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    Papa T’s and Hilltop Winery in Valley Center, CA

    When I think of Valley Center, CA,  several things come to mind.

    1. Hot summers
    2. Orchards
    3. Casinos
    4. High School
    5. No

    I was happy to leave this small town as soon as I was able to. Not that I had the worst* memories there, but I felt like I didn’t make enough* memories there, in that precious and speedy time of adolescence. Does that make sense? I felt like there was no where to go, and unless you could drive, you were kinda stuck there with nothing to do. Of course, my opinions in the years after have changed drastically. When you go from a more city-like setting in elementary and middle school and then your parents move you away at 13 to a town where a “day off” meant a 40 minute drive to Costco… well, “boring” is another word that comes to mind. We all have feelings like this towards our “home towns”… you either love it and can’t imagine yourself anywhere else, or you itch to get out and seldom get the urge to go back and visit. Once my dad signed on with a church close to San Francisco back in 2010, there really was no other reason to visit.

    Besides photographing a few weddings out that way… oh wait, that’s right. I totally forgot that even I got married in Valley Center…oops. So there you have it. I promise I don’t hate the place, if you’ve been following along, you know that this is how I feel about people who get too attached to places. So moving on, besides shooting some weddings out there for work and the yearly pumpkin patch, there was really no reason to go up to VC while I continued to live in San Diego county.

    But now?!!? I was in San Marcos last week for work/visiting with friends, and my dear friend Erica wanted to get together to see the kids. When bowling at the mall didn’t work (too busy and long wait) – we decided to hit up our favorite place to picnic – Orfila Vineyards in Escondido! Once we turned in, we were bummed to find out they were closed for an event -which might be a new thing, they are usually open during events, at least half of the place – so Erica asked if I wanted to go wine tasting in Valley Center. Umm.. what? She said she’s driven by signs for a winery/tastings close to the middle school… and I figured, sure! Within 20 minutes we were driving through a gorgeous community where almost every lot was prepped for a vineyard.

    I cannot tell you how many double-takes I was doing. Vineyards? In Valley Center? Wineries sprouting up? Tasting rooms? Wow… I was gone too soon! I had to pinch myself a little when I thought for a second I should’ve maybe stayed a little longer. 😉 The great news is, it’s still there, and it always will be. The town is booming, whether it wants to or not. Many who grew up there in the same time frame as myself can remember how the town wanted nothing to do with commercial stores and shopping malls. That part hasn’t really changed, but they are open to new things now. There was only three restaurants when I was there. A pizza place, a burger place, and a Mexican restaurant. Before I left there was a diner, and it seems as though more shops and stores are starting to sprout. There’s nothing wrong with a small town wanting to stay small. There’s nothing wrong with them wanting to keep loitering crowds away, and for there to be zero Starbucks and McDonald’s… that, I kinda love about VC. It’s a great place to raise your kids, the schooling is fantastic. And now? Wine.

    WINE.

    And good wine too.

    I was pleasantly surprised with each sip of the 2011 Cabernet at Hilltop Winery. It kept getting better and better.

    Erica and her family recently opened up a To-Go pizza place in VC called Papa T’s. Fresh, handmade pizzas. Real ingredients, really delicious! She was telling me they make their own sausage there, and the prices are super reasonable, especially for a large pie that requires so much more TLC that the average pizza shop. We loved it. Pizza and wine. What could go wrong? Another great part to this winery is that there’s a lot of parking room, picnic tables outside the tasting room, three super friendly vineyard dogs roaming the premises that will occupy your children.. and oh yeah, speaking of children… it’s child-friendly! I’ll certainly be making a trip back to this gorgeous place, and trying more of their wines. I highly recommend stopping in for a visit. I believe the tastings are $10-$15 which is a little pricey for Valley Center, but the wine is worth it. (When I say a little pricey, it’s because there are places in Sonoma and Temecula that still offer $10 tastings, or at least tasting fees removed if you buy a bottle, but usually when you stop in for some wine at a family-owed winery, you just support their cause, and you pay what they’re worth because you’re keeping them in business, and you’re also saying you value their time and efforts.) <3 Cheers folks, have an amazing week!

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