisconsin. It was hard to say good-bye. We had done so much in such a brief amount of time, but there was still so much more to do. Our friends in the Temecula wine country are still talking about our zany friends and their whirlwind visit. We can’t wait for them to return. There are so many more wineries to visit, sunsets to savor, and maybe even bulls to ride.
Photo credits: Todd Montgomery, Jeff Akers, Dawn Bloomfield