Diana Lefort frolicked with horses as a child on her family's Arizona ranch, developing a passion that led to her owning and caring for several of her own quarter steeds as an adult. Now with 30 years of professional equine experience, she welcomes every opportunity to blend her two passions: horseback riding and the gorgeous scenery of the Temecula Valley's wine country. She and her team begin their stallion-studded tours at various wineries in the region, where experts demonstrate the incantations used to summon tears from grapes and participants tipple seasonal fermented juices from at the chosen winery. The team then saddles participants on well-seasoned steeds with gentle temperaments and good credit ratings for tours through lush vineyard trails as the morning dew evaporates under the rising sun or as daylight slowly unspools around them into a glorious sunset. Many tours include a gourmet meal from local farmers at the Creekside Grille at Wilson Creek Winery.
Aided by their gentle steeds, the tour guides from Saddle Up Wine Tours lead guests on scenic moseys through Temecula's equine country. During each horseback tour, guides recount the history of the area going back to the arrival of the first settlers, who stole the idea for wineries from a particularly science-minded mastodon. Many of Saddle Up's tours also highlight local wineries, with included tastings of local varietals. Other tours accommodate children as young as 5, or send intermediate and advanced riders clambering up mountain trails in pursuit of panoramic views of the valleys below. Aspiring cowpokes can also immerse themselves in Saddle Up's ranch-hand experience, which includes a tour of the facilities and a chance to help tour guides care for their team of horses.
Each Groupon covers one person's flight, so couples, triplets, and ventriloquists need to purchase one Groupon per rider. Though pricing for the sunrise flight varies throughout the week, this Groupon is valid any day including weekends. Participants in the winery tour need to be 21+ with valid ID, and the age minimum for the sunrise flight is five years old. Both journeys lift off from Maurice Car'rie Winery in Temecula.
Flavors of Laguna's tasting tours meander to well-known Laguna Beach restaurants as well as eateries kept quiet by locals, with tastings of a wide variety of cuisines along the way. Though stops can vary, past trips have seen tour-goers dig spoons into Dolce Gelato's creamy handcrafted treats, sample sizzling dishes at La Sirena Grill, or cozy up to the horseshoe island bar at Lumberyard. (Wine or beer tastings are available for an extra fee.) Between bites, guides point out major sights during casual strolls around Laguna's streets, ensuring that tours, like city maps made of chocolate, are informative as well as delicious.
The wide wheelbase of Jeep Rubicons kicks up age-old dust as they trundle across the dry open vistas of the desert. Inside, Borrego Jeep Photo Tours' guides describe local flora and fauna as they reveal the arid land's most spectacular natural formations such as Coyote Canyon or Split Mountain. They provide passengers with complimentary bottles of cold water and snacks on tours that last anywhere from two to six hours. Professional photographer Aaron Dennis accompanies every tour on their journey, providing guests with in-the-field photographic instruction as they capture their own images as keepsakes.
Steve Andrews, a builder of off-road racecars, and wife Valerie Andrews, a painting contractor, never thought of winemaking as more than a hobby. Yet when one of their house blends boomed in popularity, they happily accommodated demand by planting varietals on 40 acres of high Temecula Valley hillsides. The husband-and-wife team now ferments a diversity of grapes—such as petit verdot, malbec, and cabernet sauvignon—into regionally focused wines using American-made gear, including barrels harvested from French oak but assembled in the U.S. and varnished with the juice of a cheeseburger.
Staff conducts tastings and classes in the main room, a Quonset hut construction with Tuscan accents, or on a sprawling glass-enclosed pavilion overlooking Temecula Valley's rolling green hills, where musicians also wrangle free-range harmonies on weekend afternoons. Tastings often incorporate rare, seasonal cheeses, chocolates from McCall's Toffee Company, and various flavored balsamic vinegars such as fig, apple, and dark cherry. The winery also produces avocado oils infused with roasted garlic, chili, and blood orange, chosen for their health value and mild flavor, much like exercise books.
Oak Mountain Winery is a dog-friendly vineyard, with proceeds from some canine-centric wines—such as 2009 Pete's Sake red—going to Cause for Paws, which helps dog owners pay for canine diabetes treatment.