Juanita Koth spent a lot of time on horseback in the Temecula Valley in the 1980s.
As a teen who grew up in North County, she helped care for horses of friends and relatives who lived in Temecula. She remembers riding in the open, rolling hills which, at that time, served as a backdrop for only a handful of wineries.
Today, Koth is still in the saddle, but as the owner and guide for Gaits in the Grapes, a company that provides custom trail adventures for folks with their own horses. (“No rentals!”)
“Temecula is now a beautiful huge community, but it still has a rural flavor,” Koth says. “We hope to bring in horse owners who want to enjoy all the things that Temecula has to offer.”
And that’s quite a list.
The valley, about an hour’s drive from North County, has its historic Old Town, golf, resorts and spas, a casino, shopping, dining, museums, horseback riding, a casino, hot air ballooning and wineries.
“Miles and miles of trails,” Koth emphasizes, “but they are unmarked so no one knows where they are.”
And that’s where Gaits in the Grapes comes in.
“If you come to Temecula Valley with your horse, you want to ride the best trails. If you want mountains, we’ll take you into the mountains. If you want a winery, we’ll do a winery. Every tour is customized.”
Koth and her husband and business partner, Steve, have arrangements with five wineries and nearby Galway Downs polo field that allow them to “stage” an area where riders can begin and end their trail adventures.
“First, we might ride for three to five hours, come back, and the riders will have lunch — maybe a food and wine pairing,” Koth explains. “While they’re doing that, we take care of the horses, pick up the poop, lay straw and keep away the bachelorettes who might be at the winery for a party. Sometimes they want to get too friendly with the horses, but the owners will know that their horses will not be left unattended.”
Temecula Valley began its transformation from cattle ranch to “semi-urban pastoral” in the late 1960s after the land was sold to developers who envisioned a master-planned community. They named it Rancho California, but residents eventually voted to return the name to its Native American roots. There’s debate about the meaning of Temecula, but most like “land where the sun shines through the mist” — fitting because of its unique microclimate that provides perfect conditions for growing grapes.
While the population swelled in the 1970s because of the valley’s affordable housing, pioneering vintners began planting. The first winery, Calloway, was founded in 1974. Today, nearly 40 wineries line the two bucolic corridors of Rancho California and De Portola roads, not far from Temecula’s historic Old Town.
Stroll down Front Street and you’ll find Pennypickle’s Workshop Children’s Museum, an award-winning, hands-on museum with lots of gadgets that beg to be pushed, pulled, pressed and turned. Not far away: the Old Town Sweet Shop, with its hard-to-resist ice cream, old-time candies and ginormous caramel apples additionally covered in chocolate, nuts and marshmallows.
Other boutiques include the Temecula Lavender Company, which offers hand-crafted, small-batch oils, candles, soaps, scrubs and salts created from locally grown lavender; Old Town Rootbeer Company with more root beers and soft drinks than you ever imagined existed, including its deep, rich homemade brew; and the Temecula Olive Oil Company which will change your mind about olive oils; they are not all alike. For an exquisite combination, ask for a sample pairing the basil-infused olive oil with the pomegranate balsamic vinegar.
Old Town boasts several beautifully preserved historic buildings. You can see one and simultaneously enjoy lunch at The Bank, which serves fresh Mexican cuisine and some amazing Watermelon Mint Margaritas. Imbibe at the upstairs bar, the perfect perch for people watching.
Temecula Valley is only an hour’s drive from North County, making it an ideal weekend getaway. Visit visittemecula.org, or call (888) 363-2852.