Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country is gaining well-deserved recognition for its premium, quality wines and becoming a desirable destination for green, eco-friendly travelers and visitors. The casual, picturesque region's natural beauty includes three unique destinations, each of earth-friendly interest: Downtown Old Town Temecula with surrounding untouched, chaparral-covere d hills and nearby, untamed river; Pechanga Resort & Casino nestled against majestic mountains that bloom with lilac in spring; and Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country where vineyards thrive in morning air, refreshing and still.
Efforts toward harmony with nature extend beyond and include local government, families, and schoolchildren. The City of Temecula is helping to preserve the night sky for nearby Palomar Observatory with its 6,500, dark-sky friendly, low-pressure sodium (LPS) arterial and streetlights. Slow Food Temecula Valley's school gardens program has helped establish and keep growing, edible, organic gardens at more than a dozen, Temecula schools.
Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country
With 5,000 acres protected in an agricultural preserve, rolling hills, and a big beautiful sky overhead, the vineyards and wineries of Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country host a variety of sustainable practices. Many of these practices begin in the vineyards where the health and vitality of the vines are a precursor to the flavors of the wines. Throughout the valley, cover crops grow between vineyard rows to fortify the soil. Pest management is encouraged by red tail hawks during the day and by owls at night. At harvest-time, the grapes of many vineyards are picked during the cooler temperatures of night and early-early morning, both for energy savings and for the quality berries and juice night-harvesting helps to ensure.
Among Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country champions of sustainability is Ponte Family Estate, which manages its vineyards and winery under the sustainability standards of the California Association of Winegrape Growers and the Wine Institute. In the vineyards, natural cover crops limit carbon dioxide emissions, preserve soil integrity, enhance soil health, and prevent erosion.
Bluebird boxes encourage bluebirds to help manage insects. Soil moisture is monitored; deficit and drip irrigation foster wine quality. Ponte's 'green team' has implemented sustainability practices throughout the winery, tasting room, and restaurant, with its wine club shipping and estate landscaping; and is continually in the process of expanding these efforts. Ponte is also a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) weekly pick-up location.
Farm-elegant and widely recognized for its handcrafted estate grown wines, Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery is certified sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), proud to be members of the Santa Margarita River Watershed monitoring program and active in promoting its overall health. Palumbo recycles grape winemaking by-product (grape skins, seeds, and stems) by nourishing the vineyards with composted grape pomace. Cover crops between vineyard rows include wildflowers to attract ladybugs. All Palumbo corks are derived from sustainable cork forests and are fire-branded, eliminating the need for ink branding. The tasting bar was built using recycled wood scraps found at a local guitar factory for Taylor and Gibson guitars.
The owners of family-run, Leonesse Cellars began as farmers. As a result, and as long-term farmers, Leonesse is earnest in its role as caretakers of the land. Leonesse vineyards are sustainably farmed incorporating practices such as deficit irrigation for quality fruit and for water conservation; organic composts under the vines for nutrients; cover crops – barley in every other row – to build the soil profile; and the encouragement of hawks, owls, and beneficial insects. At Leonesse, the "Touch the Vine, Taste the Wine," tour and tasting includes a trek via jumbo electric golf cart to experience the vineyards firsthand. Leonesse is the host venue for Slow Food Temecula Valley's annual Field To Fork, a premier wine, craft beer, and food-pairing event.
The vineyards of stunning estate, Monte de Oro Winery are also sustainably farmed as naturally as possible. Another example of Monte de Oro's green commitment is its 9,000 square-foot, subterranean, wine cellar. Utilizing the environment and aesthetics of the structure maintains a proper, consistent temperature and constant humidity for wine barrel storage and cellaring. This dramatically reduces the need for electricity that would be required for an above-ground wine barrel facility.
With a deep farming history and passion for Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country, boutique-winery, Stuart Cellars is clearly focused on sustainability. Vineyard land is fortified with legumes and barley, and composted grape pomace is used as a natural soil amendment. Deficit irrigation watering and soil moisture monitoring are practiced, and emitters with spaghetti tubing that directs water to the base of vines, eliminates trans-evaporation of the water (versus cordon drip systems) by 33%. Towering eucalyptus trees are home to nesting Red Tail hawks and a nesting Coopers hawk, and in Spring 2011, Stuart Cellars' owl box was home to two adult barn owls and eight baby owls.
At all-Italian varietal, Cougar Vineyard & Winery, cover crops and composted lees (grape seeds, leaves, and skins remaining from the winemaking process) are used to fortify the soils. No pesticides and no herbicides are used in the vineyards, and only natural sulfur is used when necessary to control powdery mildew. By night, owls patrol the Cougar vineyards.
Popular for its unique wines including almond champagne, Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyard's sustainability efforts include monitoring and limiting soil moisture to conserve water; these efforts also control vine canopy growth, and reduce berry and bunch size, thereby improving grape quality. Wilson Creek is also participating in a vineyard water usage study in Wine Country that uses an ADCON network of weather and soil moisture sensing stations. Wilson Creek refrains from using any chemical fertilizers; instead, compost, green waste, and cover crops increase the available nutrients to the vines and retard moisture evaporation.
At South Coast Winery Resort & Spa (Best California State Winery two-years-running), sustainable vineyard growing practices include the use of vine-based compost (grape skins, grape seeds, leaves, and stems leftover from the winemaking process) to improve overall soil health and nurture the growth of future grape production efforts. Grape seeds, leaves, and grape skins (known as 'lees') are also recycled to create customized spa services at South Coast's GrapeSeed Spa. Offered every year at 'crush,' the exclusively designed, Lees Mud Scrub is naturally filled with antioxidants from the grapes; the grape skins and grape leaves add an exfoliating texture to the treatment.
Mount Palomar Winery also incorporates sustainability practices in its vineyard management. Grape stems leftover from the winemaking process are used to prevent soil erosion; cover crops and composted grape pomace nourish the soil; and deficit irrigation is practiced. Owl boxes encourage the nighttime predators, and in Spring 2011, a pair of Red Tail hawks had made their home in Mount Palomar's towering eucalyptus trees. Mount Palomar uses recycled pressed paper (instead of styrofoam) in packaging/shipping its wines.
At Callaway Vineyard & Winery, cover crops limit carbon dioxide emissions, inhibit weed growth, preserve soil integrity, enhance soil health, and encourage beneficial insects. Composted pomace also nourishes vineyard soils, and hawks and owls are effective in their patrols.
Weather data and soil moisture monitoring help to limit water usage, and Old World winemaking techniques allow the wines to express themselves. Seasonal events with the winemaker feature an adopt-a-vine program and provide the opportunity to learn more.
Very small, family-owned and operated, Foot Path Winery is Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country's only certified organic vineyard. Natural cover crops, no pesticides (an organic, chrysanthemum-based alternative is used instead), and hawks and owls on-patrol are practices in the production of Foot Path's handcrafted wines. The Foot Path Winery also features a small stand with navel, Valencia, and blood oranges; tangerines; pomegranates; figs; apricots; and other tree fruit in-season.
The primary values of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance's sustainability statement are exemplified throughout Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country but perhaps two values are best illustrated by pioneer Hart Winery. Those values: produce the best quality wine and/or grapes possible and honor the California wine community's entrepreneurial spirit. While well-respected for a stellar array of estate and Temecula Valley appellation wines, Hart Winery also supports other Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country vineyards and grape growers by buying their grapes for Hart wines, a sustainability practice, indeed.
Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country wholeheartedly recycles glass, cardboard, wooden pallets, etc. For Earth Day 2011, the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association and its 34 member wineries also launched a partnership with ReCORK. The natural cork, recycling program's goal is to inform of the crucial role, renewable cork forests play in curbing climate change.
Dining in Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country
Sampling a region's wines while enjoying the local cuisine is a time-honored travel tradition. In Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country, dining in a variety of winery restaurants where local ingredients are used to craft seasonal menus affords the opportunity to experience the natural affinity – and natural synergy – of Temecula Valley wines and foods together.
Among earth-friendly, winery restaurants in Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country is Meritage at Callaway Vineyard & Winery, a genuine proponent of 'shopping for the day' using local, sustainable and organic ingredients. Based on the small plate/Tapas concept of big flavor and variety, seasonal menus feature tapas, salads, and entrees with a Mediterranean flair.
Meritage is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly.
The Restaurant at Ponte Winery sources much of its fresh produce from Crows Pass Farm located across the street; olive oils and cheeses are also sourced locally. Poultry and meats are from sustainable farms, and all seafood selections are on the Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The menu features Italian, French, and California-influenced seasonal selections, and is vegetarian-friendly.
The Creekside Restaurant at Wilson Creek Winery has an inspired menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and seasonal specials. Creekside utilizes organic and local produce, and is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. Creekside also serves a complete gluten-free menu.
Pechanga Resort & Casino
The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians have called the Temecula Valley home for more than 10,000 years. Within Pechanga Resort & Casino's 445-acre footprint, there is a relaxed symmetry; the architecture is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright and infused with Luiseño tribal art and culture. The AAA 4-Diamond casino resort garners high acclaim as one of the premier live entertainment venues in Southern California. Lesser known is Pechanga's alternative-energy creation station – a cogeneration plant.
Using natural gas, the CoGen plant can produce up to 4 megawatts of power to produce 75% of the power that the Resort uses during the winter months. The plant has an automated system that uses waste heat to produce steam for domestic hot water heaters, and produces chill water for the air conditioning system. This translates to carbon dioxide reduction, and the relief of taking 1.5 megawatts of energy off the grid.
Pechanga's interest in clean, renewable energy and regard as an authentically gracious, full-service resort were further demonstrated on Earth Day 2011. Six electric car-charging stations debuted and became available on the first level of the Resort's north parking structure.
Journey at Pechanga
The championship 18-hole, golf course, Journey at Pechanga, is acknowledged with highly desirable accolades from top golf publications. Literally “10,000 years in the making” and a union of nature, form and function, the spectacular course snakes through the awe-inspiring terrain of native canyons and along the boulder strewn mountain. The course includes 7+ miles of cart paths and many stunning vistas of the Temecula Valley and the surrounding mountains. Electric golf carts are equipped with state-of-the-art GPS systems; GPS and communications are solar-powered.
With respect for the natural habitat and Pechanga heritage, design and construction of the course on nearly 300 acres of unique, ancestral land, preserved most native, oak trees; those removed were moved and transplanted at great expense. Visible from the back 9 is the ancient Great Oak (namesake for the resort's Great Oak Steakhouse fine-dining restaurant). The Great Oak is the largest, natural-growing, indigenous coast live oak tree in the United States. It is estimated to be 850 to 1,500 years old, making it one of the oldest oak trees in the world. The second-largest Pechanga oak is a deep-rooted feature on hole 9. Mature California oaks also stand on holes 1, 3, and 4; and are challenging obstacles on holes 2 and 7.
Each hole on the Journey course bears a Luiseño name from The Beginning Place/Chuxi' vonga at hole 1 through Eagle's Nest/Aswut Potee'I at hole 18. The course also hosts cultural exhibits that chronicle the history of the Pechanga people.
Beside the Rainbow Gap: Temecula Creek Inn
Nestled against one of the Temecula Valley's most recognized, geographic features, the peaceful elegance of Temecula Creek Inn sets on 350 acres of secluded, natural beauty. A recent recipient of the coveted Four Star rating Golf Digest Places to Play, the Inn's 27-hole championship golf course includes a distinctive trio of course options. From the traditional adjoining fairways of the Creek Course, to the scenic beauty of the Oaks, to the dramatic elevation changes of the precision-demanding Stonehouse, each offers challenge and reward to players of all skill levels. Century-old oak trees and towering sycamores line the fairways.
At Temecula Creek Inn, birdwatchers revel in watching Red Tail hawks soar high above. For hikers and joggers seeking morning and late-afternoon jaunts, miles of well-marked trails wrap around the resort.
Unique to Temecula Creek Inn is the historic Stone House. Built circa 1825 and once used as a mess hall for hard-working quarrymen, the quaint, 870-square-foot granite and stone building is a perfect venue for cozy wine dinners, intimate retreats, and team-building activities. The structure with its cool, stone walls, rustic-beamed ceiling, wood furnishings, stone fireplace and antiques, sits beside towering, 100-year old oaks.
Old Town Temecula
The first people of the original village knew it as "the place where the sun shines through mist." Years later, Butterfield stagecoaches rumbled into Temecula, stopping at Temecula's first post office (established in 1859). Old Town Temecula was born with the arrival of the California Southern Railroad in 1882; those railroad days endured into the 1930s.
Today, more than a dozen historical properties dating as far back as the 1890s still exist and have been repurposed and reopened in the Old Town Temecula entertainment-dining-shopping district. The circa 1890, red-brick Burnham Store, later Temecula Mercantile, is now The MERC, a popular, small, concert venue and art gallery, adjacent the Old Town Temecula Community Theater.
Old Town's newest landmark is the Mission Revival-style Civic Center and Parking Structure. Designed to meet the US Green Building Council's Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification requirements, award from the USGBC is anticipated by Autumn 2011. An example of the new Civic Center's conserving energy and being healthier and safer than conventional construction is its highly efficient, direct/indirect cooling system providing 100% fresh air, 100% of the time. Meanwhile, the parking structure's top-level, photovoltaic/solar-panel installation generates 90% of the energy for the parking structure's uses.
Old Town Temecula's Tasting Trail
Gaining renown is Old Town Temecula's Tasting Trail featuring merchants of local and artisan foods, olive oils, and luscious wines. Among Old Town purveyors is family-owned and operated Temecula Olive Oil Company which sustainably grows olives on its ranch 18 miles east of Old Town (tours by advance reservation the second and fourth Saturdays of each month; final olive oil pressings fuel the tractor); produces all its 100% California, 100% extra virgin olive oil products in Temecula; and offers complimentary olive oil tastings everyday in its Old Town Temecula location. Exceptionally fresh the way nature intended, savoring the purity dramatically illustrates that sustainable growing practices and the old world process indeed make all the difference. As popular as the rich, buttery Olivum (Late Harvest), are seasonal flavors like Citrus and Fresh Basil.
Among Old Town's wine tasting rooms and wine bars is premium wine lounge, The Collective, representing a variety of small, Temecula Valley appellation, boutique wineries including Woodworth Vineyards. The unique micro-climate in the Del Luz area east of Old Town and attentive craftsmanship enable Woodworth Estate Wines to produce award-winning Pinot Noir. Woodworth Vineyards are sustainably farmed and self-assessed annually per California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) guidelines.
Farmers and specialty food artisans at Saturdays' California Certified, Old Town Farmers' Markets (8am to 1:30pm) are 99% local (within 100 miles). Products include organic and conventional, fruits and vegetables; honey, nuts, free-range eggs, cheese, pesto, garlic pastes, and olives. Local avocados and citrus are available year-round; strawberries, March-April-May; ; peaches, apricots, plums and other stone-fruit, June-July; sweet white corn by the 4th of July; tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, peak in August; persimmons, guavas, September-October; sweet navel oranges, tangerines, as well as Dragon fruit, and Buddha's hand/fingered citron, November-December; cherimoyas into January-February.
Dining and Shopping in Old Town Temecula
Dozen-block, Old Town Temecula is made for strolling; exploring the unique, specialty stores; and experiencing the independently owned restaurants, bistros, and coffee houses. Among earth-friendly, dining options are Old Town's gastro-pub, The Public House where local, seasonal, and sustainable foods are served; and the menu and specials change regularly. Public House food and beverage sources include Old Town Temecula's Spice Merchants and Café Bravo; and Temecula's own microbrewery, Black Market Brewing Company. The Public House's popular meatloaf is made with regional, all-natural, grass-fed beef. The Public House is also vegetarian- and vegan-friendly.
Palumbo's Ristorante prepares much of its Southern Italian cuisine with locally grown, organic produce; features seasonally-inspired specials (the Caprice salad and Margarita pizza are exceptionally delicious in summer when made with local, heirloom tomatoes); offers a nice variety of local Temecula Valley wines; and the bread, raviolis, sausage, meatballs, soups, and sauces are house-made. Palumbo's is vegetarian-friendly and all soups including the minestrone are vegetarian.
Sharing a handsome, Old Town building are Baily's Fine Dining (California/Continental cuisine) and Front Street Bar & Grill (upscale, casual, with patio dining). At Baily's, local, seasonal ingredients are used and inspire the menu; the popular prix fixe menu changes weekly (every Tuesday). Like Baily's, Front Street Bar & Grill is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, and the menu features local and seasonal ingredients.
The Edge Restaurant is sophisticated and trendy, and the menu reflects the use of local and organic ingredients, and certified, grass-fed prime beef. Vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, The Edge also features local Temecula Valley wines.
Old Town's specialty coffee house, Cafe' Bravo locally fresh-roasts fair-trade/in-season whole bean coffee and serves up latte performance art in for-here porcelain mugs. Cafe' Bravo's coffee grounds are recycled to fortify the soil of customers' gardens.
Down the block at Old Town Spice Merchants, recycled 100-year-old, barn beams support the shelves. Local source for teas and spices for many Temecula Valley wineries and restaurants, Old Town Spice Merchants also garners a following for its fine, spice and herb blends, and sea salts.
With its lavender fields in Temecula Valley So Cal Wine Country, and its products made exclusively in Temecula, Temecula Lavender Company offers bath, body, and home products including sweetly scented soaps, lotions, and candles. Also available are novelty, lavender pepper, and culinary lavenders, both savory and sweet.
Back at Temecula Olive Oil Company, the line of locally made, nourishing, olive-oil bath and beauty products (body soaps, lotions, and butters) also includes shampoo bars. The shampoo bars eliminate detergent common in shampoos and involve no plastic bottle.
Natural Treasures in Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country
The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve consists of 8,300 acres and protects unique ecosystems like ancient Engelmann oak woodlands (one of California's rarest oak species), Southern California's rare, bunchgrass prairie, and the region's last remaining vernal pools – home to rare fairy shrimp, found nowhere else on earth. Small songbirds winter in the oak woodlands, and spring finds an abundance of native wildflowers in bloom and butterflies busy at work.
Formed from the confluence of the Temecula Creek and the Murrieta Creek, the Santa Margarita River is one of the last free-flowing rivers in Southern California. The Santa Margarita River Watershed includes Temecula Gorge, a 5-mile canyon formed by the Santa Margarita River as it courses through the southern Santa Ana Mountains. Located on the upper Santa Margarita River is the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve. Sycamore, cottonwood, and willow forests are part of a 30-mile protected riparian corridor.
With evidence of the region's Ice Age environments, mastodons and mammoths are the hallmarks of the Western Science Center's collection. The Center, awarded Platinum LEED Certification from the USGBC, hosts monthly Astronomy Nights providing opportunities to clearly see the moon, stars, and planets.
***Information is believed to be accurate but is subject to change. Please call ahead for the latest details.
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Image Courtesy of: luigi diamanti