Temecula wineries | Girls' weekend

Overlooking Rancho California Road in Temecula wine valley

Some months ago, my friends tried to plan a girls' weekend in Paso Robles - which was super exciting for me because I had never been. When researching logistics, however, it was clear that we would need to fly there to make it work for a quick weekend getaway from San Diego, and most of us were counting on the ease of driving and the fun of road-tripping. I know it's not sexy but I was looking forward to getting into my Ready Player One book-on-tape (MP3).

At Doffo Winery: an out-of-focus rose. Sometimes you get what you pay for, and this blog is free.

Still, the real blowback came from the Old Men in our lives, who basically fell into two camps: the wine snobs who had been to Paso many times before and didn't want to miss out on it, and the ones who had not yet been and felt slighted that they were being left out. Nevermind that it's not Napa! People go crazy for Paso too, apparently. Don't ask me why, because as of now, I still have not been.

So we settled on nearby Temecula - which all the guys were okay with - so now this is going to be a blog post about Temecula's wine country. Get used to it like I did.

Cute Vespas at Doffo Winery. I would need to wear a helmet - and take a breathalyzer test - before actually operating one.

Like any good Californian, I love wine - but I'm no sommelier like my friend Marissa Reibstein, who is a legit wine blogger, nor like my stepbrother-in-law Krishna, who is a working sommelier in Beijing, so I'm told. Links provided for all the Fact Checkers out there (wink!)

I have friends who collect wine for fun and don't worry too much about price point, as well as an acquaintance or two who collect and judge with a degree of seriousness that kind of takes the fun out of everything. But I do enjoy wine tasting and belong to two local wineries with the Old Man - Orfila Vineyards and Cordiano Winery in San Diego's north county - and I visit a third that we can bicycle to - Bernardo Winery - probably more than the other two combined.

I hope you like the taste of hair with your wine al fresco, because that's what you're getting!

Still, this was a full-on weekend getaway, so I got to packing. I threw everything I was thinking about packing onto the bed. I wanted to just pack a bunch of cute, flowy dresses like every Pinterest post on "packing for a winery trip in California" mandates, but the reality of the weather the proceeding week had been cool mornings and evenings, so I went with the proverbial California layers: lots of scarves and a light, packable jacket - but also short sleeves, capris, and sandals.


We started our tour Friday afternoon at Doffo Winery. It was scenic, and they had some live music playing somewhere. I can't opine on the quality of the music since my friends sat away from it so that they could hear themselves talk. Do you have friends like that? Honestly it's a miracle anyone gets a word in edgewise. And don't mention that "birds of a feather" phrase either, no matter how correct you may be.

I wouldn't have it any other way! Or I don't have it any other way, which is pretty much the same thing.


I wanted to ride one of the winery's Vespas or motorized bikes for a nice turn around the grounds, but they don't actually lend out their machines. Something about liability, I'm guessing, or the combination of motors and alcohol.


Our favorite wine at this location was named after our very own Russian dumpling, Paulina. She said it was "sweet and bubbly, but gives you a headache, just like me!" Her words, not mine.

Photo by Paulina Gomberg

Here might be the perfect place to discuss the magic that is Uber and/or Lyft, both in sheer convenience as a mode of transportation and regarding the pearls of wisdom that drivers drop on you when you are basically a captive audience. 

I could title a very short book, or booklet (or maybe just a pamphlet), "Lessons I Learned From My Uber|Lyft Drivers During Our Wine Weekend," and it would go something like this:

"Hung," who was Vietnamese: Advised me on the best BBQ and Pho in the area, but also warned me of the strong likelihood that several Temecula wineries will have you taste one wine, and then sell you a bottle of another inferior wine in the same packaging as the Taster bottle. Like a real scam straight out of a 60 Minutes. Was this just Hung's paranoid musings, or was it sound advice gleaned from hard knocks in the Temecula Valley?
That's for you to decide.

"Daniel", whom one of us inexplicably called "Dennis the Menace," a California native: Our favorite driver of the trip, Daniel pretty much spends all his working time ferrying ladies like us from winery to winery, so he knew exactly how to handle us. He did not mind our high speaking volume in his car, or transgressions into his personal space. He was compelled to find out where my foreign-born friends were from, relying on looks and accent to make a guess but not always coming up with the right answer (my friends are from Russia, Mexico, and Vietnam, and he only guessed Paulina from Russia correctly).

"Sarah" from ???: We never really got to know Sarah because s/he taught us that if we are going to try to cram 5 people into a 4-person Uber, s/he will kick one of us out. She said, "Oh no - you're too many. One of you has to get out." We also taught her that we are a package deal - we all got out of the car together instead of chucking one person out to get another Uber alone. Still, the real lesson to be learned here is that when you have 5 or 6 riders, you really want to get an UberXL, as inconvenient as that may be. They come much less frequently than UberX, but it's worth not risking your driver getting a moving violation by having people sit on laps, which is what we did on more than one occasion.

"Kevin" from Senegal: He was actually the captive audience for us this time, rather than the reverse. When one of us learned that he was newly arrived from Senegal, she was compelled to sing "Hakuna Matata" to him, among other friendly African sayings ("Jambo!" etc.) At some point one of us inquired as to his immigration status, which I believe is a definite No-No. He was also subjected to discussions about "bejeweled tops," etc., and while his English was excellent I had to wonder if he knew what "bejeweled" and "bedazzled" even meant. So the lesson here is that you might never want to be an Uber driver... for people like us, at least.

Kevin from Senegal looks warily at a passenger, who just welcomed him to call her "Sistah."

We had dinner Friday night at Gourmet Italia. It was divine food-wise, but we were perplexed by the service: we had to ask for a wine menu, and we then got some hesitation from our server when we ordered a white wine. She suspiciously said that our wine "needed to be chilled a bit more" before serving. 

Was she trying to say that we didn't need more to drink!? I didn't think we were obviously intoxicated, but all of us were paranoid enough to unanimously come to this conclusion, which probably means that we were obviously intoxicated. Again, we had Uber/Lyft and no children to look after, so save your judgments for my style choices.


The meal was spectacular. Whole fish is a fave of mine because I like to feel a pang of guilt when I look into the face of an animal I've had someone else kill for my meal. It just seems proper, like the wheels of justice are turning somewhere behind the scenes of what appears to be our reality but is, in fact, the ridiculous sham that is modern civilization. This must be the point in the tour when we started getting philosophical.


Herbs and citrus flavored this delicate dish, served with lightly-cooked vegetables and a nice pinot grigio. Pinot noir is more my thing, but the table wanted white and it's good to step outside of your comfort zone now and then. The gift of the pinot grigio was that it made me all the more grateful for my next pinot noir.


Dessert was light and delicious. We loved this meal!


We headed back to our room at Pechanga Resort + Casino. I didn't even tell the Old Man that we were staying at a casino for fear that it would breed envy (he's a player!), but now I have regrets about literally not having played a single hand of blackjack, which I actually quite enjoy. Or poker.  

Blurry video which sorta shows the inside of the casino, but highlights me and my cute friends more.

We did take in one of my other favorite things - a comedy show - courtesy of our dear Paulina. She knew the comic, Bobby Collins, from seeing previous shows. Bobby and his opening comedienne were hilarious.

Did you know that the Old Man and I had a comedian perform at our wedding? And that the comic, at times, went blue? Don't tell me what that says about our view on the sanctity of marriage. I cannot overstate my commitment to the art of comedy. 

Photo of Bobby and Paulina, courtesy of Paulina Gomberg.

The four of us stayed in a single room, which was lots of fun as you can imagine. I joked to the ladies that we would have to tell our husbands fun tales of having had lingerie-clad pillow fights, but the reality was that we put on mud masks in our PJs and watched stuff like Shark Tank and American Ninja Warrior, of course weighing in on every proposed business plan and athletic competitor from the comfort of our beds like we were Bill Gates or Roger Federer.

Maybe my eyes always look this strung out... or maybe I had been cry-laughing for an hour straight before I even applied this masque. Maybe both.

TMI I know, but frankly if you are still here, you aren't capable of being scared off. This peel-off mask hurt like hell to take off FYI. I cannot recommend it.

It felt a little bit like destiny, seeing some of the decor in this hotel. I am more than a little obsessed with our local Yucca.


Saturday morning we awoke with ambitious goals. What's that saying? "Failure to plan is planning to fail?" I want to say that we planned on seeing something like five wineries on this day, but since I don't actually recall the plan, it's entirely possible that we just aimed for Rancho California Road and proceeded to "go with the flow," since there are many wineries on that road alone. We wound up visiting three.


Photo taken leaving Churon and after much tasting of their wines.

This is a lovely winery! It was also overcast for a little while, which saved us briefly from the blistering sun, if only for the morning.

The Inn

The reception and tasting rooms were just darling.

Churron Reception

I'm not sure what the French connection was here even though their story is probably prominently displayed everywhere, but instead of asking I just marveled at the murals and decor and got to tasting. 

 Why don't I have photos of the WINE, or the tasting menus??? Some questions were never meant to be answered.

Did you know that we brought our own food? Homemade breads lovingly crafted by Paulina paired with figs and jams and cheeses, all crammed into a basket big enough to hold a baby and delicately covered like one.

Photo by Paulina Gomberg

In fact, we called our basket of goodies "The Baby," and the unbelievably heavy bag containing the cheeses "the dead body." They were a bear to lug around from place to place, but so worth the hassle! Especially since I didn't carry them. By the time we arrived at any new location, we would drop the basket and say, "let's leave The Baby here." 

"The Baby," seen in Paulina's right hand.

I can assure you that on more than one occasion, passersby would express concern that we were leaving an actual baby on the ground, on a table, outside or whatever. We let them off the hook every time, though not always immediately or without laughing about how "that couple out there thinks we just left a baby alone outside."

Some of the contents of The Baby spread out before us, though sadly much of it has been already eaten. So the contents are technically still in the photo, but obscured by our external bodies. What can I say? This is a culture of self-indulgence and we're just living in it. 

We ignored some "Reserved for Special Event" signs to try to get pics near the grape vines, and were promptly ushered away for what was an impending wedding destined to happen hours into the future. That's why these pics may look like they were taken by someone in a hurry because they were getting disapproving looks from a certain lady at Churon.

Churon grape vines, often accompanied by rose bushes, I've noticed.

Next we moved on to Baily Winery. You could walk to it from Churon like so:


Crossing the busy street like that reminded me of those signs they have near border crossings, warning of people crossing the highway:

 But instead of a mother holding a child's hand, it would be a mother holding a basket of wines and cheeses.

Don't start lecturing me about how immigrants crossing the border are crossing because they have no other viable choice while instead, we were just crossing to get to more wine; when you are on a wine-tasting roll, getting to the next winery FEELS imperative, and in fact your judgment might be slightly affected by the very wine you are seeking more of; therefore, the combination of those things coupled with the lack of safe crossings made me think that this kind of sign might be prudent. I am not about to get political so don't you dare either.

Ah, here we are at Baily Winery. Kelly didn't know it when posing for this photo, but she would later spearhead a small drama inside when she marched in to confront one of the vintners about the level of sediment in her port tasting. 


Again, there were roses galore outside. This is one constant with just about every winery I've ever been to. Aren't they beautiful?


This would be one of the few outdoor seats providing shade, but we didn't know it at the time. We cavalierly gave up this choice bench to grab the tiniest tastings in Temecula (new tagline for Baily?), and later found people competing just for seats on the ground.


Next we moved on to Europa Village Winery. This one was far and away our favorite!


They had a lovely rose garden punctuated by cooling misters, with special cabanas for rent like our favorite local spa has.


They also had boutique shopping. One person in our party bought so much that it was difficult to carry it all back to our hotel.


The guys who handled our tastings here - Andrew and Milton - led us down the tasting menu like captains through a battle at sea, which frankly is what All Day Drinking In The Sun is like on a bright California day with your girlfriends. They engaged us in conversation, spontaneously took photos of us (bonus points), and gently guided at least one of us into a costly bi-monthly wino membership.


We went straight from there to Bluewater Grill, (not to be confused with Blue Water Grill in New York City, which is where the Old Man and I had our wedding reception - yes, the one with the comedian!) excited to eat a big meal after nibbling on The Baby all day. We started with oyster shooters and oysters, because I guess we were really in the mood for oysters.



The next morning I awoke early to do a Club Pilates workout, knowing full well that the ladies were going to take forever to get up and ready anyway. When you're an "unlimited" member at Club Pilates, you can work out at ANY Club Pilates! I know you don't care about that kind of stuff, but addicts talk about their addictions so I just thought I'd squeeze in a little Pilates Talk.

So I had time after my class to wait in line for the insanely popular hipster breakfast joint in Temecula called Toast. For the record, I did 100% of the waiting for my friends, who apparently took longer than the purported "5 minutes" to get ready.


Holy moly it was amazing! We had fancy coffees and alcoholic drinks and crepes and creme brulee French toast and shrimp + grits and a bacon flight and crab eggs benedict and avocado toast... whew!


I'm not lying, it was AMAZING...


Then I went home to be with my kids and do Sunday stuff, feeling refreshed and recharged and like The Best Mom Ever. Which is the real value of a weekend away, isn't it? Yes it is.

Oh man it's just occurring to me now that I didn't really post anything about the actual wines we sampled. I guess I dare not tread into the "wine critic" zone since I don't have any formal training in wine tasting whatsoever, but I WILL share the highlights of each winery we visited in a quick breakdown, from one layperson to another:

Doffo.
Pros:
Their Paulina Sparkling Wine is definitely delicious, and at a price point of $25.00, totally reasonable. I have regrets about not grabbing a bottle. Some of my decisions were based on, "What do I want to carry?" Sadly, the answer to that is usually "Nothing."
Nice live music, pretty views, and cute Vespas for photo ops.
Cons:
I didn't try any other wines since I got there on the late side. The only con I can come up with is that it was a little sleepy for a late Friday afternoon, but you may see that as a bonus.

Churon Winery.
Pros:
Their Inn looked lovely! The tasting rooms are very French-themed and enjoyable to spend a lot of time hanging out with friends. It picked up in popularity by early afternoon on a Saturday.
My favorite wines were a couple of reds: I loved the 2013 Monastrell, and also the 2013 Estate Syrah. Loved! But the price points of $35.99 and $33.99, respectively, seemed steep for Temecula. My friends said they were "Napa prices for Temecula wine," so I passed on purchasing them. To be honest, I now have regrets about that.
Cons:
Grumpy staff might deny you taking a photo in a restricted area even if literally no one else is around. I just feel like she didn't need to be so forceful.

Baily.
Pros:
Lovely castle-like appearance, rose garden, and convenient location.
Their 2003 Vintage Port was amazing! I do love a really tasty port.
Cons:
Tiniest Tastings in Temecula. Almost like the size of someone spitting a bit of backwash into your glass (sorry).
The amazing Port, described above, was $67.00 - a bit steep for Temecula. Now I know I'm sounding really cheap, but I'm used to my local favorite (Orfila) which has an equally delicious port for much less. I didn't like any of the other wines, either.
Live music, but it was awful (sorry to the Dude who was murdering classic songs, but we all commented on it so it's not just me).
Dog waste in decorative planters.

Europa Village.
Pros:
Beautiful grounds with rose gardens, cabanas, and water misters.
Great staff - I should just leave it at that.
The wine was fantastic! I enjoyed many of the wines. I purchased two bottles of the 2016 Garnacha Rosa, a PERFECT rose wine. I have regrets about not getting more, but my friend is now a member there so I'm not feeling too bad about that. Also loved the 2013 Pinot Noir, seriously loved it - it is $36.00 and worth every penny, but they sell this one to members only. Honestly I enjoyed most of the reds I tried.
No cons.

Well thanks for looking, and I hope my post encouraged a visit to our lovely northerly neighbor that is Temecula Wine Country.

Happy sipping!
xo ;)





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