Temecula:  The Little Wine Country That Could

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The first thing you pick up on meeting the folk of Temecula Valley wine country is that they love where they live and what they do.  Take one part wine, two parts passion, add family, and you get a blend of people dedicated to their craft of wine making and their lifestyle in this best-kept-secret valley of Southern California.

Home to about three dozen wineries, a number that increases almost annually, Temecula is growing in popularity as a wine country destination in California, partly because of its warm and inviting hospitality and optimal climate for growing grapes but mostly because of its outstanding wines that continue to win national awards, often to the chagrin of their brethren wine makers to the north.

Temecula’s wine roots

Owner of Baily Vineyard and Winery, Phil Baily, a pioneer of the Temecula Valley winemaking business, recalled how he took a risk in 1986 when he announced his new winery would release its first vintage in the French Beaujolais nouveau tradition, after just a few weeks of fermenting.  Baily had beginners luck, earning the praise of wine aficionados and critics, including a Los Angeles Times reviewer, who helped put Baily on the map.  The rest is history.

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Now Baily helps his fellow winemakers hone their craft.  While his neighbors are his competitors, they all share the goal of making better and better wines in Temecula

Nick Palumbo, owner of Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery, a forty-something winemaker who is one of the youngest owners in the region, says the spirit of collaboration has made Temecula a great place to make wine.

“If I have a problem, I go to these guys who have been doing it for decades, and they make me work for the answer, but they share their education and expertise.  They understand that if one of us does well, we all do well,” says Palumbo.

Palumbo, a former New York indie rocker and chef, bought a farm and moved to the area in 1998.  He lives on the farm with cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens along with his wife and four children and says Temecula has answered his dreams of having a livelihood and lifestyle where he can spend quality time with his family and pursue his passion for marrying his love of food and music.

“Wine and food and music are all intrinsically related,” said Palumbo.  “It’s a great life.  We keep it simple.  We grow grapes, and we make wine.”

A Valley awash with passion

The note that repeats throughout conversations with denizens of the region is the good life that valley brings.  The small town feeling, where everyone knows everyone, is a point of pride for the people who live there, and it’s what attracts new growers to the area.

David Bradley is typical of the atypical winegrower who landed in Temecula.  At age 14 Bradley learned to pilot hot air balloons, and he and his wife Gail now own California Dreamin’ Balloon Adventures and Videmia Winery in Temecula.

As Bradley toured above the region’s vineyards, he met many of the characters in Temecula who made wine. He learned about their craft and shared facts and lore about the region with passengers. Bradley continued to educate himself, gleaning from his experience as a pilot who studied the subtleties of region’s climate, and utilizing his familiarity with science as the grandson of a chemist, and eventually he realized his dream of buying a vineyard and winery where today he and his wife and close-knit family of four boys make wine together and enjoy the bounty of the land.

After returning from a 6 am sunrise balloon tour, Bradley is just getting started with his day as the heat rises to 90 degrees, and it’s only 8:30 am.  He and his boys are showing some tourists the wonders of wine, with hands-on, or rather feet-on interaction, including a stomp competition where visitors smash grapes in a barrel barefoot to produce carafes of juice (don’t worry, it’s used in compost, not for drinking).

As Bradley stands in the shade of an umbrella by the winery’s makeshift restaurant, consisting of a bar and a mishmash of patio chairs and tables dressed with floral tablecloths and adorned with centerpieces of glass jars with olive branches, he removes his safari hat and runs his fingers through is shoulder length spiral-curly hair and reminisces with visitors about his love of wine and the Temecula lifestyle.  Just then, two of the family’s mutt dogs that roam the property dash through the crowd chasing a wild rabbit.  They don’t catch it, but the tourists delight in watching the dogs sniff around frantically in search of their prey.  Bradley looks at the crowd, as if to say, “Need I say more.”

Passion meets paradise

If you needed more convincing about the wonders of Temecula Valley, just ask Maria Mello, who worked at Vindemia as an intern, splitting her time between Palumbo’s winery and Vindemia Winery.  After studying winemaking techniques in France, Germany and South Africa, she connected via LinkedIn with Bradley and planned a trip out to see this budding wine country.

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Mello, who is now back in school pursuing her doctorate, was intrigued by Temecula as an up-and-coming wine country where she could bring her latest techniques and concepts to a place where viticulture was still blossoming and receptive to new ideas, rather than to areas like Napa or Sonoma, where she felt the old ways are more established. Upon meeting Bradley, Mello learned like many in the valley who know him and his family, Vindemia is a place where learning and challenging the expected is a lifelong passion, and it was a perfect proving ground for her as a budding winemaker.

The Temecula Valley way

The wineries of Temecula Valley are like each wine — each has its own unique flavor, personality and experience.  While the list of wineries is too long to inventory here in this article, and each winery cannot be summed up in a sentence, here are a few highlights of the Valley’s offerings.

Lorimar Vineyards and Winery boasts captivating views of the Valley and a philosophy that art and wine belong together, so they blend their handcrafted fruit-forward wines with live music, local art and gourmet food.

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Miramonte Winery is an artisan winery specializing in adventurous, succulent Rhone-based varietal wines.  This cliffside winery is also known for its gorgeous garden verandas, casual chic tasting room, and jam packed music and events calendar.

Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards, which offers lodging at the Wilson Creek Manor, is the most family oriented of the Temecula Valley wineries, with a playground for children and the welcoming party of Gerry and Rosie, the founding grande dame and gentleman of the winery, who frequently tour the property escorted by their pet pig Molly on a leash.

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Ponte Winery is a romantic getaway surrounded by 300 acres of mature vineyards and views of rolling hills. Ponte began farming the vineyards in 1984 and opened the winery in 2003. The winery’s excellent service has become a benchmark for great service among Temecula wineries. Their motto is “If you like it, it’s good wine.”

Maurice Car’rie Winery offers a charming arts and crafts fair every weekend, and features an inviting picnic grounds where patrons can browse the fair and enjoy a bottle of wine.

A few of the wineries offer accommodations in addition to the few hoteliers in the area, including Temecula Creek Inn, which features excellent restaurants on site and a unique 1800s bunkhouse for special events.

While a trip to the Valley to explore the wineries any time of year is worthwhile, the area hosts a number of events to showcase the wineries, such as tastings, art and crafts shows, and tours. Besides wineries, the area also offers quaint shops like the Temecula Lavender Company, the Old Town Sweet Shop, and the Temecula Olive Oil Company, which offers tastings of their variety of flavored olive oils. For kids, the Penny Pickle’s Workshop is a cornucopia of fun activities for curious young scientists and adventurers.

For more on the wineries in the area and what’s happening in Temecula Valley wine country, visit www.TemeculaWines.org.

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Lots to do, see, and eat at Santa Monica Pier

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The Off the Hook Santa Monica Seafood Festival attracted hundreds of visitors to sample tastes from local eateries.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., every visitor from out of town wanted to site see downtown — the White House, Washington Monument, the museums and the other landmarks and attractions. As a resident of LA, visitors asked me to show them the Hollywood sign, Sunset Boulevard, and always, my favorite tourist spot, the Santa Monica Pier.

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The Pier is a great place to people watch, shop for trinkets, play arcade games or ride thrill rides, or spend a casual day by the beach and even go fishing. In the evening there are plenty of great restaurants for every taste, and for those staying overnight, there are many wonderful luxury and boutique hotels. If visiting just for the day or weekend, here are our picks for places to go, see, dine and stay.

Sea and be seen, and eat

A great place for lunch or dinner is Del Frisco’s Grille, directly across from the Pier entrance at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. While this happening eatery is right on the beaten path, it’s glass-walled patio is a shelter from the crowd, while diners can still note the qualities of the people going by; or those at the buzzy bar or seated inside in the upscale dining room can take respite from the throngs of tourists outside. The menu includes signature entrees including a generously portioned non-fried lump crab cake and adorable aha mini tacos in a with avocado, spicy citrus mayo and fresh tuna tartar spilling out of them. Then menu describes their offerings aptly, such as large salads (Big Greens) ample burgers (Two-Fisted Sandwiches), and chef specialties (Knife & Fork) along with an array of signature steaks and fish, like the delicate parmesan lemon sole with arugula-crab salad, roasted tomato and chive-lemon butter. Save room for the incredible heap of Nutella bread pudding with coffee ice cream.

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Stay a while, leave no footprint

The Shore Hotel boasts ocean views, on Ocean Avenue, and it’s easy walking distance to the pier and many other Santa Monica attractions, including the bike path along the ocean and shopping, cinemas, and many restaurants. It’s a cleanly designed and chic hotel, with lots of glass and chrome, but despite its modernism, the hotel is known for being down to earth. It is a LEED-certified building, with building materials, paints, carpeting, bedding and other textiles within the hotel all conforming to the hotel’s eco-friendly policy. Sure hotels goes beyond simply asking people to reuse their bath towels, they provide a recycling trashcan in each room, and there are reminder signs throughout the hotel to encourage visitors to reuse and recycle.

 

Even the landscaping around the hotel uses recycled water and features region appropriate succulents. The pool is also solar heated, and conditioning in each room automatically goes off when the balcony door is opened to save energy. The rooms themselves are designed to let in lots of natural light, and since 90% of the rooms have an ocean view with plenty of daylight, there’s no need for artificial lights in the room during the daytime, and the lobby is equally light and airy with floor-to-ceiling glass windows to let in the light and show off the hotels spectacular setting across from the beach.

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Take a long walk on a historic pier

The Santa Monica Pier itself is a main attraction of the city. Like most boardwalks, it is a mix of souvenir shops and walk-up and casual restaurants offering custard ice cream, pizza, French fries, hot dogs on a stick and other typical fast food fare, along with a few sit-down restaurants, like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and an upscale option of The Lobster for fine dining.

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At the entrance of the pier, the beautiful historic carousel is only one dollar for rides and a must experience for children. There’s also an aquarium that while small in size has many exotic fish and is a great educational sidetrip for kids. For those who prefer their fish on the end of a hook, the Pier has license-free fishing, where my son snagged a spiny backed stingray — which we threw back, due to the the fellow fisherman warning us that fish caught there were contaminated because of pollution.

There is, of course, a noisy arcade with cranes and video games where you can spend $50 to win prizes worth about $2. The Pacific Park, located on the pier, offers midway games, like skee ball and the water balloon filling game, and an assortment of rides for all ages, including the West Coaster, a small but thrilling roller coaster. The rides can be expensive, up to $8 each for the premium rides, but you can purchase an all-day wristband for $29.95 for adults and $17.95 for kids under 7.

 

What is considered the boardwalk, a walkway along a strip of shops and restaurants adjacent to the pier, is known as a great place for people watching, where tourists can see street performers jump into piles of glass and the famed Jimi Hendrix on rollerblades often cuts through the crowds jamming on his electric guitar. The scene can get rather seedy at night, so usually families and kids start to disappear around nightfall, when the hippies burning sage and drum circles make their appearance.

Lounge around

If you enjoy a see-and-be-seen lounge atmosphere, head over to the Viceroy Hotel, an ocean front stylish boutique hotel known for its fashionable crowd and hipster happy hours. The hotel’s restaurant, CAST, features an eclectic menu of California cuisine with unexpectedly delicious food and flavor combinations artistically presented in a swanky atmosphere, at the poolside patio restaurant, with its Alice in Wonderland high-back chairs and black and white checkered tables. The restaurant has an award-winning weekend brunch, but get reservations early, or you will get left out of the in crowd.

Shop a while

Shopping in Santa Monica includes indoor and outdoor retail destinations. Besides the random boutiques, there is Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade plaza, which is basically a three-block-long outdoor mall of stores and restaurants, with a variety of food and drink offerings, from juice and smoothie bars to fine Italian dining at Locando del Lago. 3rd Street Promenade also features movie theaters and street performers, including one dead ringer for James Taylor who usually draws a huge crowd. The shops themselves are mostly retail chains, such as Banana Republic, GAP, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Pottery Barn but there are also a slew of independent stores worth checking out.

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A short walk away is Santa Monica Place, a galleria of upscale shops, such as Kate Spade A, Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, and Coach and healthy food offerings like True Food Kitchen, Fresh Healthy Café, and 40 Carots (inside Bloomingdale’s). The mall features concierge services and parking valet and other high-end services for the discerning shopper. The good and bad thing about Santa Monica Place is that it almost always seems deserted, so you can have the place to yourself, but you can also feel like you’re walking in a ghost town. 1280px-santa_monica_place_macerich

Six things to do while walking on a treadmill

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For the A-type tech junkie who likes to stay plugged in at all times, working on a treadmill desks is the ultimate multitask. Not only is walking while you work a great way to stimulate your mind and body to boost productivity, active lifestyle pundits like Kathleen Hale, founder of the Chair Free Project, point out that rising and moving instead of sitting all day at a desk could save your life.

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That’s right, sitting is the new smoking. Those long hours on your butt are not only the cause of what my desk-jockey cousin’s husband nick-named “spreading a**,” but sedentary habits are a factor in heart disease, diabetes, cancer and a host of other bad things that can happen to a body that sits too much.

So if you are so inclined to avoid overly reclining and chair sitting, here are some great tips for effectively using a treadmill…

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Change the clock and update your home safety

Today at 2 am clocks rolled back one hour to observe daylight savings time, which is also when safety experts recommend you check and change batteries on home smoke and CO detectors.

Taking a few minutes to swap out batteries could save your family’s life.  Most 9 volt batteries, which are the most commonly used in smoke and CO alarms, can last several years, but the minor expenses of about $4 per battery is worth the security and peace of mind of knowing your home is protected.

If your smoke detector is mounted in a place that is hard to reach, or if you don’t like to have to frequently change batteries, consider an alarm with a sealed lithium battery, such as the Kidde Worry-Free combination smoke and CO alarm. The system eliminates the need for up to 20 9-volt batteries, which is not only easier on the user but also saves the environment from the battery waste.worry-free-combo-smoke-and-co-with-voice-angleKidde products are sold at national retailers such as Home Depot and Walmart.  Depending on the features, smoke and CO alarms cost around $17 to $55.