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L.A.'s Local Wine Scene Found in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains

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An Enomatic case of Malibu-grown wines at Pourtal in Santa Monica with winery owners pouring glasses in the background | Photo by Zach Behrens/LAist


An Enomatic case of Malibu-grown wines at Pourtal in Santa Monica with winery owners pouring glasses in the background | Photo by Zach Behrens/LAist
Raise your hand if you had no idea that there over 40 vineyards nearby, mostly found in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains. When we talk sustainability and eating locally sourced food, Los Angeles is king, thanks to a plethora of farmers markets, when it comes to urban centers with such offerings. We should start adding local wine to our bragging rights.

"When I planted my vineyard in 2002, there were about 10 vineyards--all very small. Now at the last count, there's about 42, 43, and probably 10 I don't know about," exclaimed Michael Barnes, owner of The Republic of Malibu wines, at Pourtal Wine Tasting Bar in Santa Monica where local Malibu wines are being featured this month.

Carol Hoyt and her husband were one of those 10 wineries back in the early aughts. She and her husband dreamt of opening a vineyard in Napa, but once they realized Malibu was a prime place, they planted a one-acre-plus vineyard on the coast that produces 160 to 200 cases a year for their Hoyt Family Wines label. Back then, however, the city and business community were not as supportive of such efforts. "They did not want vineyards because they didn't want it to be like Napa," she said, noting a change in attitude in recent years. "Now what's happening is that the Chamber of Commerce is loving the tasting rooms."

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The Malibu and Santa Monica Mountains area has three general microclimates suitable for vineyards, explained Barnes, who is an entertainment lawyer by day. Coastal is good for pinot noirs and chardonnays. "The second microclimate are the canyons and those are all over the map," he said. "You can have everything from chardonnary to sryah, so you can play around a lot. It's about what your aspect is, what canyon you're in, what your elevation is, it's a lot of fun." The third microclimate is a little more inland where it gets hotter. There, vineyard owners can ripen cabernets and merlots.

Bill Hirsch of The Sip, a tasting room off Kanan Road, believes wine drinkers should drink the wines they like. "Wine tasting is subjective, but at least give the Malibu wines a chance," he said. "Instead of driving 100 to 200 miles, you can visit four tasting rooms basically 15 to 20 minutes from Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. It's a great outing and it will enlighten people on the many microclimates that Malibu has. I urge everyone to that that wine trail." That trail he speaks of is visiting The Sip, Malibu Wines, Rosenthal Vineyards and Cornell Winery.

Next door to The Sip is Malibu Family Wines's Saddlerock Ranch, the sustainably farmed vineyard where Los Angeles Magazine now holds their massive annual food event. "We're the largest grower in the Santa Monica Mountains and we have our own AVA," explained Kevin Benign, who represents the vineyard and label.

Depsite Saddlerock's size, most local vineyards are relatively small. "These are not 40 acre fields where people are doing mass agriculture," said Barnes, who explained that most are a half to two acres in size. "The reason you don't see this wine in very many places is that most people doing this have a lot family, they have a lot of friends, they have the local restaurants and the wine is gone--it's gone like that. So what little they don't drink, you maybe pick up at wine bar like this."

Pourtal will carry a selection of Malibu wines through the end of January. Throughout the month, various special events will feature pourings by vineyard and winery owners.