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Temecula Valley is Southern California wine country. There are vineyards, of course, but the area includes a wider variety of agriculture. This casual, picturesque valley is located 1 hour from Orange County and Palm Desert; 1½ hours from Los Angeles.


Orange Trees Temecula IMG 3775 SMALLOranges, other citrus fruit are important. Photo: Temecula Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau.The following ten farms and ranches are family-owned, commercial enterprises. With advance notice, every one of them can welcome groups of agribusiness professionals, academics, researchers, and just interested enthusiasts.


1. Cunningham Organic Farm

Tour, learn, pick, sample and taste special tree crops in-season at eclectic Cunningham Organic Farm, nestled next to the Cleveland National Forest. Citrus abounds, including 13 different varieties of tangerines, oranges, Meyer lemons and fragrant, Buddha’s Hand citron, plus cocktail grapefruit (a sweet, juicy cross between a pommelo and a mandarin). With Hass, Fuerte, Reed, and Pinkerton avocados, the “alligator pear” is in-season almost continuously throughout the year. There are three different guavas. Also growing on the farm are loquats, bananas, kumquats and cherimoya. In autumn, look for Fuyu persimmons and it's likely you can witness the drying operation. A memorable picnic area hosts hill and mountain views. Currently planted are 60 acres. Groups up to 20 people welcome by advance reservation year-round.


2. Crows Pass Farm

In the heart of Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country is certified-organic Crows Pass Farm. Fresh Baby Red Potatoes IMG 3899 SMALLFresh Baby Red Potatoes at Crows Pass Farm. Photo: Temecula Valley Convention and Visitors BureauSeasonal row crops are the primary focus. These include baby lettuce, greens, escarole, fennel, peas, beans, squash melons, strawberries and fresh herbs and onions . Crows Pass Farm is an excellent destination for learning how a small farm operates and, with its emphasis on a high level of flavor and quality, how it successfully markets itself chef-direct to upscale restaurants all over southern California. Currently planted are 20 acres of a total 40 acres. The remaining 20 acres is completely fallow at present, and is planted in rotation. Groups up to 25 people welcome by advance reservation year-round.


3. Moonrise Farm

Saturday mornings at the Old Town Temecula Calfornia-Certified Farmers Market, “certified organic and biodynamic,” are traditions of Moonrise Farm. At the rural estate, all of the seasonal heirloom vegetables have seed sources over 100 years old and no genetic modification (GMO). Heirloom pumpkins are a special feature in autumn. A 20-minute tour yields an amazing bounty of knowledge, including insight into all-natural growing practices. Currently planted are 2½ acres of the 5-acre property. Groups up to 12 people welcome by advance reservation spring, summer, and autumn.


4. Liberty Acres

Liberty Acres is a testament to ingenuity, self-reliance and the modern pioneer family lifestyle. Off the grid with solar for electric power and a well for water, a family of four lives on-site at this excellent example of a fully self-sustaining agricultural property. A vineyard of cabernet grapes will soon yield private-label wine. Meanwhile, a fruit orchard (stone fruit, citrus, avocados and pomegranates), row crops, and blueberries and strawberries support Liberty Acres’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. A lavender field is the source for sachets and soaps that are sold. Currently planted are 3 acres. Groups up to 12 people welcome by advance reservation spring, summer, and autumn.


5. Morning Song Farm

Morning Song Farm is a certified organic grower of subtropical fruits and nuts. They also farm vegetables, which include heirloom tomatoes, leafy greens, herbs—and even grow edible flowers. A variety of intriguing tours is offered with or without a catered lunch. The Small Farm Livestock tour includes meeting gentle dairy goats, participating in milking, and witnessing cream separation and butter churning. Learn about llama fiber processing – from llama to spinning wheel – and take a turn at spinning. Alternatively, you can gather eggs and learn why Morning Song’s chickens are so special. The Macadamia Nut tour teaches why Macadamia nuts are so expensive and features opportunities to assist in husking, shelling and sorting, and sampling. The Grove and Garden tour is about enjoying seasonal fruit right from the tree – passion fruit, kumquats, guavas, blood oranges, and mandarins; and exploring the vegetable and herb gardens, including sampling what is ready to harvest. Beginning Bee Keeping instructs on how to start your own, backyard “local honey” operation, the necessary tools and equipment, differences between queens and worker bees and the how-to of honey processing. Currently planted are 20 acres. Groups up to 50 people welcome by advance reservation year-round.


6. Temecula Berry Company

Handsome, highbush blueberries are the signature crop of Temecula Berry Company. Learn about conventional growing practices for this popular indigo-blue fruit. After the informative tour, linger to pick blueberries (picking buckets are provided). Carefully lift leafy branches to discover clusters of sweet and flavorful berries. Currently planted are 12½ acres. Groups up to 40 people welcome by advance reservation; tours are during harvest only, late-May through first week in July.


7. Temecula Olive Oil Company – Olive Ranch

Family owned and operated and committed to using only 100% California olives to make the highest quality 100% extra virgin olive oil, Temecula Olive Oil Company’s ranch is east of Old Town Temecula. Tour and learn of the sustainable agriculture practices involved in the planting, growing, and harvesting of a wide variety of olives to capture the unique qualities and distinctive flavors of each. Learn about the extraction of the oil from the olives, then participate in an olive oil tasting--there is nothing else quite like it! Olive ranch tours are available with or without a grilled lunch. The motto here truly is “May olive your dreams come true.” Currently planted are 26 acres. Groups up to 60 people welcome by advance reservation year-round.


8. Leoness Cellars

Leoness Cellars is located along the De Portola Wine Trail of the Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country. The family has as over 50 years combined agriculture and grape-growing experience in the Valley. Among a variety of private group tours is Touch the Vine and Taste the Wine, which includes an informative ride through the vineyards. You can sip and savor as you learn about harvest, crush, fermentation, barrel aging, and the Leoness commitment to sustainable farming practices and crafting award-winning wines. Their 20-acre vineyard adjoins the winery. Groups up to 100 people welcome by advance reservation year-round.


9. Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery

Garnering a reputation for exceptional quality in Temecula Valley, Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery is committed to small lot, handcrafted wines from varieties that are grown on their own sustainably farmed vineyards. Varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sangiovese, Viognier and Syrah. Specializing in full-bodied reds, Palumbo’s offerings include both single variety bottlings as well as a few special blends like the very popular Meritage blend, Tre Fratelli. The tour of the vineyard estate and winery cellar is informative and the wine tasting that follows reflects the Palumbo passion and commitment. Adjoining the winery is the family's 13-acre vineyard. Approximate annual wine production is 2,500 cases. Groups up to 30 people are welcome by advance reservation year-round.

 Temecula Vnyd IMG 3926 SMALLVineyards cover the flats and rolling hills. Photo: Temecula Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau

10. Callaway Vineyard & Winery

Callaway Vineyard & Winery’s farming philosophy seeks to sustain the long-term viability of the land. Many nesting boxes and perches are nestled throughout the vineyards, encouraging a stable population of hawks and owls. Cover crops are planted between vineyard rows to provide habitat for beneficial insects. The time-honored Callaway winemaking tradition uses unusually cold temperatures to slow and prolong the fermentation process, allowing the wines to retain their natural fruit flavors and aromas. Private group tours of the demonstration vineyard and winery are available. These may include wine tasting, wine and cheese tasting, wine and dessert tasting, or wine tasting with box lunch or luncheon buffet. Twenty acres of vineyard enjoys the winery, which produces about 25,000 cases each year. Groups up to 100 people welcome by advance reservation year-round.


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to websites of the wineries in the Temecula Valley, as well as links to hundreds of lodging and dining options in Temecula and the rest of the Inland Empire, can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

San Luis Obispo County has all the ingredients for a delicious culinary adventure. Area farms and orchards SLO Snacks and Wine SMALLproduce fresh, seasonal fruits, nuts and vegetables. Ranches raise natural beef, lamb, pork, and chicken, while coastal Pacific waters offers more fresh choices for discerning palates. A gourmand's playground, the dining scene has exploded with new restaurants showcasing innovative dishes prepared by chefs choosing local, organic and sustainable food available in San Luis Obispo County. Complementing the culinary experience are award-winning vintages produced by the many wineries dotting the Paso Robles wine country and San Luis Obispo County landscape.

Fastest Growing Wine Region

San Luis Obispo County is the third largest and fastest growing fine wine region in California.  There are two distinct wine grape growing areas - Paso Robles and Edna Valley/Arroyo Grande - with over 200 wineries and 125 tasting rooms featuring award-winning vintages and innovative varietal blends.  It is the ideal destination for wine lovers.

The long, hot summers and cool nights, and chalk/limestone hillsides of Paso Robles wine country yield award-winning reds, especially superb Zinfandels and Rhône varietals.  The cool climate and marine sediment of San Luis Obispo's Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande wine regions combine to produce some of the most highly regarded rich, buttery Chardonnay grapes in California wine country.

Annual wine celebrations include: Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival (March); Hospice du Rhône in Paso Robles (April), the world's largest celebration of Rhône variety wines; Paso Robles Wine Festival (May), the largest outdoor wine tasting in California; Roll Out the Barrels Weekend in San Luis Obispo (June); Pinot and Paella Festival in Templeton (June); and Harvest Wine Weekend in Paso Robles (November), featuring winery open houses. (Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance www.pasowine.com; San Luis Obispo Vintners www.slowine.com)

If time is limited and one prefers wine touring on foot rather than by car, the Paso Robles Inn offers a one-night Taste Around package pointing visitors to six of the town's City Park wine tasting rooms with complimentary taste certificates, as well as tastes and a gift from a local olive company and artesian cheese maker. Including breakfast for two, the package starts at $205 based on date of stay. (www.pasoroblesinn.com)

Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast - a Foodie's Disneyland! SLO savor logo cmyk  SMALL

Sunset magazine and the San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau will partner for the third annual Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast celebration of food, wine and good living September 27-30, 2012. The event showcases area winemakers, chefs and artisanal food producers and Sunset magazine's expert editors guide attendees through outdoor adventures and farm excursions. Over 7,000 visitors are expected to attend this year's event and enjoy the beauty, bounty and flavor of this largely unspoiled region. Special evening events, like Paso Robles' Paso Glow will be complemented by culinary seminars by celebrity chefs on cooking with local, seasonal ingredients during the Main Event at the Santa Margarita Ranch on September 29 and 30. The four-day foodie delight kicks off with a special food and wine extravaganza at the Central Coast's crown jewel, Hearst Castle, and also includes the Sunset 2012 International Wine Competition in Pismo Beach. (www.savorcentralcoast.com)

Wine Country Cuisine

With so many wineries, farms, ranches, and two fishing ports in San Luis Obispo County, it's only natural that country dining. With local bounty to point to, the farm-to-table movement is alive and well, as local chefs support local farmers to make sustainable culinary masterpieces available. Leaders of the movement in Paso Robles include Thomas Hill Organics, Artisan, Il Cortile, Villa Creek and Farmstand 46.

During the month of January, more than 30 restaurants prepare special menus at appetizing prices during Restaurant Month.  For 30 days, participating restaurants feature three-course prix fixe menus for only $30, plus tax, per person.  Meals can be paired with award-winning wines from Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo wine country for an additional charge. (www.sanluisobispocounty.com)

Straight from the Farm

Farmer's markets can be found throughout San Luis Obispo Country almost every day of the week. The one that set the standard for all others in California, however, is the Farmer's Market in downtown San Luis Obispo on Thursday night from 6-9 p.m. Six blocks on Higuera Street (between Osos and Nipomo Streets) are closed SLO vegetables Stock 3501073 SMALL to traffic and feature booths lining both sides of the street selling produce, fresh flowers, barbecue ribs, chicken and sausages, sandwiches, pizza, arts and crafts. Music and dancers often add to the ambiance, and shops and restaurants along Higuera Street stay open late. Another notable farmer's market to check out is on Saturdays in the quaint city park in Templeton.

For the foodie wanting to discover the source of the fresh ingredients that make up their San Luis Obispo County dining experience, take an Ag Adventures tour. From chickens and eggs, fresh seasonally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs (pick your own in many cases), wine, olive oil, and lavender (yes, lavender is edible), San Luis Obispo County farms, ranches, orchards, nurseries, wineries and farm stays offer something for everyone. (www.agadventures.org) Also check out Mt. Olive Organic Farm (Paso Robles), Jack Creek Farms (Templeton), Stoltey's Bee Farm (Atascadero) and Central Coast Lavender Farms (Paso Robles).

What is an Olallieberry?

Resembling a blackberry, the Olallieberry is about two-thirds blackberry and one-third European Red Raspberry. It is the primary fruit grown by the Linns and is featured in Olallieberry products that are popular items at their Fruit Bin Restaurant and Original Farm Store in Cambria, including Olallieberry pies, preserves, dessert wine, oat bar, curd and syrup. (www.linnsfruitbin.com)

Olive Oil

San Luis Obispo County has become a major producer of award-winning premium olive oils featuring a wide variety of olives, styles and oils infused with lemon, orange, tangerine and lime. A large festival dedicated to all things olive (plus a rich selection of gourmet vinegars to complement the oils) is held annually in the downtown City Park in Paso Robles in August. (www.olivefestival.com)

For an instructive olive oil tasting experience, visit We Olive gourmet shops in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, (www.weolive.com) or scenic Pasolivo (Willow Creek Olive Ranch), long-time producer of local award-winning extra virgin olive oils in Paso Robles that has a tasting room and boasts the largest and newest olive press of its kind on the Central Coast. (www.pasolivo.com) Other local olive oil producers to check out include Tiber Canyon Ranch (SLO), Mt. Olive Organics and Olea Farms (Paso Robles).

For another nutty twist, taste walnut oil produced by Limerock Orchards at their stunning walnut orchard in Paso Robles. (www.limerockorchards.com)

Catch of the Day

Commercial fishing boats moored in San Luis and Morro Bays provide local restaurants with fresh seasonal local seafood, including halibut, sanddabs, sole, crabs and albacore.

Located in Cayucos, The Abalone Farm is the largest and oldest producer of California Red Abalone in the United States. The aquaculture facility, a proud participant in the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, offers a legal and sustainable source for this prized seafood.  The Abalone Farm's Ocean Rose Abalone is freshly harvested, cleaned, tenderized and vacuum packed for weekly shipments to customers. (www.abalonefarm.com)

Authentic Flavor of the American West SLO Hearst Pool IMG 0472 SMALLWilliam Randolph Hearst's pool.

San Luis Obispo County has a history tied to the American West, including vast rolling hills populated by cattle and cowboys. For natural beef with an extraordinary flavor, foodies should try Hearst Ranch Beef. Raised on the Hearst Ranch surrounding Hearst Castle and the Jack Ranch in Cholame, the cattle are grass-fed, grass finished, humanely raised and never given growth hormones or antibiotics. Hearst Ranch products include aged steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs, beef jerky, plus sauces and olive oils. (www.hearstranch.com)

Speaking of Hearst, Friends of Hearst Castle offer two very special evening food and wine events on the Enchanted Hill: Twilight on the Terrace on June 2, 2012 and Enchanted Evening on September 22, 2012. (http://www.friendsofhearstcastle.org/special_events.asp)

Feel Good Chocolate

Sweet Earth Chocolates, based in San Luis Obispo, is one of a handful of Organic and Fair Trade chocolate makers in the United States. The company was founded by Tom Neuhaus, a California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo Food Sciences professor, trained French chef, chocolatier and humanitarian, who also teaches the only university level class on chocolate in the United States. What makes Sweet Earth Chocolates different from other chocolate makers is their advocacy for Fair Trade and the West African cocoa farmer; Neuhaus visits West Africa every year to help out the farmers who live in poverty despite supplying America with 75 percent of its cocoa. The benefits of Organic and Fair Trade are the all-natural ingredients used to produce the chocolate - no slave labor, no chemicals, no pesticides. (www.sweetearthchocolates.com)

Say Cheese

Visitors to Paso Robles can taste a unique selection of exceptional handcrafted cow, sheep and goat milk cheeses from around the world at the Vivant Fine Cheese tasting room. They offer nearly 200 kinds of cheese that can be paired with Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo County wines and beers. An added incentive to visit, Vivant's building basement houses aging caves, the first of their kind on the West Coast. (www.vivantfinecheese.com)

Happy Acres Family Farm is a California state licensed working goat dairy that is new and unique to the Central Coast. Happy Acres started with one special goat named Stella, whom owner Stephanie Simonin got to help feed orphan calves her husband brought home. Stella still leads the ever expanding herd of goats, today made up of four unique breeds totaling over 200 head. Happy Acres' goat milk is all natural and hormone-free. Stop by the farm in Templeton to taste the cheese or pick up some goat milk products from the Happy Acres farm stand. (www.happyacresfamilyfarm.net)


San Luis Obispo County is known as wine country, but beer enthusiasts can please their palates here too with distinctive beers and ales produced and poured locally. Breweries to explore include Firestone Walker (Paso Robles),Tap It Brewing (San Luis Obispo), Pismo Brewing (Pismo Beach) and Dunbar Brewing (Santa Margarita Ranch). A brew pub not to miss is The Pour House in Paso Robles. (www.pasopourhouse.com)

The county hosts two beer festivals. The California Festival of Beers on Memorial Day weekend in San Luis Obispo benefits the volunteer Hospice of San Luis Obispo (www.californiafestivalofbeers.com) and is now in its 27th year, while the new Firestone Walker International Beer Festival takes place during Pioneer Day Festival in Paso Robles in June (www.firestonebeerfest.com).

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

The 11-acre Cal Poly Organic Farm on the campus of California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly) San Luis Obispo has as its primary mission to provide undergraduate students a place to experience hands-on learning in organic and sustainable farming and gardening practices. Vegetable production includes dozens of varieties of produce that are marketed in several direct sales events like farmer's markets, a campus farm market and to local vendors and restaurants. Produce that is not sold is donated to the Food Bank. In addition to produce, various organic products (honey, chocolate bars) plus cheeses and meats are marketed under the Cal Poly brand. Members of the Cal Poly Organic Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) receive a weekly "harvest box" of fresh seasonal produce. (www.aeps.calpoly.edu/organics)


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of San Luis Obispo County, as well as links to hundreds of lodging and dining options there, can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

Spring in The Napa Valley is the perfect time for getting outdoors and up-close-and-personal with blooming wild mustard and budding vines. Conservation organizations, nature-minded hotels and sporty tasting rooms serve up exciting adventures in the great outdoors with treks that include biking, kayaking, art and yoga.

Trees Hwy 29 SMALLCanopy of trees on Hwy 29Connecting to the LandDedicated to the preservation of the Napa Valley, the Land Trust of Napa County has successfully protected 26,000 acres of pristine wilderness, designating these spaces as public parks and recreational areas featuring fabulous vistas and wildlife corridors.

Throughout the year, the Land Trust offers unique and invigorating field trips, from hikes to wildlife sanctuary explorations or jeep-led tours. On April 29, 2012, the Land Trust began offering a free six-mile "Maggie's Peak Trail Run." The new hike features a trek up the mountainside to the dramatic Devil's Well waterfall and into a serene redwood grove. And this spring and summer, the Land Trust kicks off its new MemberSeries program focused on new ways to connect with the Napa Valley's protected lands, including a 90-minute yoga/meditation session at Archer Taylor Preserve, a century-old redwood forest, and field trips involving lessons in outdoor art and photography. For a schedule of events, brochure and hike sign-up, please visit www.napalandtrust.org.

Tasting the TrailsCycling enthusiasts can pedal over to Velo Vino, a St. Helena tasting room celebrating both cycling and wine, for the sportiest wine tasting in the Napa Valley. Serving Clif Family wines alongside group or custom biking excursions, Velo Vino offers monthly, complimentary cycling adventures suitable for both moderate and advanced riders, ranging in distance from 35-50 miles. Recent rides included cycling along the 40-mile Franz Valley loop on March 24, and on April 21, participating riders biked the 38-mile Old Toll Road route.

Art Inspired Hikes at di RosaSpring is the perfect time for art and nature lovers to visit the di Rosa museum and explore its significant collection of Northern California art. Beginning in April, di Rosa is offering a series of Spring Nature Hikes (April 28, May 5, May 19 and June 9), where guests join experienced guides for the rare opportunity to hike to the top of Milliken Peak at di Rosa, the highest summit in Napa Valley's Carneros region. In addition to sweeping views of the North Bay, hikers' gazes will be entranced with sculptures along the trek to the peak. The hike is moderately strenuous and children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Also offered at di Rosa, every Saturday at 10:00 a.m., April through September, is the two and a half hour "Art and Meadow" tour, which includes a tour of di Rosa's Main Gallery, Historic Residence, and Sculpture Meadow rich in flora and fauna, including resident peacocks. Highlights include the wildly colorful outdoor art populating the meadow, courtyard and 100 year-old olive grove, featuring sculptures by Viola Frey, Mark di Suvero, Gordon Huether, Ray Beldner and the world's tallest file cabinet (Minuet in MG) by Sam Yates. Hikes are free to members, all others $15. For more information about the hikes and tours visit: www.dirosaart.org.

Stay and Hike the Day Away PackageAt the eco-friendly Bardessono hotel in Yountville, a LEED Platinum certified property, the "Hike the Day Away" package includes annual membership for two with the Land Trust of Napa County, which provides access for hiking on private lands and opportunities to enjoy unique members-only excursions. The Bardessono also offers amenities that encourage environmentally friendly adventure, such as complimentary bike rentals for guests and an electric car recharging station. For information and reservations visit http://www.bardessono.com.


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of Napa Valley wineries, as well as websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options will be found in the North Coast section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

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