Temecula is not one of California’s better known wine areas. Located inland, mid way between Los Angeles and San Diego, this unpretentious wine region is starting to be seen as Southern California’s version of  Napa Valley.

Always happy to check out a new wine region, I picked up a rental in Los Angeles Airport and headed for Temecula Wine Country.

Sure seemed like a good idea at the time but in my enthusiasm, I’d forgotten how stressful it was driving through the maze that is the Los Angeles freeway system, especially in an unfamiliar car on the ’wrong’ side of the road. Two hours later, I arrived at the welcoming Temecula Creek Inn.

Within minutes, I’d booked in, unpacked, and was on the veranda outside my room, coffee in hand, breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the view of Temecula Creek’s sprawling 27 hole golf course.

And there I sat until the sun went down, studying the wine map, plotting my visit with the intensity of a military general. After all, with so many wineries (30 plus) and so little time, I needed to be very selective.

There were plenty of Napa Valley style wineries, complete with huge Mediterranean and Spanish style buildings and slick tasting bars. But I was looking for the distinctive and the unique.

Here’s two I found…

Briar Rose Winery comes complete with a replica Snow White cottage sitting on top of a hill overlooking the vineyards. There is even a carriage. The only thing missing is Prince Charming.

The hand-plastered, straw-thatched cottage, built by former Disney designer Beldon Fields, is surrounded by manicured lawns, a rose garden and stone walls. It‘s the atmosphere that brings most people here,but  it’s the specialized red varietal wines that has them coming back. But don’t expect to just show up and taste – this boutique winery is one of the few ‘appointment only’ wineries in the valley.

On another road, on another hill, is yet another unique winery, this one housed in what looks like, from the road, a circus tent.

A trek up the dirt road to the big top revealed the Vindemia Winery. There’s not much there – a makeshift wine tasting bar, a few tables, and Charlie, the friendly black lab who’s tail wags in greeting – but the wines are definitely worth a taste.

It’s also where the California Dreamin’ Balloon Adventures takes off for flights over Temecula Wine Country.

Sadly, that’s one adventure I didn’t have time for. Perhaps next time…

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Liz Lewis is a New Zealand based writer who favors wine tasting and food markets over bungy jumping and mountain climbing.