|By Pat Maio, North County Times,
Escondido, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 12, 2010--TEMECULA -- An investment group that includes Solage Hotels & Resorts, a luxury hotel development company based in Napa Valley, is in escrow to buy an 80-acre property in the heart of Temecula's Wine Country, and build what could become one of the most exclusive getaways in the region.
"We are in the early, early stages of this project," said Solage President Robert Watson, reached last week by telephone.
"We feel the valley is now more ready for something upscale. So we are designing to bring in a small but upscale project that can be supported by the valley. We are very bullish that three of the wealthiest counties in the area are within driving distance," said Watson, referring to San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties.
The land purchase, which is expected to close after Jan. 1, would give Solage and its parent two high-end luxury properties in the region. The purchase would pave the way for development of what could become the most exclusive boutique hotel for the ultra-rich in Wine Country.
It will have vineyards, a winery and tasting room. Roughly half of the property already has planted wine grapes, Watson said.
Solage is working with an investment group on the project, but Watson declined to disclose the names of other investors, or when the project will open if all goes well.
Watson also declined to say how many rooms the boutique hotel would have, or the price range for the rooms.
One of the ritzier rivals along the main Wine Country tasting trail of Rancho California Road is South Coast Winery Resort and Spa. That resort offers overnight packages ranging from deluxe king villas to premium-view king villa rooms, costing anywhere from $219 to $419 a night, depending on spa deals and the day of the week.
Solage is a unit of Calistoga-based Auberge Resorts, a privately held resort company that owns one luxury property in San Diego County, the Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa in Rancho Santa Fe. Rooms at the Rancho Valencia can average between $650 and $1,425 nightly.
However, a Solage in Napa Valley has a nightly rate at roughly half that amount.
The Rancho Valencia boasts spas, tennis courts, gardens and lush hills. One of the potential owners of Del Mar Fairgrounds and Racetrack -- horse owner Paul Weitman -- says he plans to buy a villa at Rancho Valencia. This resort, which is perched atop 40 acres of hillside in Rancho Santa Fe, was recently listed as the No. 1 tennis resort in the United States by Tennis magazine.
Auberge also owns and operates a handful of resorts in Calistoga, in the heart of Napa Valley's Wine Country; Santa Fe, N.M.; Palmetto Bluff, S.C.; and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Wine Country's leisure and hospitality magnets are in various stages of development.
Europa Village, a proposal to build three European-themed wineries, has substantially downsized some of its sprawling resort destination development because of a growing credit crunch in Wine Country. Privately held Europa Village LLC, which was assembled by real estate developer Rancon Group of Murrieta, recently began construction of a "prelude facility" -- a jazzed-up tasting room. The rest of the project, including 60-room boutique bed and breakfast inns, has been placed on the back burner while investors wait for the economy to turn.
South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, already the biggest destination spot for Wine Country, also has plans to expand with a 180-suite project across from his winery, including 42 villas, a 5,000-seat amphitheater, a restaurant, bistro and more vineyards.
Smaller bed and breakfast inns also have a niche. The Inn at Churon Winery and Loma Vista lead the list. The latter inn, situated on five acres along Laserena Way, is up for sale at $1.7 million.
Solage is buying the biggest chunk of available land in Temecula, the 80-acre property along Rancho California, from La Habra-based American First Credit Union. The financial institution had offered the deed for sale in lieu of foreclosure on the former owner, a Lamborghini dealer in Orange County who once sold 5 percent of that brand of luxury sports cars in the world.
Pam Easley, chief executive of American First, did not return repeated phone calls.
The sale of the Wine Country property had been listed at $4.2 million, said Joe Di Lullo, the broker who handled the transaction for Prudential Real Estate. Di Lullo and Watson declined to comment on the sale price.
Call staff writer Pat Maio at 760-740-3527.
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Copyright (c) 2010, North County Times, Escondido, Calif.
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