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Temecula Valley City Trip - Outdoor Tours

A popular happening: the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival
A popular happening: the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival


TEMECULA DAY 3: Hot Air Ballooning, Temecula Carriage Company, Lake Skinner

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To get a sense of the land and terrain from above, there's nothing better than hot air ballooning. California Dreamin' offers early morning rides from Vindemia. You'll climb high in the sky and cruise over live vines and citrus trees. Bring a jacket and a hat (the hot air is right over your head, and you will feel it). Afterward, a complimentary Continental breakfast is served in the gardens, and also includes a Mimosa. (Be sure to stick around for a tasting of Cabs and Syrahs at the family-owned Vindemia Winery). Other balloon tours include Sunrise Balloons and A Grape Escape.

If you'd prefer to stay on terra firma, consider a guided tour on the Grapeline shuttle or private limo service, but be sure to choose one with good winery relationships; often times it's essential for limo groups to make advance reservations. For a romantic experience from another era, your chariot awaits with the Temecula Carriage Company, who provide horse-drawn rides to three wineries and a European-style picnic lunch. A more rustic alternative is the Sunrider Jeep Wine Tour, which is limited to six passengers and affords personalized service and a custom itinerary. You'll hit three or four wineries — and you won't have to drive!

Leoness Cellars
Leoness Cellars

Your four-wheel-drive ride will pick you up from either your wine country hotel or the Starbucks in Old Town. From there, wineries on the agenda may include Leoness Cellars, Danza del Sol or Monte de Oro. Morning tours include lunch; afternoon tours offer appetizers.

Even if you don't do the jeep tour, Leoness Cellars is still a must-stop for a tasting and/or lunch. The winery produces an impressive selection, ranging from Bordeaux blends to a Cinsaut port-style dessert wine (a traditional Portuguese varietal). Lunch is served outdoors (there are misters!), and all sauces and dressings are made from scratch. Try the hearty Greek salad, a pesto chicken panini or one of several varieties of French fries.

Afterward, head down De Portola to Robert Renzoni Vineyards & Winery. The family has a long history in the winemaking business, and the blends are very unique, such as the Concerto, with Zinfandel, Syrah and Merlot. Pick up a bottle of Mama Rosa's tasty marinara sauce, too.

Next, double back to Cougar Vineyards. Owned by a couple who first started making wine in Texas, continued in Seattle, and have now settled here, Cougar produces everything from Italian varietals like Primitivo to "blush" table wine.

If you got a late start and need a hearty lunch, try The Creekside Grille at Wilson Creek Winery. Starters include pulled pork sliders and fried burrata, but there are various salads and sandwiches as well. A visit wouldn't be complete without a glass of the famous almond Champagne.

The Restaurant at Ponte is another good option. Items include wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches and heavier entrées like flat iron steak. Advance reservations are suggested. Wines here have an emphasis on Italian varietals like Nebbiolo and Dolcetto, along with sweet tastes and sparkling selections. If you decide to end the day at Ponte, be sure to check out The Cellar Lounge in the adjacent boutique hotel, Ponte Vineyard Inn. It's the only place in wine country with a full bar — and it offers a mixology-style cocktail program.

Otherwise, you can probably sneak in a few more wineries after lunch, if you are careful to taste not drink (that's what those big buckets are for). Some good suggestions nearby are Wiens Family Cellars, specializing in "big reds;" small-case producer Palumbo — the Rosé and Merlot are particularly impressive; and Doffo Vineyard & Winery, which follows an Old World-style philosophy when it comes to farming — locals are championing it as one of the most important in the area.

The Restaurant at Ponte
The Restaurant at Ponte

Should you decide to spend another day away from wine tasting, the Temecula Creek Inn is a gentleman's favorite for eighteen-hole championship golf. Nearby Lake Skinner is a fun option for family outings; recreational options include fishing, swimming and boating.

For a girls-only getaway, consider the world-class spa at South Coast Winery. You can opt for signature facials like the GrapeSeed hydrating treatment, a relaxing massage, or even the Vino-Vinyasa wine tasting-themed yoga class. Whatever you do, don't leave without sampling the wines.

The Vineyard Rose restaurant's dinner menu also happens to be one of the premier fine-dining options in the valley. Cal-Italian favorites include frutti di mare, a Caprese roll and a duo of lamb.

A bit off the beaten path is E.A.T. Extraordinary Artisan Table, which is a local favorite for Slow Food fare, much of it vegetarian-friendly. It's part marketplace and part restaurant, and only open limited hours, but definitely worth a stop to pick up bites for a picnic or to dine-in at the communal tables.

There's a lot to see in Temecula in just three days, but be sure to make time for R&R. You don't have to do it all at once and, if you're in a big group, you don't have to do everything together. Plus, you can always come back!

For more information, visit the Temecula Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.temeculacvb.com or the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association at www.temeculawines.org



MORE TEMECULA INFORMATION

* Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival image by Chip Morton courtesy of the Temecula Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau

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