Believe It or Not, Malibu has Plenty to Wine About
Written By: Jake Palumbo Raise a Glass to Outstanding Malibu Wineries
Photographed By: Dhrumil Desai
Styled By: Jilli Joffe
Models: Lexi Atkins & Alena Gerber of Wilhelmina
I’m going to say something. When I do, I want you to say the first thing that comes to mind. No cheating. Ready? “California Wine.” Let me guess: The rolling hills of Napa Valley, golden fields of Sonoma County or, perhaps, lush and lighthearted San Luis Obispo? Mine was that YouTube video where that poor woman trips while stomping grapes and takes an alarming yet hilarious spill out of the tank onto the ground.
Anyway, the point is that when most people think of California wine, their thoughts drift first to the verdant valleys of the Golden State’s central and northern coastal regions. In the race to the top of mind, SoCal tends to cross the finish line long after its more widely recognized regional brothers as a legitimate California wine-growing location. Mention Malibu in any oenological conversation and risk being on the receiving end of skeptical, planetic tilts of heads on axis accompanied by the nervous crinkle of tapenade-stained cocktail napkins.
For decades, Southern California flourished as a wine-producing region until Prohibition pulled the cork on the operation, bringing years of growth to a grinding halt. What was left afterwards was all but wiped out by the industrial explosion that occurred in Los Angeles after World War II, when thousands of acres of agriculture were replaced with manufacturing plants, shopping centers, and residential subdivisions. However, recent years have seen a rebirth of the vine across the ocean-kissed Santa Monica Mountains that is reshaping how wine lovers think of Southern California. With its legendary reputation for pristine shores and glamorous, celebrity beach houses, it can be easy to overlook Malibu’s virtue as a producer of world-class wine, so we hit the PCH and took a drive up along the cliffs to explore four outstanding wineries that are putting Southern California on the viticultural map.
Rosenthal – The Malibu Estate Wines
18741 Pacific Coast Hwy
Malibu, CA 90265
When you’re driving along the PCH, it’s hard enough to simply keep your eyes on the road. The majestic stretches of jagged coastline combined with the perspective-altering expanse of the great blue Pacific act on the eyes of passing motorists with a kind of aesthetic gravitational pull which begs them stray from the yellow-lined asphalt. With this kind of oversized ocular pressure, it’s easy to understand how one could miss some of Malibu’s finest roadside institutions. The legendary highway is lined with a wide array of culinary pit stops, which have delighted both faithful locals and eager tourists for years. But for any wine lover set to traverse America’s most beloved highway, there is one stop that you absolutely cannot miss, the Rosenthal Wine Bar & Patio.
Magnificently located across from Topanga State Beach, Rosenthal Wine Bar & Patio boasts the only wine bar along Malibu’s stretch of the PCH. Nestled up against the foot of the mountains and with a clear view of the shimmering Pacific, Rosenthal’s Wine Bar offers an inviting, laid-back atmosphere that admirably evokes the “Endless Summer” spirit while simultaneously embracing a sophisticated appreciation for the finer things. Patrons are invited to enjoy Rosenthal Estate’s exclusive selection of wine either inside their charming tasting room or while reclining on the outdoor patio.
Rosenthal Wine Bar & Patio serves as the fountainhead for Rosenthal – The Malibu Estate Wines, a local vineyard located 4 miles inland. The vineyard was the brainchild of founder and owner George Rosenthal, a successful Los Angeles businessman who, upon returning from a trip to Europe in the early ’80s, was inspired to transform his expansive Malibu estate into a working vineyard of his own. No small undertaking, Rosenthal spent years working with specialists checking soil composition, drainage and weather conditions to optimize growing conditions for his vines. In 1987 he started planting and in 1991, he victoriously sipped his first vintage, a fine cabernet sauvignon.
Now with 38 acres under vine, Rosenthal – The Malibu Estate Wines has emerged as one of the finest wine producers in the region. Bottled under two labels, The Malibu Estate and Surfrider, wines under the Malibu Estate Label are made from the grapes harvested by hand directly from the Malibu vineyard, which offer delightfully flavorful, well balanced cabernet sauvignon, crisp, Burundian-style chardonnay, and a chocolaty, tannic merlot along with some cabernet franc and petit verdot. In order to expand their roster of varietals, Rosenthal created their Surfrider label, which sources grapes to create unique blends such as the popular, easy drinking Hang Ten Red. And as if you needed any further motivation to enjoy a tasty glass of wine while watching the sun set into the ocean, Rosenthal donates a portion of every bottle of Surfrider sold to charities that help keep Malibu’s beaches clean.
In addition to offering their own selection of cheeses, meats, and crackers, the Malibu Wine Bar & Patio invites guests to bring their own food to accompany their wine picnic-style or to purchase meals from one of the various food trucks that post up beside the patio on weekends. Saturdays and Sundays offer live music on the patio that in addition to a lovely glass of wine provide the relaxing ambiance of a perfect Malibu summer night. Walk-ins are welcome, and reservations can be made for private educational tastings and parties. Whether you’re just dropping in from the beach or seeking a quality wine tasting experience, The Rosenthal Malibu Estate Wine Bar & Patio is sure to provide the very best Southern California has to offer.
Native Knowledge: About $1 from every bottle of Surfrider wine sold goes to charities dedicated to keeping the beaches clean.
Colcanyon Estate Wines
2375 Latigo Canyon Rd
Malibu, CA 90265
The scenic road to Colcanyon Estate Wines takes you deep into the rugged heart of the Santa Monica Mountains and offers an automotive experience that would make even the most jaded of car commercial directors salivate with cinematic inspiration. As you negotiate the serpentine thoroughfare and death-defying vistas to the estate, you’ll find yourself suddenly transported to a dreamlike landscape, which seems somehow closer to the clouds than to the shimmering ocean in the western distance below. As you meander higher and higher up through the final hairpin curves, you’ll finally spot the vines of Colcanyon Estate climbing to the foot of a magnificently designed Spanish Colonial Revival home, which stands like a watchful centurion atop the mountain — its gaze cast outward across the vast canyon and down toward the sea.
The luxuriously rustic estate house at once gives an impression of sophisticated Old World elegance. The roughly textured stucco and terracotta roof tiles reflect the same rich earthiness provided by the grapes harvested at its doorstep. The open-air balconies seem to be designed exclusively to maximize the absorption of the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape’s uninterrupted views. Peaceful courtyards and patios encourage the enjoyment of the outdoor living that Southern California’s mild climate provides. Wisps of cool breeze billow through splendid arcades, which funnel the fresh ocean air through sheltered walkways.
Established in 2001, Colcanyon Estate Wines quickly emerged as a rising star amongst wineries in the Santa Monica Mountain region, impressively earning International Double Gold Medal status by 2008 (the highest fine wine accolade there is). Situated 2000 feet above Malibu, the location of the petit vineyard is just about as good as it gets. With rich, rocky topsoil and optimally positioned for maximum sun exposure on a south-facing 45-degree slope, the vines of Colcanyon are perfectly positioned for ideal growing conditions. Early morning mists rise from the sleepy Pacific, which provide a natural irrigation system that keeps the vines quenched even in SoCal’s relatively thirsty climate.
With just two acres and 1, 000 vines to farm, Colcanyon embodies the definition of a “boutique vineyard.” But don’t let their modest size fool you. If anything, their pipsqueak stature is responsible for the gargantuan flavor and quality of their wines. Much like the parents of an only child, the vintners of Colcanyon can afford to shower their small family of vines with the kind affectionate attention and meticulous care that brings out the very best in quality and taste of the grapes, and results in wine that is a truly honest reflection of the grapes at their time of harvest.
The planting blocks of Colcanyon are laid out as 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent merlot and 10 percent cabernet franc. All of the wines are 100 percent Malibu estate grown. Their commitment to quality has proven to consistently produce fruit-forward wines that are full-bodied, well balanced, and tonally complex.
Native Knowledge: The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon was recently awarded a Double Gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Malibu Estate Cielo Vineyards
31424 Mulholland Hwy
Malibu, CA 90265
Don’t get me wrong. I love Los Angeles. But one of the most lovely things about living in LA is how easy it is to feel like you’re hundreds and hundreds of miles away. Never has this felt truer than when I was looking out from the vineyards at Cielo Farms, where the breathtaking view had me frantically reaching for my passport. It took nothing short of a reaffirming pinch to snap me back from the waking reverie that I was traveling across some distant Mediterranean countryside. Here, tucked into the eastern slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains where jagged peaks crown the surrounding landscape in all directions, the Pacific might as well be nothing but a myth of some far away, ancient sea.
The geometric patchwork of the vines in their rows texture the nearby hills in such an aesthetically pleasing pattern of color and shape that they might have been placed there, premeditated, by some ambitious oil painter standing at the ready with a palette prepared with a spectrum of vegetal greens and earthen browns. The aesthetic of the foreign pastoral is linchpinned by the estate’s Tuscan inspired barn, which serves as the vineyard’s tasting room. Outside the barn, an outdoor seating area gives visitors a peaceful place to take in the scenery as they sip Cielo’s flavorful, full-bodied vintages. Set amongst the picturesque backdrop of vines and valleys, the well-manicured layout serves as a majestic venue for weddings, birthday parties and baby showers.
Cielo owner and LA native Richard Hirsh along with his wife, Diana, built the entire property from the ground up, carefully curating the land in preparation for their first crop, which was planted in 2004. Together, the couple resides atop the hill in a spectacularly rustic home overlooking their vinous kingdom.
At the Cielo Farm vineyards, 12 different varietals are produced under two labels: the Cielo Estate label, which is made from grapes harvested directly from the farms, and the rock n’ roll inspired Woodstock label, which uses grapes sourced from Napa Valley. Despite their relative youth, Cielo has already produced award-winning syrahs and rouge blends solidifying its reputation as one of the best wineries in the region.
Although not open to the public, you can find Cielo’s flavorful vintages down the street at the Sip Wine Bar in Agoura Hills, or join the private wine club, which meets two weekends a month at the Cielo Farms Estate.
Native Knowledge: “Cielo” means sky or heaven in Spanish, and you will understand why they named their vineyard this when you are sipping vino atop a hill, amongst the clouds.
Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate Vineyards
340 Kanan Rd
Malibu, CA 90265
There are a variety of factors that make Malibu an ideal location for growing world-class wine. Its mild Mediterranean microclimate, nutrient rich volcanic soil, and proximity to the coast provide a perfect storm of growing conditions that allow winemakers to nurture their grapes to their fullest potential. Nowhere in the region does this cocktail of geographic advantages converge more favorably than at Malibu Rocky Oaks.
Planted at 2, 000 feet above sea level, the vines of Rocky Oaks Estate reside on a steep south-facing slope. The high elevation makes the skin of the grapes thicker, providing a richer, fuller color. The jagged angle and direction of the slope position the grapes in a way that optimizes sun exposure, funnels the cool coastal breeze, and allows for exceptional drainage. The rhythmic ebb and flow of warm desert days and cool coastal nights facilitated by the region’s coastal microclimate conducts the chemical maturation process of the grapes like an orchestra leader’s baton. Warm sun-drenched days enrich the grapes, while drastically cooler nights slow the metabolization process, which controls acidity and helps maintain an even pace. The resulting rhythm is music to any winemaker’s ears and results in wine that is far more balanced and flavorful. The combination of these factors leads to happier, healthier vines and produces wines overflowing with the most sought after qualities of flavor, color and aroma in the business.
Founded and family owned since 2003, Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate consists of 10 planted acres on a 37 acre plot. Although if you showed me a picture of the estate, I’d probably guess I was looking at a set piece from “Game of Thrones” rather than a vineyard. All the wineries we visited for this article were spectacular in their own right, but after visiting Rocky Oaks, I’d have to say that objectively, it was the most breathtaking.
Located right down the street from Cielo Farms, the gated driveway to the estate winds up to the very pinnacle (that’s right, the top) of its own mountain, which is crowned by a prominently regal, Gatsby-esque Tuscan villa. A five-year project in the making, this Dionysian temple to the fruit of the vine was built with imported stone from 15th century French castles and comes complete with oversized wooden doors, jaw-dropping terraces, 360 Garden of Eden views, and an infinity pool that just might be the king of infinity pools.
Not to be overshadowed by its majestic scenery, the wine produced here is carefully crafted to ensure that the quality of the flavor matches the beauty of the estate. The vineyard’s 10 varietals are meticulously tended to by hand, carefully ensuring that all of the geological advantages of the terrain are employed to the max.
As the host of luxurious private parties, celebrity weddings, and exclusive events, the Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate has had no trouble establishing itself as the preeminent elite winery of Malibu, which makes the fact that their brand appeals to enthusiastic Millennials all the more interesting. As the most followed winery on Instagram on the planet, this small vineyard has become an undeniable influence in the wine business.
Native Knowledge: After The Rocky Oaks Estate was built, the local government passed a law prohibiting the future construction on the pinnacles of the Santa Monica Mountains. ROE was the last house to be built on a pinnacle before the law was passed.