Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

About a month ago, Jeff and I flew out to California for a wedding. The wedding was in Laguna Beach, but we were lucky enough to have a little extra time to spend in Temecula with my aunt and uncle and cousin before driving out to the wedding.

Temecula is known for its vineyards (I'd actually gone to a few several years ago), and my aunt asked if we wanted to have dinner at one of the wineries while we were in town. It turned out that the best day for dinner with our schedules was Valentine's Day. As my aunt and I checked menus, we realized that a lot of the wineries were hosting formal Valentine's dinners with set menus, and that wasn't what we were looking for. So we changed our plan to a late lunch.

My aunt suggested Ponte Winery, and I loved the menu there, so she made a reservation. The day we went there, it was sunny and around 70 degrees, which was wonderful since all the seating is outside.

Being at a winery, I had to enjoy a glass of wine with my lunch, and I opted to try the Graciela, an off-dry wine with aromas of tropical fruits and roses. I also thought that, since we were at a winery, we should order a cheese platter, and I easily convinced my aunt and uncle and Jeff to share one with me. We chose the three-cheese platter, which featured mixed olives, candied pecans, cornichons, apples, a small dish with honey and fresh honeycomb, and bread in addition to the cheeses.

Three cheese platter at Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

We also got an order of "blends + breads," which was the perfect accompaniment to the cheese platter. I loved the presentation of the breads: a whole loaf was sliced and studded with lavash and wood-fired naan.

Blends + breads at Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

The blends were served in small mason jars (I loved their presentation too). There was cannellini bean and basil hummus, sun-dried tomato and green olive tapenade, and extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar. The tapenade was everyone's favorite. (We even scoured the wine store afterwards, hoping maybe they jarred it and sold it. No such luck.) I love trying lots of different things, and these appetizers were perfect for offering variety.

Blends + breads at Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

For his main course, my uncle ordered the Kobe cheeseburger. The burger consists of house-made seasoned Kobe beef, applewood smoked bacon, white cheddar, a local heirloom tomato, grilled onion, and Boston lettuce -- all on a poppy seed bun. It looked amazing, especially that heirloom tomato. (Tomato season cannot come soon enough for me.)

Kobe cheeseburger at Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

Jeff went with one of the handmade pizzas, which is fired in a wood-burning oven using reclaimed Estate grape vines from the vineyard. His chicken and basil pesto pizza came with a healthy slathering of pesto, red onion slices, moist chicken chunks, and melty mozzarella and provolone.

Chicken and basil pesto pizza at Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

My aunt ordered one of the winery specialties: free-range chicken breast with wild mushroom and black garlic butter sauce, beluga lentils, and broccolini. I sampled some of the tiny lentils and flavorful sauce.

Free-range chicken breast at Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

I knew I'd be indulging in so much bread and cheese that I might not be able to fit much more in (and let's be honest here, I was hoping to save room for some dessert), so I went with the wine country salad. I got a generous plate of farm fresh baby greens mixed with tomatoes, dried cranberries, oranges, candied pecans, feta cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. I wished there were a few more tomato and orange pieces, but otherwise I loved this simple salad.

Wine country salad at Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

We were all pleasantly full by the end of lunch but opted to look at the dessert menu anyway. After I saw opera cake on the list, I knew I'd be ordering it. We talked about getting one for the table to share, but when the waitress came over, my uncle asked her about the size of the dessert and ended up ordering two. I'm so glad he did! He and my aunt shared one while Jeff and I shared the other. This opera cake had a base of almond cake layered with chocolate ganache and coffee buttercream, all topped with chocolate glaze. While we all agreed the cake would be better if it were at room temperature, we still took down every last bite. It was rich, decadent, and robustly coffee flavored.

Opera cakes at Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

The cake was the perfect ending to such a lovely meal. A huge thank you to my aunt and uncle who ended up treating us to this wonderful lunch!

After lunch, my aunt and uncle headed off to pick up my cousin from school, and Jeff and I wandered around the winery. As we were admiring the view and the vineyards, we spotted a rabbit enjoying the grounds too.

Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

It was pretty neat being outside in the middle of February, enjoying the California sunshine but still seeing snow on the tops of some distant mountains too (a dim reminder of the blizzard aftermath at home).

Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

Tearing ourselves away from the abundant sunshine and taking full advantage of the winery atmosphere, we wandered into the tasting room and decided to try some wines.

Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

Because we were there on a weekday, the tastings were only $12 for 6 wines and a souvenir glass. (Had it been the weekend, it would be $20 for a tasting.) We were each able to choose which wines we wanted, and Jeff opted for whites while I tackled the reds. My favorite ended up being the Vernaccia Nera, which is a sparkling red with flavors of black cherries, plums, and brown sugar.

Tasting wines at Ponte Family Estate Winery, Temecula, Calif.

We had a lovely time at Ponte, sitting outside in the sunshine enjoying good food and good company. It's definitely worth a stop if you're ever in the Temecula Wine Valley area.

Do you like going to wineries? What's the last one you visited?