The very first inhabitants of Malibu were the Chumash Indians and they didn’t drink wine. These days the social lubricant is accepted and even encouraged in the tony village of Malibu and probably in your home too. The federal Government recently gave Malibu an important designation – it just received federal status as the Malibu Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area), an official designation which reflects the unique characteristics of a specific grape growing region.
You might think grapevines are new to Malibu, but the first documented vineyard was planted on Rancho Topanga Malibu in 1824, a 13,000-acre Spanish land grant. The recent surge in commercial plantings however began in 1985. Officially Malibu Coast joins two already established AVAs in Los Angeles County: Malibu-Newton Canyon (1996) and Saddle Rock-Malibu (2006). All three AVAs share similarities including high elevations, warm temperatures, marine fog and volcanic soils. “We want to put Malibu on the map,” Elliot Dolin, former bass player for the original Manhattan Transfer and owner of Dolin Estate who grows Chardonnay on his property, told me. Prior to federally recognized status, and currently until new labels are approved, wines from Malibu would have been designated ‘Los Angeles County’ on their labels, “that’s not a sense of identity,” says Dolin. “But Malibu Coast conjures a positive vision, a sense of place,” he says. Agreed. Wine from “Los Angeles County” doesn’t have any cache, but Malibu? You can almost imagine impossibly toned blonde Baywatch actors bringing you chilled glasses of Chardonnay accompanied with Beluga caviar as you watch pods of whales swim by. Or not.
The new AVA is about 46 miles long and eight miles wide, and includes 52 grape growers with a total of 198 acres of vines. To the north, the spanking new wine region is bounded by Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village and Agoura Hills along highway 101. To the south is the Pacific Ocean, to the west it’s Oxnard and Camarillo, and to the east the city of Los Angeles. Elevations here range from sea level to 3,111 feet at Sandstone Peak. But lest you think obtaining anything from the federal government is a simple process then I’m guessing you’ve never applied for health coverage. “The application process was almost three years on the nose,” Dolin said who was part of a core group to move the idea forward. “Surprisingly the application was accepted on its first go round. And then during public comment there was no opposition,” Dolin added. That’s a rare occurrence and maybe it’s a sign from on high that Malibu wines will finally have their place in the great California wine regions. Until then, consider these wines all made from Malibu-grown fruit, and all currently available.
DolinMalibu Estate Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay: Dijon clone 96 and 25% new French oak are the stars of this wine; there is focused lemon citrus, a slight tang, and an earthy roasted wood quality, along with bright acidity, harmoniously balanced. ($39)
Colcanyon 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: Grown at 2,000, feet a pleasant acidity frames notes of huckleberry, blackberry and dark red cherry. There’s bright fruit in the mid palate and a moderate finish. This just won double gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. ($39)
MalibuSanity 2011 Pinot Noir: Using clones 116, 667 and 777 the resulting wine is a medium bodied Pinot with typical black cherry and raspberry, a lithe string of acidity and a robust, pomegranate earthy finish. ($42)