Wine Country History
Mediterranean in California: Temecula Wine Country
Temecula: the jewel of Riverside County. Chateaus shrouded in gentle morning mist, Italian villas dotting the picturesque river valley, a culture steeped in family-owned wine production—it feels more like the Mediterranean than the Inland Empire. You are just a short drive from savoring the irresistible charm of rural vineyards, cozy bed and breakfasts, and the charming Old Town of Temecula Wine Country.
But how did a rural Spanish mission on the edge of an empire become the home of wine aficionados, thrilling resort casinos, and one-of-a-kind antique hunting in a Western-themed saloon city? You’re about to find out…..
Temecula Wine Country is a storied region that makes the perfect getaway from LA or San Diego. If riding above the valley in a hot air balloon, sampling handmade wines in a vineyard estate, and trotting horseback through one of California’s most historic regions sounds like fun, you’re in the right place. They say that good wine needs no bush, but we can’t help but tell the story of where it all started and how the Temecula Valley became the world famous draw it is today.
Ancient Temecula: the Place of the Sun
Long before the award-winning wineries and historic Old Town shopping experience, the Temecula Valley was inhabited by the Luiseno tribe. The Spanish explorers that arrived centuries later were not the first to realize how bountiful the valley’s soil was. The same land that now bears grapes for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also bore seeds, berries, fruits, and vegetables for the Luiseno. The natives of this area were notable for how varied and nutritious their diet was.
Their legacy lives on in the very name of the land: Temecula, or “place of the sun”.
Spanish Temecula: the Mediterranean of the New World
The first European explorers to arrive in the area were Spanish missionaries. These “padres” came with the mission of converting the local population and creating an outpost in the new world. Temecula was on the edge of a fledgling empire, but the Padres found a comfort that reminded them of home—the climate. The Temecula Valley enjoys a unique microclimate unlike anywhere else in the region. Warm, dry summers and cool, mild winters reminded the friars more of Cartagena or Catania then California. Their minds quickly turned to the most important comfort of home: wine.
When California was ceded to the United States, settlers and businessmen moved in from all regions, eventually leading to tension between the Luiseno, Mexicans, and Americans. But through the tension, the area began to thrive. Especially in 1858 after Temecula became a stop on the Butterfield Overland Stage route, a vital link between colonial East and frontier West. Temecula was now officially a hub of commerce in the region.
Did you know?: Temecula Wine Country wineries have won over 5,000 domestic and international awards? And it all started at a Spanish mission! The area is also now one of the trendiest locations for destination weddings!
The Birth of Temecula Wine Country
Through the 19th century, Temecula was home to frontier businessmen, gunslingers, displaced Confederate soldiers, and settlers on their way to new lands seeking a better life. Even though winemaking was a tradition of the earlier Spanish Padres, winemaking in the region didn’t boom for another century; however, Temecula was home to establishments of another sort: speakeasies. Through the period of American Prohibition, Temecula’s isolation helped it thrive in the illegal alcohol industry. This was the first sip of the next beverage industry that was about to come.
By the 1960’s, wine lovers saw potential in Temecula to be America’s rival to Bordeaux and Tuscany. With rolling hills, a backdrop of high mountains, and a great climate for agriculture, the region is prime real estate for growing grapes of all varieties. Vince and Audrey Culirizo pioneered the wine industry in the area, planting the first grapes of the modern era. The potential of the area drew the Callaway family (of golf fame), and it all took off from there. Many, including the folks at UC Davis, said that Temecula was too hot for growing grapes. They wanted to prove them wrong!
The draw of the valley brought in many more wine connoisseurs, but it wasn’t until the I-15 highway brought a housing boom that the cork was popped on the Temecula Wine Country. In 1984, it was recognized as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) for its unique climate.
“All we wanted to do was make good wine and get people coming here.” – Vince & Audrey Culirizo
What was once a sleepy outpost on the edge of Mexico is now an American cultural hotbed. Temecula is the largest wine-producing region in Southern California today, and is unique for its accessibility. Most wineries are small, family-owned operations. Their production isn’t large enough to be sold in big stores. That means each experience is humble and personable. It’s common to meet the winemaker in their tasting room.
The friendly and personable atmosphere is a welcomed change of pace from the frantic life back on the coast. That’s what drew visitors to spend a record $700 million dollars in 2016 in Temecula Valley!
Temecula Highlights: What to do in the Valley
Temecula Wine Country now boasts over 40 wineries churning out over 500,000 cases a year. But wine is just the valley’s premier offering, not the only bottle on the shelf!
With stunning natural gifts and a convenient location, Temecula has turned into a boutique travel destination. Antique shopping, cozy inns, five-star dining, and golf outings stand alongside thrilling casino fun and exciting outdoor equine activities. Visitors come from LA, San Diego, and around the world to experience the wonders of the area. Highlights include:
- Old Town: Complete with Old Western architecture, charming shops, and great spots for antique hunting.
- Pechanga Resort and Casino: Las Vegas in your own backyard! The largest casino floor in California offers non-stop, heart pumping action.
- Concerts, Events, and Wine Tastings: Chocolate, classic cars, bluegrass—there’s an event for all tastes, and it’s always paired with a great glass of wine!
Aside from that, there’s:
- Guided Wine Tours
- Hot Air Balloon Rides
- Day Spas
- Old Town Temecula Nightlife
And much more!
From the ancient Luiseno to the hoards of modern day tourists that descend on the valley year round, the climate and rich soil of Temecula Valley Wine Country continue to bear fruit. It took centuries, but this sleepy village is now Southern California’s top wine growing region and hub of wine tourism and viticulture.