From the moment I cross Butterfield Stage Road driving east on Rancho California Road in Temecula, California, life changes. Gone are the shopping centers and housing developments that litter the area, replaced by vineyards, wine chateaux, and citrus orchards. Gone is the fast pace of multiple lanes of traffic. And gone, too, are the cares of my work week, left behind only two hours away in Los Angeles, but worlds apart.
A glass of California sparkling wine hits my lips in a beautiful tasting room, the first sip introducing the experience and reminding my body and soul that here in this incredible place I am free. We hear often of the “great reset” in a societal sense. Well, I don’t know much about that, but I do know that this, right here, is my great reset, a reset of my soul.
Good wine can be found at pretty much all of Temecula’s sixty-six current wineries. But there is a difference between a good wine and a good tasting experience. Here at Lorimar Winery, that difference is in Dan Brow, one of the best guides I have ever had in a wine tasting. Dan asks me a few basic questions to get a feel for my tastes, then asks me if I trust him to take me on a journey. Six tastes and 90 minutes later, that journey has me feeling refreshed – and a little tipsy!
Lorimar is a smaller winery, less crowded than some of the larger fan favorites for bachelorette parties and birthday celebrations. And that is just perfect for me after a tough week – and a tough couple years with all the world has faced. Dan starts me with a sweet sparkling wine, then a crisp white, and then suggests we move to reds, as those are Lorimar’s specialty (though that is a disservice to the fantastic white I had). We start light, then move to a shockingly smooth Zinfandel – I immediately ask him to pack up a bottle for me – and then to a heavier and fuller Cabernet and a smoky Malbec that, while not to my personal taste, was a perfect counterpoint. For those who know less about wine – like me – or even for those who don’t like wine, a personal experience like this, created by someone who has spent decades learning the intricacies of both wine and people, can be an entree into a new love. And a small, intimate tasting room like that at Lorimar is perfect to start that journey.
I move out to the patio, my table practically in the vineyard, sit in the sun, and listen to the live music that Lorimar offers seven days a week, and I can feel my reset beginning.
For another perspective on the Temecula vineyards, I consult the services of Wine Country Trails by Horseback. There is an almost primal relationship between human and horse, and after only a few seconds sitting astride Sonoma, those generations had been bridged and we both knew who was in charge. We also both knew it wasn’t me, although she was such a well trained horse that she allowed me to pretend. My group of four was led on a ninety minute ride through vineyards and citrus orchards by Maria Kurtzweil, a former university professor turned Temecula trail guide. Her former life definitely came out as she spoke to us of animal husbandry, viticulture, history, and climate. She is also a terrific photographer and her photos of the trip were much better than mine.
On this ride, we simply rode walking horses, making it totally appropriate for a novice like me (I have only ridden once before that I can remember) or for a family like those who walked in just as our group was mounting to ride off. Groups are kept small, and the horses are trained to follow each other, to follow the trails, and to provide a peaceful experience for their riders. However, we had to keep a close eye on them, because they did like to try to snack on grape vines and grapefruit trees. A sharp turn of the head with the reigns put an end to such behavior from Sonoma, with a complementary pat on the neck and “good girl” for her compliance.
I dismount at the end and give Sonoma a kiss and some pets on the nose, the warm April sun shining on us. My great reset is going well indeed.
Ride complete, it is time for more wine, and the hilltop compound of Mount Palomar Winery beckons. This is easily one of the most beautiful properties I’ve visited. Opened in 1969, Mount Palomar is one of the first wineries here in the valley, and visitors are greeted by a combination of crafted wrought iron, repurposed oak barrels and vats, terraced gardens, fountains, sculptures, and a view of currently bare vines that are just beginning to sprout. (There is also some construction going on that disrupts the view at the moment, but it will soon become a hotel, amphitheater, and large pond, so I can forgive that. I also promise myself a return visit when it’s complete. Before and after photo arrays are nifty.)
Inside the wine cave – and yes, it is indeed a cave – my tasting begins. While all the wines Cole Cecconi, a certified master sommelier, pours for me are wonderful (truly wonderful), the highlight for me is both white and red made from Mourvèdre grapes. The white is from grapes harvested early, the red from those that are allowed to fully ripen on the vine. A bottle of each goes into my bag and my rapidly filling car trunk, the better to relive this experience again from home on a night I need a recharge.
Cole insists that I try a desert wine before ending, something Mount Palomar specializes in. (They are famous in the region for their cream sherry, though it is only available for brief periods after the small batches are made.) I opt for the port, a tawny that sings of caramel on the back of my palate. Cole pairs it with a small square of chocolate, and after each sip and nibble, I can’t help but smile.
Sitting in the sun for lunch overlooking the view after my tasting is complete, I am as calm as I have been in weeks, or longer. Munching on a lobster grilled cheese and onion rings (the food here is worth a visit even if you choose not to drink), I am completely content. Here, just two hours from pretty much any major city in Southern California, I finally achieve my reset. After all, what more can one desire than good food, a great glass of wine, a beautiful view, and maybe a person sitting across from you whose presence, at the least, you find tolerable? Maybe some music, but a band soon starts and I close my eyes, totally at peace.
The world can be a difficult place to navigate at times, and life can seem to add weight after weight, dragging us down. In those times, I am so grateful that this oasis of calm, this temple of luxury for my senses, this amazing place called Temecula, is just a short drive away. And whether as a weekend (I spent a single night) or as a day trip, or even as a destination for an extended stay, it will offer you that greatest of all gifts: a reset of the soul.
Thank you so much to Lorimar Winery, Wine Country Trails by Horseback, and Mount Palomar Winery for hosting me. Thank you especially to Dan, Maria, and Cole for turning a visit into an experience. I can’t wait to see you all soon!
If you enjoyed this article, click here to read about last year’s Temecula getaway. Yes, this will be an annual feature here on The Royal Tour!
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