As You Like It
Temecula Wineries: Ponte Winery and Bottaia Winery
Ponte, a picturesque and fun SoCal winery– along with its more sophisticated sister winery, Bottaia– offers something for everybody.
Once upon a time, Temecula wineries were scoffed at by their sun-kissed cousins to the north—becoming a subject of derision by wine sophisticates who considered “Southern California wine” an oxymoron.
There was some validity for that scorn, all having to do with factors like PH balance, too-dry soil, grape-destroying pests and, perhaps, the less-than-illustrious image that parts of the region possess … at least to some.
No more. Today, thanks to improved farming methods such as canopy management, proper vine balance and better irrigation practices—along with planting varietals suited to Temecula’s Mediterranean climate—the region is a veritable cornucopia of grapey goodness, all within an hour’s drive of San Diego, Palm Springs and Orange County.
The “Hospitalian” Way
One of the more notable of the 40 or so wineries in the Temecula region is the Ponte Winery and its sister winery, Bottaia. Heading the wine family is Claudio Ponte—a native-born Venezuelan of Italian descent. Claudio has been in the wine growing game for decades, and should you sit down with him at any one of his wineries (including the newly acquired Hawks View Winery in Oregon), he’ll be happy to wax rhapsodic on how Temecula’s wineries have evolved into some of California’s finest. Or, you could just visit either of the wineries and “taste and see” for yourself. At Ponte or Bottaia, you’re allowed to be yourself—whether you’re someone who knows next to nothing about wine or a wine sophisticate who can tell with one whiff a wine’s exact origin and year (and whether it has a “hint of” gym socks or barnyard dirt).
No wine snobs here. The Ponte motto says it all: “If you like it, it’s good wine.” While that definitely precludes your average “brown bag vino” (because fortified cough syrup isn’t wine), this egalitarian motto conveys a hospitality philosophy that goes beyond just good service. Specifically, “What you do for someone” matters just as much as “How you make someone feel.” Ponte calls this approach, “The art of being a ‘Hospitalian.’” He didn’t invent the term, but he’s nonetheless adopted it as his own—ensuring that visitors to both Ponte and Bottaia wineries are treated like family … yes, even that “crazy aunt” who shows up all fussy and disgruntled after being stuck in traffic (and life).
Both Ponte and Bottaia share spectacular scenery with rolling hills and seasonal snow-capped peaks coupled with grape-friendly warm days and cool nights. They’re also both located near a slew of activities such as hot air ballooning, horseback riding, golfing, boating and cycling. (If you have a penchant for the “one-armed bandit” sport of “ca-ching-there-goes-my change,” nearby Pechanga Casino is there to help you lose your shirt … or, if fortune favors you, acquire a new wine-tasting wardrobe.) But while the two wineries may be only be located a mile from each other, they’re also distinctly different.
Viva La Difference
Ponte. Opened in 2011 and located on a scenic 300 acres, Ponte has been dubbed a “Disneyland for wine-lovers”: popular, charming, casual … and loads of fun. This winery is targeted to people who love wine but who don’t necessarily know a lot about wine. Their fully immersive winery experience includes a large, open-beamed tasting room, a four-diamond luxury hotel, a full-service bar and two award-winning restaurants. With its private enclaves and beautifully manicured gardens juxtaposed with fields of winsome, artsy vines—all bathed in “just the right light” for an Instagram-worthy wedding—it’s the ideal location to tie the knot.
Whether you’re single, hitched or about to be hitched, you’ll want to imbibe the best libations this boutique winery has to offer. Their impressive slate of wines ranges from chardonnay and moscato to sangiovese and Montepulciano, along with Beverino, their famed dessert wine. Guests can get an insider’s look at Ponte’s winemaking process on their vineyard estate tour, sample a variety of vinos in the tasting room, dine alfresco in the winery’s rose garden and then take home some culinary treats from their gourmet marketplace.
Bottaia. A little more uppity, but still accessible, Ponte’s sister property sizzles with sophistication and old-world Italian ambiance. Built in 2018 in a unique 16th-century Palladian farmhouse style, Bottaia is a decidedly more chic wine country destination with the more discriminating wine taster in mind. (Reservations strongly encouraged.) Claudio Ponte describes a visit to Bottaia as an “elevated experience” where the “caliber of the winery is on par with the caliber of the wines.” Claudio wanted a winery specifically dedicated to Italian wines and the old-world methods used to make them, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Bottaia.
Not your usual chardonnay, cabernet and merlot trifecta, the wines at Bottaia are a mixture of whites from the north and reds from the south of Italy such as Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Fiano and Dolcetto. Three unique tasting experiences allow guests to explore Bottaia’s twelve single-varietal wines and eight blends. You can experience the fun of winemaking by blending your own wine and taste the difference between wine from a bottle and wine from a barrel.
Not to be overlooked is the famed pool at Bottaia, where kids have their own splash pad. With its private cabanas, poolside café and cocktail bar, this luxurious hangout is a nod to Mediterranean beach clubs that have made sunbathing in style a wet and wonderful art.
Here’s what you won’t find at Bottaia: long lines and hordes of wine-thirsty patrons taking up your personal space. And that will make any discriminating oenophile who’s eager to escape teeming humanity for a little peace and relaxation as felicitous as a fermented grape.
Wine, Dine and Decompress: Where to Stay
Day trips are great, but if you’re looking for a weekend of wine tasting fun where you can leave that to-do list at home, then you’ll want to book a stay at Ponte’s adjoining Ponte Vineyard Inn. Opened in 2011, this four-diamond, 90-room Spanish-style boutique hotel is stacked with modern amenities replete with cushy furnishings, stylin’ decor, and take-your-breath-away vineyard and mountain views.
Ponte’s new semi-Olympic-size pool and hot tub are perfect spots for lounging and soaking in the vistas. Their award-winning restaurants feature farm-to-fork and ocean-to-table cuisine, which means wild-caught or sustainably farmed seafood and all-natural meat and game. The hotel’s Cellar Lounge is an underground speakeasy, offering craft cocktails and small plates in an intimate setting. (Try the steak garlic French fries with cheese oozing out of every nook and cranny, and you’ll be calling for a medic to go with that moscato and fries.)
On the day of your departure (don’t cry, you can always come back—many do as wine club members), you can squeeze in a little more time in wine country with a farewell-to-the-farm brunch at Ponte’s full-service restaurant, Bouquet. A moscato mimosa paired with eggs benedict and morning glory muffins is a good note to leave on as you plan your return visit to Ponte.
Whichever wine tasting experience you choose for your next Temecula wine weekend getaway, you can be sure of one thing: You’ll be treated like family—a warm and “functional” one that treats you as one of their own while celebrating your differences. It’s the “Hospitalian” way.
P.O. Box 1435 | Thousand Oaks | CA | 91360
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