By DAVE DOWNEY - | Posted: August 2, 2010 7:34 pm

The Temecula Valley Wine Country took a big step toward becoming a destination resort Monday with Riverside County's
approval for a major expansion of Mount Palomar Winery and a 52-room hotel at nearby South Coast Winery Resort & Spa.
Planning Director Ron Goldman approved Mount Palomar Winery owner Louis Darwish's plans for numerous new facilities ----
including a nearly 30,000-square-foot wine production building, a 4,800-square-foot wine tasting room, a 6,700-square-foot restaurant,
a 2,400-square-foot wedding chapel and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Darwish said the retail area would feature coffee, doughnut, flower and gift shops.

Goldman also approved plans for 548 parking spaces and 42 casitas ---- small, 900- to 1,200-square-foot rooms that guests could stay in.
Darwish said he is aiming to fill the new complex with wedding parties, business conferences and other special events. "It will be like an Italian village," he said, after a planning director's hearing on the project. "I want to bring businesses, employees, tourists," he said. "We hope in the future we will have special events every weekend." Situated on 315 acres along Rancho California Road, Mount Palomar Winery was established in 1969 by the late John Poole, who owned
 and founded several radio and television stations around Southern California. Poole died in December 2003. His son, Peter, took over as general manager in 1985.

In 2006, the winery was sold to Louidar LLC, an Arizona land development company. Darwish is Mount Palomar's owner and chief executive officer.
Darwish said he will spend the next several months finalizing the design for the new buildings. He said he is aiming to launch the ambitious
 expansion project by spring 2011. "It's exciting," Goldman said during the hearing. "I can't wait to see construction start on this."
Residents are likely to see construction start on the South Coast Winery project about the same time, winery owner Jim Carter said.
South Coast already is the site of highly developed facilities and many special events. For example, it has a ballroom that can accommodate 600 people.
But there is a need for more places for people to stay overnight, Carter said.

With Monday's approval for a three-story, 52-room, 36,000-square-foot hotel, he said, South Coast will have a total of 128 overnight accommodations.
"Our project just balances out our commercial facilities that we already have," Carter said. A lot of people visit South Coast winery on weekends, but not as many during the week, he said. "This allows us to use our facilities better during the week," he said. "That's what this is really all about."

South Coast's expansion plan also calls for building several meeting rooms totaling 3,200 square feet to complement the existing ballroom, as well as
 constructing an 1,820-square-foot addition to its GrapeSeed Spa and parking areas for 167 additional cars. With the expansion, the number of attendees permissible at weddings on the 63-acre campus will increase from 150 to 300, county planners said. And the number of concerts and other stage productions that South Coast can hold each year will increase from four to six, with the maximum attendance rising by 300 to 1,800 people. South Coast is just down the road from Mount Palomar Winery.

At the request of Anna Hoover, cultural analyst for the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, Goldman added a condition that the wineries survey for archaeological resources before starting construction. Hoover said the tribe has reason to believe that human remains and other cultural resources are buried on the properties.
The winery owners agreed to those conditions.
In the case of both projects, approval was delayed for months because of concerns about water quality, Carter said. He said planners and the winery owners have agreed to employ an interim solution using advanced septic systems, with the understanding that one day the resorts will need to hook up to sewer lines.
The approved plans are scheduled to be reviewed by the Riverside County Planning Commission on Aug. 18 in Riverside.