TEMECULA VALLEY Southern California Wine Country - "With more winey restaurants than any other California wine region, Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country's talented chefs expertly pair premium, award-winning varietals with fresh, local, seasonal, sustainably grown, farmed, and ranched foods in a celebration of natural affinity. For visitors - including culinary travelers, enotourists, and wine enthusiasts - as the annual grape harvest and California Wine Month approach, this is an excellent time to stay, experience, and savor the casual and picturesque Temecula Valley. To inspire the journey and potential food-and-wine pilgrimages (from Uptown Temecula then east out Rancho California Road), we are happy to introduce 5 of many Celebrated and award-winning Chefs and Restaurants. From E.A.T. - Extraordinary Artisan Table and Café Champagne, to Meritage at Callaway, Pinnacle at Falkner, and the Vineyard Rose," announced Kimberly Adams, Visit Temecula Valley president and CEO. "Midweek is especially ideal; less-busy weekdays make for potential opportunities to meet talented and passionate chefs, winemakers, and winemaking family members. Hotels and resorts also offer appealing Sunday-through-Thursday (better-than-weekend) nightly room-rates." Located 1-hour from San Diego, Orange County, and Palm Springs; and 1½ hours from Los Angeles and Hollywood, the popular boutique destination includes Downtown Old Town Temecula, Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country, and Pechanga Resort & Casino.
1-Chef Leah DiBernardo, E.A.T. - Extraordinary Artisan Table (Tu-F, 10am-8pm; Sa-Su, 8am-3pm)
E.A.T. good-food founder and executive chef, Leah DiBernardo - one of Temecula Valley's most ardent champions of local foods, loves to cook with fresh, local produce and sustainable meats from small family ranches "because the flavors are so bold and so true." Having had the privilege of working with Alice Waters on Slow Food events and Edible Garden trainings, Chef Leah (co-leader of Slow Food Temecula Valley with 26 school gardens) credits Waters with inspiring her to "be fearless with simple ingredients and to let them shine in all their beautiful glory." That beautiful farm-to-plate glory includes fresh, organic eggs in the daily frittata; roasted, local pork belly in sandwiches; and truly vine-ripened tomatoes on flatbread. Located in Uptown Temecula amidst Temecula Hotel Row and with knowledgeable servers, the casual, friendly, award-winning, locally grown eatery and marketplace serves breakfast; lunch; "social hour" (3pm-5pm; flatbreads, paninis, cheeseboards; local wines and craft beers); and good and fresh dinners (steak, chicken, roasted vegetables; dine-in or to-go-go). The abundance of offerings also includes vegan, veggie, and gluten-free menu items; and monthly cooking classes like Paleo/whole foods and gluten-free baking.
2-Chef Steve Pickell, Café Champagne at Thornton Winery (Su-Th, 11am-8pm; F-Sa, 11am-9pm)
Café Champagne executive chef Steve Pickell trained under "environmentally conscious cuisine" champion Nora Pouillon who inspired his early interest in organic and sustainable foods. Later he worked under renowned California chef Jeremiah Tower. These influences nurtured his culinary philosophy for "using fresh, seasonal ingredients and creating simple, clean flavors that compliment." Consistently recognized with the Gold Award for Contemporary Cuisine by the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association, Café Champagne was Temecula Valley Wine Country's first winery restaurant and is one of its finest. In his 20 years at Café Champagne, Chef Steve has "watched the valley grow from its early years with the introduction of many fine wineries and wine country restaurants." Described as "contemporary fusion cuisine," the Café Champagne lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch menus include fresh, seasonal dishes, and recommended wine pairings with Thornton premium-varietal still wines as well as sparkling wines (available by-the-glass and by-the-bottle). Located in the heart of the 20-acre Thornton vineyard estate, Café Champagne is popular as a romantic dining-destination and for its special holiday menus. Also to experience are Thornton Winery Champagne Jazz concerts (May through October); the most popular tickets are offered with Gourmet Supper.
3-Chef Michael Henry, Meritage at Callaway Vineyard & Winery (M-Th, 11am-4pm; F-Su, 11am-9pm)
"Local is always better," affirms Meritage at Callaway executive chef Michael Henry, a sincere advocate genuinely appreciative for the bounty of foods from local growers, farmers, and ranchers. World travels have greatly influenced Chef Michael's culinary approach including the philosophy of "shopping for the day." He believes "life experience is the greatest teacher for a chef; working for talented people and having passion." At award-winning Meritage with panoramic views of the 20-acre Temecula Valley estate from the multi-tiered vineyard terrace, Chef Michael's philosophies are reflected in the use of the freshest, local, sustainable, and organic ingredients available to create tapas, salads, and entrées with a Mediterranean flair that accentuate Callaway wines' flavor, body, and character. The highly praised, diverse, seasonal, lunch and dinner menus are deliciously big with flavor and variety; and include Callaway wine-pairing suggestions (available by-the-glass and as-a-taste). Also to experience are Sangria Sundays (beginning at 5pm; live music starts at 5:30pm); the menu (seasonal tapas buffet or perhaps burger barbecue or pig roast) changes weekly, and the sangria is made fresh by Chef Michael using bottles of Callaway wine and fresh fruit in-season.
4-Chef Gianni Cicilliot, The Pinnacle at Falkner Winery (Daily/7 days, 11:30am-3:30pm)
With garden-to-table lovingly instilled by Italian parents, his heritage is a natural fount for the creative and healthful Mediterranean-American cuisine executive chef Gianni Cicilliot creates at the award-winning, hilltop Pinnacle restaurant overlooking the 24-acre vineyard estate. He attended The Culinary Institute of America, Napa Valley, and apprenticed at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel where he worked alongside lavishly praised chefs - even meeting culinary legend Paul Bocuse. Chef Gianni believes that Mediterranean cuisine consistent with a Mediterranean diet is "a healthy, delicious way to eat" and likes to use "quality ingredients in a simple yet bold way." Healthy, delicious, simple, and bold are the appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta, and entrées, including gluten-free and vegan Pinnacle menu items. In a potentially reverent nod to Temecula Valley Wine Country's agricultural preserve known as the Citrus/Vineyard zone, the Mediterranean chicken is marinated with fresh, local Glen Oaks organic lemon then pan-seared and oven-finished with sautéed fresh tomato, asparagus, shallots, garlic, basil, white wine, and organic lemon. Also to experience are Falkner Winery's fun and educational, Wine Appreciation Classes that include lunch; the monthly sessions are popular with both wine novices and experts.
5-Chef Mike Terry, Vineyard Rose at South Coast Winery (Daily/7 days, 8am-9pm)
"When I talk to people who are experiencing Temecula Valley Wine Country for the first time, they are always so pleasantly surprised that it is so special here. That is the way I feel every day," shares Vineyard Rose executive sous chef Mike Terry. Attracted to Temecula Valley by beautiful views of the estate vineyards and rolling hills; the quality, premium-varietal wines; and fresh, quality, local seasonal ingredients, Chef Mike helped open the Vineyard Rose restaurant 8 years ago. He is inspired daily to create California Wine Country Cuisine using natural California beef, fresh seafood, and local and estate-grown vegetables and herbs. Vineyard Rose serves breakfast; lunch; an afternoon lounge menu (appetizers, South Coast wines by the glass or as a flight of three); and dinner, Monday-through-Friday; brunch and dinner, Saturdays-and-Sundays. The casually elegant, Tuscan-inspired restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating is popular as a romantic dining-destination and for its special holiday menus. Also available by advance reservation at the 38-acre South Coast Winery estate, are private Chef's Table Dinners; the indoor or outdoor/alfresco fine-dining experiences include a customized 5-course menu paired with award-winning South Coast wines.
*Information is believed accurate but may be subject to change.
ABOUT TEMECULA VALLEY AND THE Visit Temecula Valley
With natural gifts of climate and geography, bolstered by Pu'eska Mountain, the Rainbow Gap, and the Santa Margarita Gap, Temecula Valley is widely recognized for its quality wines and wineries as Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country. The popular boutique destination received TripAdvisors' Travelers Choice "Best U.S. Wine Destination Top 10" award and includes a trio of main attractions: Downtown Old Town Temecula, Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country, and Pechanga Resort & Casino.
Visit Temecula Valley, the region's official tourism marketing organization and resource for visitors, is online at VisitTemecula.org; "Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country" on Facebook; and @Visit_Temecula on Twitter. Temecula Valley Visitors Center in Downtown Old Town Temecula (Third Street and Mercedes adjacent the free Old Town Temecula Parking Garage) is open 7 days. For visitor information and assistance, call 888/363-2852 or 951/491-6085.