A few weeks ago, one of my best friends (since 6th grade!) and I took a little road trip down to Southern California to visit another one of our best friends. I’ve known my friend in SoCal since we were wee little tykes in Kindergarten. The three of us went to the same elementary school, high school (part of the time), and two of us college together. Although we’ve all “grown up” in a sense, we are still the best of friends and stick together!
We hit the road early Friday morning, with our sights set on Sunny San Diego/Temecula! If you live in California, you might know that central-northern CA is basically sweltering all summer long, and SoCal is typically a bit cooler. We were stoked for that cooler weather. Around 1.5hours into our 8+hour drive tragedy struck. The air conditioner stopped working. STOPPED working in 90+ degree weather. Needless to say, much of the car ride was spent like this:
Ok, back to the point of this whole post!
Being the Northern California gal that I am, I unknowingly figured all the fun wine tours happened up here…boy was I wrong. My friend had set up for us to participate in a “Jeep Wine Tour”. From the Sunrider Tour website, “Join us for an unforgettable getaway in Wine Country. On our Full Sevice Wine Safari you will be thrilled sampling up to 24 different Wines. We will guide you and your friends (2-6 passengers per Jeep or groups up to 18 persons) on a safe open air or covered “Fun Jeep” Trek through Scenic Vineyards and show you sights that no other tour can. Our Fun Tour Guides will share their interesting insight on Temecula’s Wine, Wineries and the area’s history.”
A “Fun Jeep Tour” in which the website tells you to dress casual? WIN! I don’t mind getting “fancy”, but I am just a more casual laid back girl by nature, so this sounded absolutely perfect.
In the weeks leading op to our visit, my friend also informed us that these tours do “off-roading”. I basically brushed that part of the description off, but it quickly becomes part of what I loved so much about the tour. More on that later.
The day of our tour, Adam (one of the owner’s of the company!) calls my friend to confirm the address, and let her know he will be there shortly. This wine tour has pickup areas throughout the town of Temecula, but if you are a resident, they actually pick you up AT your house! Major cool points, if you ask me! After she gets off the phone, she informs us that she thinks Adam is actually going to be our guide for the day. Sure enough, less than 15 minutes later, our yellow chariot arrives, Adam as the driver.
Now, when I pictured a wine tour/tour guide, I always pictured a stuffy/snooty person in formalwear. When the jeep pulled up, I was taken aback because this was anything BUT that. Adam (best.guide.ever.HOLLLLLA!) is wearing casual jeans/button down, military hat, Ray Bans and has a cool guy mustache! I knew immediately that this was MY kind of tour! We quickly hit the road, our hair blowing in the wind and good tunes blasting (he seriously had the best music mix!).
Our first stop of the day was “Wiens Family Cellars”. Now, let this be known; I am NOT a big fan of reds…so when I read this: “Of all the Temecula wineries, Wiens is known for its quality red wines”, I knew it probably wouldn’t be the place for me. Luckily, they had a nice variety of whites for as well. My favorite, hands down (and this is going to show you just how girly/unsophisticated my wine tastes are) was the Dulce Maria, found on the “desert wine” menu! It was somewhat sweet, and tropical tasting (again with the sophistication!).
After Wiens, we hit the road for our next stop. About 3 minutes in, however, I notice we are heading toward a dirt road and he is not turning to stay on the *actual* paved road. Then, all of a sudden, the “Indiana Jones” music starts playing blasting. The next thing I know, we are full on off-roading through the dirt roads of Temecula. My friend was 100% right when she said it was an Off-Roading wine tour. If you have ever been to Disneyland/Disneyworld, and have ridden the “Indiana Jones” ride, just imagine that, paired with and awesome tour guide, your best friends, and good wine. By far one of the most fun experiences ever!
I attempted to take a video, unfortunately, I was not recording…bummer!
Did you know, wine price is associate with the barrel price/barrel quality, because that “oak” taste you get is determined by the quality of the barrel? Additionally, “cheaper” wines like “Two Buck Chuck” actually purchase “used” recycled wine barrels, grind up the wood, and actually use the wood chips to make their wine? The chips are strained out prior to bottling, but this is done to give it a faux “oakey” taste…who’d thought?
After our barrel room tour, he took us outside to show us the equipment used to store whites. My memory is failing me (or maybe it was the wine) but I don’t remember a ton about this part. I know that the holding containers were temperature regulated. He allowed guests to sample directly from the holding tank, which I thought was pretty neat! So fresh!
At the beginning of the wine tour, he passed around a menu for Cosi, and we all selected our lunch option. At the second venue, the nice folks at Cosi actually delivered our order, and we were able to enjoy a nice meal outside! (side note: I loved my sandwich from Cosi, and you would think from my enjoyment I was given some sort of gourmet cuisine! We need one of these in Northern California, PRONTO…and yes, I have done my homework, there are ONLY two CA locations, none of which are less than an 8hr drive. Lol) Anyway, where was I…. Adam gave us a little background of this vineyard, explaining that it was actually his business partners parent’s vineyard (which I think explains why were able to have lunch delivered, rather than eat the food there). The other two groups that were with us went inside for their tasting after lunch, but Adam, being the fantastic guide that he was actually brought the wine TO us, out on the patio so we could continue enjoying the views! We even enjoyed special “wine-club members only” wine from this vineyard! Score! We were able to chat and really savor our tastings, all the while learning about how he got started with the wine tours and answer our questions.
Adam explained that he and his business partner (and longtime friend) thought that having vehicles more suitable for the terrain of Temecula, along with a more laid back tour experience was the way to go, and boy is he right! I can’t even imagine limousines taking the back roads we took to get to some of the wineries! Adam grew up in the area, actually working tractors in the vineyards as a young man. He is VERY knowledgeable about the agriculture aspect, along with the actual wine.
He said that in their first month, they had only a scarce amount of bookings, and he actually thought they might have to just cut their losses…but then in the following month, their business grew substantially just by word of mouth! We really lucked out by having Adam as our guide, as he told us mid-tour that since business has picked up, he has had to do more of the “business” aspect of the tours (insurance meetings, hiring, etc) but that his true passion and enjoyment comes from actually doing the tours. If you do any sort of search for “Sunrider Wine Tours” you will see that the ratings are phenomenal, and it’s obvious why! He was just so personable, and knowledgeable about the area/vineyards/wine/etc.
Ok, back to the tour. After our bellies were full, we headed to our 3rd stop, Danza Del Sol. This location was under construction, and not very pretty on the eyes…but they had some awesome varieties. When I walked up, I noticed two road bycyles parked outside, and figured it must have been some of the workers…oh no, it was these folks! At least they had helmets? Hehehe
We had a very “fresh” pourer (it was her first day, and she looked all of 21), who was VERY generous with our pours! I actually purchased a bottle of the Orange Muscat, and can’t wait to enjoy it!
Our last stop of the day (and my favorite, as far as service goes!) was Stuart Cellars. The atmosphere there was just so fun, and our pourer was a little spitfire! Plus, she gave me chocolate with one of my pours, so how could I NOT like this one best? Hehe. I also purchased a nice Pino Grigio here, and really lucked out! When I got to the register, I was told that it was 50% off for the day! SWEET!
Adam then took us back to my besties, all the while still playing awesome tunes (um, “We Trying To Stay Alive – Wyclef?? yeeeeeah!)
This was seriously some of the most fun I’ve had in YEARS. I would recommend this tour to anyone that is looking for a nice laid back day out! The location is close enough to the Orange County/LA/SD area to make a short day-trip out of it. While Temecula isn’t the most “poppin” place, it is a very cute little town, and you could even stay the night there at one of the many hotels, and enjoy the tour that way!
I give Sunrider Tours an A+, and our guide, Adam, an A++!
Some of my other favorites from our road trip include the following: