Temecula – So Much to Offer is by Maralyn D. Hill and Norman E. Hill.

In visiting Temecula, our original intent was to attend an International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association luncheon sponsored by Thornton Winery. Rammers and crammers that we are, we decided to squeeze more into our agenda. As a result, we’re ready to go back at any beck and call.

When we reached Temecula, things started off with a bang. Along with our host, Linda Kissam, we visited the Villa di Calabro for a wine tasting. This charming little house has been transformed into a wine tasting delight with a twist. Winemakers Mike Calabro and Steve Andrews have teamed up to offer Temecula Hills and Calabro wine. The twist is that Calabro’s olive oils and vinegars are featured. We were greeted by Kathy McClain and Mindy Calabro.

If you don’t see the video, click here.

After tasting some award winning selections of Temecula Hills Wine poured by Kathy, Mindy Calabro provided us with a new experience. Her specialty is a close associate of wine, namely, olive oil. Until then, our interest in olive oil had ranged between slim and none for Norm, while quite a bit higher for Maralyn. However, we engaged in a spectacular olive oil tasting routine.

Bread was piled in the middle of an egg plate, with egg indentations used for our various olive oil and vinegar combinations. Who would have thought that so many tasty varieties of olive oil were possible? Mindy blended various fruits with olive oil, right from scratch. Talk about a tasty treat! Norm said, “This modest tasting with bread has to rank as one of the most enjoyable tasting ventures of my life.” Maralyn relished the different combinations and said, “It was just fun.” If Mindy could be coaxed into enhanced marketing, she could sell scads of her oil and vinegar combinations. After our olive oil extravaganza, we did enjoy some of the Calabro wine, which certainly was tasty.

As we left the quaint old town section, on our drive to the hotel, we noted what a scenic town Temecula is. A lot of effort has gone into making the old town a scenic travel destination. It features numerous tasting rooms from local vineyards, allowing one to indulge in tastings all over, once your park your car.

We were fortunate to be invited to experience the Temecula Creek Inn. This is a golfers’ paradise, where rooms are right on the course (all 27 championship holes of it). The Inn has received a four star rating from Golf Digest Places to Stay.

The sales manager took us on a property tour. The hotel featured everything you’d expect, including meeting rooms. But, she became animated in showing us what are, arguably, the two main sites of the Inn’s 300 acres. Our reaction mirrored her enthusiasm.

First, we went to the Stone House. Built in 1830, the house originally was for quarry workers. Today, it is a scenic serene site for weddings and other functions. This granite and stone building, surrounded by towering oak trees, now hosts an antique bar and furnishings of a bygone era. It sits off by itself and exudes charm. An event planner’s imagination could go wild with all the possibilities this venue offers. Best of all, the hotel is willing to work with planners to transform their visions into reality.

The other location was the Creekside Guest House, located just across the golf course from the rest of the property. This is an ideal private escape, with 3 bedrooms and 1.5 baths that can house an entire family of golfers. It is our understanding that golfers top the list of those requesting this accommodation. Also, it would be ideal for small family reunions, or small company teambuilding or brainstorming sessions. The fireplace, plasma television, and full kitchen provide a home within a resort setting.

Our room was lovely, as we looked out on the beautiful San Jacinto Mountains, watching golfers finishing up rounds on the well manicured golf course.

We strolled over to the Temet Grill for dinner. In addition to the inviting and comfortable atmosphere, the food was delicious. We convinced Executive Chef Salvatore Giuliano to share his Orange Scented Seared Scallop and Wheat Berry Salad recipe.

We were guests the first night for dinner. Since wee enjoyed it so much, we returned the next night to try some of the selections we still wanted to experience at our own expense. People frequently ask us if all of our meals are complimentary and the answer is, “No.” Some are, but many times, when the experience was memorable, we return and pay. Other times, we dine at an establishment first, and then sometimes are invited back as guests. All we know is we write about good experiences and don’t waste our time on those less memorable. The Temet Grill was special and certainly worth a visit.

The next day, we were off to Thornton Winery. Arriving a little early, we had time to walk around the gardens and beautiful grounds. Then we checked out the Café Champagne Restaurant, before heading to the gift shop and into the Champagne Caves for our delicious meal. This luncheon showcased Thornton wines as well as Executive Chef Steve Pickell’s creations. It is easy to see why the Café Champagne Restaurant is rated Four Stars.

The sign says, “Enter with reverence.”

Steve Thornton, President of this family-owned establishment, was our host. His winemaker, Don Rhea, was also there and spoke on wine. He was extremely articulate and knowledgeable and entertaining. Steve Pickell did come out to meet us and received a well-deserved round of applause. Steve also shared his recipe for Roasted Tomato, Artichoke and Prosciutto Tartine.

The next day, Linda arranged for us to visit four wineries. The first was Oak Mountain, owned by Valerie and Steve Andrews.

Sitting outside on a large comfortable veranda, we tasted several wines. Oak Mountain is unusual, as it houses two wineries under one roof—Oak Mountain and Temecula Hills. Both are owned by Valerie and Steve. When you look at the hillsides, you see vineyards planted with classic Bordeaux varieties, with some unique varietals like Counoise slipped in for a little surprise.

Like many wineries, they have ongoing events all the time and you can usually find them pouring every weekend. From our tasting a number of delicious varietals, we were partial to the 2005 For Pete’s Sake Red and 2007 For Pete’s Sake White. Dog lovers at heart, Valerie and Steve have set up a fund to help senior citizens whose pets need veterinary care. They realize the expense of keeping these animals and best friends alive and well can be considerable. It’s an amazing story in itself, and they have assisted so many in keeping much loved pets alive and well.

Next, we headed to Keyways Vineyard and Winery. Terri Pebley Delhamer has the only woman-owned winery in Southern California. Founded in 1989 by Carl Key, it was one of the original wineries that established Temecula Valley Wine Country. Terri has used her instinct for beauty and hospitality, along with good business sense, to renovate the entire estate. Her manager, Mimi, and her wine maker, Mike, whom she lured away from consulting for other wineries, do a terrific job in carrying our Terri’s desire to exceed expectations with outstanding wine and exceptional service.

The entire staff at Keyways is a team in the true spirit of the word.

Mike gave us a tour of the winemaking equipment and we were fascinated by a device for determining alcohol content of the wine. This test is legally required for any alcoholic production. He is working on a device which tests on a much larger scale. Mike has so much knowledge, it was interesting just to see his passion in speaking. At Keyways, we tasted Chenin Blanc 2008, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, and a 2005 Merlot. We enjoyed the 2005 and 2007 the best. We had been quite familiar with Keyways, as we had enjoyed several varietals at home.

Thank goodness Linda was driving, as we headed off to Ponte, a combination winery with its well-known Smokehouse Restaurant.

The winemaker was Robert Cartwright and the Exec Chef was Steve Sawinski. It is easy to see why Chef Steve is so popular with locals and tourists alike. Pone is a beautiful facility that started growing its own grapes over the last 4 years. Previously, it had bought all wine wholesale. Robert is working hard to learn the growing aspects of grapes, as well as to improve his winemaking skills. Both are happening at a rapid rate. He doesn’t hesitate to confer with well-known winemaker Les Linkogle for suggestions. We think Robert’s wines will meet the challenge of the surrounding Temecula Valley.

Perhaps the highlight of our trip was the last stop at Briar Rose Winery. It’s hosts were Dorian and Les Linkogle. Les serves as a mentor for Robert Cartwright, as we previously mentioned. Les is known for making award winning wine his way, and his way works.

Briar Rose is a reservation-only boutique winery. The Linkogles welcomed us to enjoy their wines, wander through the gardens, and get caught up in the true enchantment of the surroundings. The home converted into a gift shop/tasting room was originally designed by a Disney employee and is a replica of Snow White’s cabin in the enchanted forest.

Over the years, this winery has won numerous awards. It is quite small and dedicated to select small productions. Briar Rose produces about 2,400 cases on an annual basis.

The Linkogles have been invited to the White House by at least three Presidents. We tasted at least five different wines and neither of us could pick a favorite. They were all delicious and smooth. Briar Rose is known for its intense award-winning Estate Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and a wonderful Tuscan blend. It also offers a lively and fruity Sangiovese and Merlot. White varietals include Viognier and a Fume Blanc. The winery’s newest release is an effervescent sweet wine named “Talking Frog.”

The Briar Rose winery has a celebrity clientele. Many of its premier wines sell for over $100/bottle. In fact, several even sell for over $1000/bottle. We have two bottles from Briar Rose in our wine cooler—but are saving them for a very special occasion.

What we both felt on departing Temecula was the desire to return. There are many more wineries to visit, the old town is in a renaissance, and you have lodging of all types is readily available, including the Temecula Creek Inn. It would have been nice to have two or three more days to absorb more of this beautiful area.

Briar Rose Winery

Keyways Winery & Vineyard

Oak Mountain Winery

Ponte Winery

Temecula Creek Inn

Temecula Hills Winery & Vineyard

Thornton Winery

Villa di Calabro Wine & Olive Oil – Old Town Temecula

I hope our view of Temecula encourages you to visit.

Big Blend Magazine

“Success” was Indie Finalist in the Writing and Publishing category of the 2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards