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Monday, March 23, 2009

Day Trip To Temecula

























The wife and I celebrated an Anniversary over the weekend and managed to get some time away from the kids for a day and decided to finally make the pilgramage to Wine Country Temecula as well as Old Town Temecula. Dropping the kids off at my brothers in Mission Viejo, the somewhat overcast skies and colder weather was almost a welcome sight given the high heat Temecula is traditionally known for. Hitting the road at 11am we decided to take the 74 Ortega Highway all the way across to Lake Elsinore. As a lifelong OC'er believe it or not this was my first time taking the 74. Funny that 10 minutes into the drive you cant believe that this is OC. The mountainous landscape almost seems more like Wyoming or Utah then anything a stones throw away. We put on a CD and enjoyer the leasurely 45 minute or so drive turning off onto the shoulder to let motorcycles and big rigs pass.


Arriving into Wine country and knowing time was limited-We hit three that were in close proximity wineries in the Hart, Stuart, and Mt Palomar wineries. There were a few that had gotten very good reviews but were another 20 or so minutes down the road and being our first trip to Temecula Wine Country we didnt really have our mind set on anything specific.

The first we visited was the Stuart Winery, The wine itself was unremarkable and while the Winery's interior was pleasant and well furnished they didnt serve food or anykind of small snacks to enjoy while sampling their wines. It seemed a bit crowded and a tad on the pretentious side. Not badmouthing them-but easily the worst/least impressive of the 3 we went to.

Mt Palomar was next on the Tour. We may not have stopped had it not been for one of the locals mentioning it to us back at Stuart. The best winery of the 3 we went in terms of a great looking winery with a wonderful atmosphere. We ordered a Sicilian style Pizza and a baked brie bread bowl and shared a glass of their syrah. They gave us a nice heavy pour and since the wife and I were splitting it, was much appreciated. The food was very good and paired nicely but the real story here was the atmosphere. Suited on a rolling hillside dotted with red and purple flowers it has such a nice tranquil vibe to it I would love to go back. I told the wife that even if the wine was mediocre the atmosphere was well worth the trip. Better yet, an Irish folk band played some music that really helped as well. Very cool as this quartet had a harp player, a flute player, a guitarist, and a guy playing a traditional irish drum. Had I the time, it really would have been the perfect place to spend the afternoon but the time was short and precious so alas we had to carry on. I joked with wife that I would have loved to strip down and frolic in the flower fields had time permitted. There is something about baked Brie, Wine, and Harp Music that really does soothe the soul.

The last winery we visited was the Hart winery. Known for their dry reds and whites, I felt of the three wineries strictly based on the quality of wine-this was the best. Probably a good thing as the winery itself was that of the no frills variety. Set inside an unassuming large barn type building it was almost the polar opposite of the the Mt Palomar winery. Their really was no lounge or drinking area apart from a gravel entry way and some typical fiberglass picnic tables with bench style combo seats on the side. The people working the counter were very friendly though as the 10 wine taster we paid for was based on the honor system. As for the wine, they all had a nice pronounced oak to them and the Zinfandel was very nice. Not as fruit forward as the prototypical Zin it had a bit more depth was a nice finish. We only had 7 or 8 samples before we decided to head but not before petting the wineries dog who seemingly owned the premises and went were he saw fit. A plastic container filled with Saltines was the food but heck-it was more the Stuart Winery offered.

After that we made our way towards Old Town Temecula. There was a bit of a crowd and parking was not exactly plentiful as we discovered that it was the Annual Temecula Blue Grass Festival. While they had a main stage area we later discovered the draw to the festival was they openly encouraged people to brings their own instruments and jam on each and every corner. Basically, every corner saw some collection of middle aged white guys in overalls and/or straw cowboy hats belting out bluegrass tunes. After the 3 wineries it felt good to be walking the streets and enjoying the air and the music and the overall nice vibe the area had. The old buildings with their historical designations made the walk down the block interesting as did browsing through a couple of the antique stores.

A couple of highlights for sure were the Gourmet Olive Oil Shop as well as the Cheese Shop. The Temecula Olive Oil company specializes in olive oils and vinegars but their presentation is really an example of very smart business sense. Much like a tasting room at a winery the back area has a bar where a worker gives small sample of various oils and vinegars and gives some information about each. When I first walked in I noticed most of the oils and vinegars were 14 to 18 bucks-a price I would surely have balked at had they been at the local Trader Joes. But after tasting them the price seemingly didnt seem so high to get a bottle of olive that literally was good enough to drink. It was odd standing at the counter and actually feeling a bit of disappointment the lady wasnt giving a better pour of Olive Oil I was simply going to drink. Another example of that came sample the Vanilla and Fig vinegar. No secret that Im one who enjoys the world of culinary arts and mixology and I couldnt help but think the Fig and Vanilla Vinegar could actually be used in a White Russian and fit in nicely. We settled on a couple of bottles of Dipping Sauces, a Pomegranite Balsamic, and some Garlic Olive Oil that I can wait to drizzle of some ravioli, capers, and sundried tomatoes. Once again-this was clearly the best Olive Oil Ive ever tasted and as long as there are people willing to sample the oil first hand-the Temecula Olive Oil Company will never be short of customers.

Continuing down Old Temecula Front street we came to the cheese shop. It smelled just like a cheese shop would smell and while I would have loved to sit on the patio with a glass of wine and listen to the sole electric guitar player belt out his self proclaimed "mood" music our time was running short. We picked up a Sample tray that came with 4 Gourmet Cheeses, a small assortment of Olives and Dried Fruit, and a mini baguette figuring we would take it back to my brother and his wifes home since they were nice enough to watch our kids for the afternoon. Much like the olive oil shop-every cheese we sample back home was worth every cent. I normally would have felt the 17 bucks or so for the sample a bit hefty price considering the somewhat smaller portions but once we started in it was apparent this really was a quality of cheese I wasnt accustomed to. The cream of the crop was the Roquefort. It literally exploded in your mouth with even the smallest crumble packed with flavor. The Havarti dill was also expertly crafted as the dill was nicely balanced with the creamy niuance the havarti brought forward. The last two was a Sharp Italian Asiago and a brie. I didnt even try the brie as I was still recovering the baked brie at Mt Palomar and Asagio was wonderful but compared to the previous 2 cheese seemed like an also ran.

Finishing out the day we stpped at the red outdoor porch patio of Mad Madelines burgers for a cold drink and a burger before we started the drive home. This was certainly the best place for people watching bar none. We ordered a cold beer to split and as promised the Ice Cold mug made for a nice tough. We split a burger combo as well and while the burger and fries were good the 11 buck price tag seemed a bit steep compared with quality you would get at the Counter or Combo #2 at In n Out for half the price. Good burger overall with the serving size of the fries leaving a bit to be desired. I couldnt help but think during one of the 100+ degree Temecula Summers that the Ice Cold Mug of beer is incredibly undervalued.

Overall though, a great way to spend a day. The Wife and I had a wonderful time as did my brother and his wife as we shared the cheese combo and dipping sauce back in OC after the roughly 90 minuted drive.

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