Ask anyone about Malibu and they will probably mention that it’s the home of movie stars, beautiful beaches with golden haired surfers riding the Pacific Ocean waves, or the devastating mudslides or fires that endanger or destroy multi-million dollar homes.
But there’s a hidden Malibu, where more than 40 vintners grow grapes and produce excellent red and wine wines. Some of these award-winning wines include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Muscat, and Grenache.
Although Malibu wine growers have been producing good grapes and developing fine wines for the last 35 years on a mere 150 wine-producing acres, (Monterey County has 40,000 acres), it’s only in the last few years that they have introduced tasting rooms, giving Ken Fasola and his partners the idea of creating a very unique tour called, Malibu Grapes.
The adventure began with being picked up in a luxurious van at a Santa Monica location where you can sit back and leave the driving to someone else. The interior of the van is plush and even has a television on which the fascinating history of Malibu is screened. Joining us were five fabulous young women from all parts of the country who met in college and get together once a year for a special treat. They selected the Malibu Grapes tour for this year’s exciting activity.
The drive along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway led us to the first stop, a visit to a new architectural garden on the hilltop of Pepperdine campus. The serene setting is a memorial dedicated to an alumnus who lost his life attempting to overthrow the hijackers of United Flight 93 on that infamous 9/11.
The drinking games were about to begin as we reached the simple, outdoor Rosenthal Estate Tasting Room, the first of four tasting rooms we were to visit. With the waves breaking within earshot, we enjoyed selections from their two award-winning labels – Rosenthal, The Malibu Estate, and Surfrider, said to be two of Malibu’s best. The Chardonnay was outstanding and turned out to be the best of the day.
Back into the van and a drive through the winding Santa Monica Mountain roads, which took us past Lake Malibu, a big surprise, as not many people know that there is actually a lake in Malibu. An added bonus was passing The Rock House where every Sunday hundreds of bikers congregate to socialize and swap stories. On this particular day, Jay Leno was there with one of his vintage cars, adding an unexpected celebrity sighting, of particular excitement to the out of-towners.
We arrived at the most picturesque Cornell Winery where wandering peacocks greet you as you walk up the steps to the country-style rustic tasting-room, adorned with crystal chandeliers, flickering candles, and beautiful art work from local artists, including compelling paintings by Douglas Tharalson, who also does giant sculptures in his nearby studio.
Located across from the historic Peter Strauss Ranch, Cornell Winery represents wines from 40 of the local growers including actor Emilio Estevez’s Casa Dumetz and the legendary Pink Lady Rose named after the accident-causing painting on the side of a road called the “Pink Lady of Malibu.”
At this point, feeling a bit light headed, we were all very grateful that we had a designated driver as we headed to SIP Malibu, Cielo Wineyards (yes, it’s with a “w”). With a beautiful outdoor patio with terraced hillsides serving as a backdrop, a guitarist played classic rock and blues selections as we sampled Malibu Rogue and Purple Haze, a Rhone style blend of Syrah/Cabernet Franc. According to manager Andrew Wells, “In California in order to be called a specific red, the wine must have at least 75 percent of that grape varietal in the bottle and since Purple Haze has only 72 percent, it must be labeled a blend.”
Our final tasting destination was Malibu Wines in western Malibu, said to be one of the favorites of the locals. Here we sampled selections of Semler and Saddlerock wines from the award-winning Malibu Family Wines and then proceeded to the Malibu Café, located on the scenic Calamigos Ranch, for a much need lunch. With swans and ducks gliding on the lake in perfect harmony, we feasted on Kobe beef sliders and naughty French fries with the appropriate wine pairing.
After lunch, we strolled around the grounds dotted with mature oak trees, cabanas, and a charming bridge leading to the lake where you can rent a paddleboat and feel the spray from the waterfall.
As with all wonderful adventures, our six-hour journey was coming to and end and soon we were heading south on Pacific Coast Highway to our Santa Monica drop-off point. Whether you’re a native or entertaining out-of-town guests, the $149 price tag is well worth this most special experience.
Malibu Grapes, P.O Box 941,
Malibu, CA 90265, Tel: 310.393.6555