Ponte, a picturesque and fun SoCal winery, along with its more sophisticated sister winery, Bottaia, offers something for everybody.
by Jenni Keast
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. This winery allows you to be your authentic self, 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.
No Wine Snobs Here
There are certainly 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 it was 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
The winery 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. People who love wine but who don’t necessarily know a lot about wine come to experience this unique setting. 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.
This boutique winery offers a special wine experience, whether you’re single, hitched or about to be hitched. 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. They can 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.
A little more upscale, but still accessible, Ponte’s sister property sizzles with sophistication and old-world Italian ambiance. Bottaia was built in 2018 in a unique 16th-century Palladian farmhouse style. It is a decidedly more chic wine country destination with the more discriminating wine taster in mind. (Reservations strongly encouraged.) Claudio Ponte describes Bottaia as an “elevated experience.” He says it’s where the “caliber of the winery is on par with the caliber of the wines.”
Not your usual chardonnay, cabernet and merlot trifecta, the wines at Bottaia are a creative mix. They’re 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. It’s easy to taste the difference between wine from a bottle and wine from a barrel.
More than Just Wine
Make sure not to overlook the famed pool at Bottaia. Kids have their own splash pad and you can sit back and enjoy a magazine. With its private cabanas, poolside café and cocktail bar, this luxurious hangout is equivalent to a Mediterranean beach club experience.
Here’s what you won’t find at Bottaia: long lines and hordes of wine-thirsty patrons taking up your personal space.
Wine, Dine and Decompress: Where to Stay
Day trips are great, but if you’re looking for a weekend of wine tasting fun there is a fun option. Leave that to-do list at home and book a stay at Ponte’s adjoining Ponte Vineyard Inn. Since the owners opened the doors in 2011, they have adorned this four-diamond, 90-room Spanish-style boutique hotel with modern amenities. It’s 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. You’ll be calling for a medic to go with that moscato and fries.)
When All Good Things Come to an End
On the day of your departure you can squeeze in a little more time in wine country. Have 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.
Choose either of the wine tasting experiences for your next Temecula weekend getaway. The staff will treat you like family, it’s the “Hospitalian” way.