Sometimes mama needs a time out, too. Not because she was naughty but because the kid’s whining, the chore’s dragging, the laundry piling, it can all become too much. To be a better mommy and wife, she sometimes needs to ditch the kids and the hubby and spend a weekend away with girlfriends. A restorative place to do this is in the rolling hills of the wine country in Temecula, California.
Taking that advice, my girlfriend, Lori, and I set off to do some serious relaxing, starting by checking into a villa at South Coast Winery Resort and Spa. Views of those rolling hills, with meandering grapevines, dipped into hollows just outside our French doors. As we walked into our spacious room, beside our two queen-sized beds, a massive bathroom contained a glass shower with a whirlpool hot tub — perfect to primp for a night out. A sofa sat in front of a gas-powered fireplace next to the French doors leading to our hillside vista. Everything was quiet and lovely. No one was there trying to get our attention, find a lost toy, wipe up a mess or make any sort of meal. Our souls already started to stretch their arms and lean back.
The resort has an on-site restaurant called Vineyard Rose. We had come from Los Angeles, fighting traffic every step of the way, so by the time we arrived and freshened up, it was on the later side of the evening. We ordered a bottle of wine only available in California because, our sommelier later told us, its farcical name, Group Therapy, could lead some people to believe it might be used in therapeutic ways. After we tasted it, we could imagine how that could be true: a bold, full palette, red-blend with notes of cherries and chocolate. We couldn’t resist buying some to bring home. Already, the wine resort was chilling us out. Then they brought the charcuterie platter, which was a piece of culinary art. A jagged sheet of crispy naan-type cracker separated the wooden cutting board into two sections filled with gourmet meats, cheeses, nuts and dried fruit. Honey with the comb still attached offered a pool of sweetness. Tiny bites, piled with savory and sweet layers, splashed with sips of the Group Therapy wine, set our taste buds on the course to bliss. Then, dinner put us there. Lori and I split the mile-high, juicy filet mignon and seared scallops. Truly a masterpiece of edible design.
We decided to explore the town since we had no kids and no reason to wake up early. We took a Lyft into Old Town Temecula, like walking onto the set of Gunsmoke. Most of the storefronts on the main drag called Old Town Front Street looked like saloons or cowboy shops. Because everything seemed new and clean, though, it didn’t feel weathered, just charming. We wanted to listen to live music and found it at Old Town Blues Club, where a cover band belted out 80s hits. The crowd was a mixed-age representation of the wine and farm community and most were in-state transplants who said they loved the slower pace of Temecula and the amount of land they could buy and still be in California.
The villas at South Coast Winery Resort and Spa are spaced along a private road leading away from the main tower of hotel rooms. Each cluster of four attached villas sits between patches of miniature vineyards. Branches of trees reached over and along lawn-lined paths. Our first morning was lovely, with the early summer sunshine poking its warmth from between the leaves as we walked around the resort. After, we enjoyed the GrapeSeed Spa where we steamed, sauna’d and hot-tubbed, until we were ready to go to the resort’s tasting room to start sampling the offerings of this up-and-coming wine country.
I started with a flight of reds and Lori ordered a mixed tasting. As we assessed the various blends, we shared our glasses with one another, maximizing our experience and appreciating our discoveries. We both fell in love with the wines created by Winemaker John McPherson and his assistant Javier Flores. Both men came from winemaking families, but because McPherson studied for many years in Burgundy, tasting room manager Heinz Hoffman said he took on a European style of winemaking. Hoffman, with a regal disposition and a full head of grey hair, giggled with us as we tasted. He explained the varieties, telling us elaborate stories about each, amused us with his sharp humor and reassured us, “There is no one way to experience wine. Everyone has a different palette.” So, if your friend claims she knows the best wines, you can tell her you do, too. But, I can say, if you enjoy bold, jammy reds, the Touriga Nacional, of the Wild Horse Peak label from the South Coast Winery collection, was a definite stand-out. Lori and I both purchased three different bottles each, which made the tastings free, and we couldn’t believe the great price of the wines, some of the best we had ever tasted. Hoffman said, “Dollar for dollar you’ll get much more here than in Napa.”
Across the long driveway that led from the main tower of the South Coast Winery Resort and Spa to the villas is Ponte Winery, also with a hotel and restaurant attached. We strolled over and had dinner in The Cellar Lounge, where a saxophone player belted out modern pop songs and everyone crowded the small dance floor. We really didn’t have to go anywhere and it would have been a complete weekend had we not, with South Coast Winery’s sister vineyard, Carter Estate Winery and Resort, just down the street. But, we felt like this momcation was soon coming to an end and we wanted to make the most of it, so we hailed another car and made our way back to Old Town Temecula to discover more boutique experiences.
Our explorations brought us to Crush and Brew, like three bars in one. We sampled snacks in the front part of the establishment, with tables and a bar separating the eating area from a stage in the back, where a duo performed more great live music. Then, we overheard a conversation at another table with the words “hidden speak-=easy” within it. Turns out, there was a staircase, behind curtains and shadows, that led to a basement area with a hostess telling patrons who wanted to visit this clandestine spot there would be a two-hour wait. When we finally went inside, through the facade of a bank-vault door, we could see why. It wasn’t a huge area but it was decorated in old frontier furniture with western backdrops and servers clad in period costume. Everything was synced to make guests feel like they had stepped back into the old west at Thompson & Twain Prospecting Co. Our bartender played his part and produced exotic drinks that involved fire and fresh herbs.
The next morning, after we checked out of our villa, we headed back to Old Town Temecula for a delicious brunch at 1909. The restaurant offers creative concoctions like my Veggie Benny that was poached eggs over a beefsteak tomato topping wilted spinach, broccoli and cauliflower, then drizzled with a tomato hollandaise sauce. Lori chose the Banana Kahlua French Toast, fresh-baked brioche, bananas, Kahlua whipped cream and sprinkled cocoa powder. Okay, we shared.They told us they were famous for Bloody Marys so we had to find out why. We strolled along the plank-lined main street and bought handmade soaps and funny t-shirts for the kids whom we were starting to miss. If it sounds like there was a lot of food, drinks and free time on our trip, there was, because how could it be a mommycation without it?
You’ve heard of pub crawls, where beer enthusiasts explore a new city by visiting — and tasting — bars and pubs in the company of an expert guide. Well, this year, visitors to New York City can have a similar experience tailor-made for kids and anyone in the family who loves dessert. Sugartooth Tours created a destination tour of Manhattan called Village to Village Cupcake and Cookie Crawl.
By Hainan Airlines
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