Long before congested freeways and millions of residents, Los Angeles was once part of California’s largest wine- producing region, the Los Angeles Viticultural District, which comprised the counties of San Luis Obispo, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino.
In the 1700s, the pueblo of Los Angeles was home to the first commercial vineyards. The wine industry continued to flourish as immigrants arrived and saw the potential in the warm, dry climate.
By the mid-1800s, there were more than 5,000 acres of grapes planted in Los Angeles County, which made up 80 percent of the Los Angeles Viticultural District and 18 percent of the entire state of California.
But then came phylloxera, followed by Pierce’s Disease and then Prohibition. By the end of World War II, with industrialization and the housing boom, vineyard acreage was reduced to fewer than 250 acres. While the original seal for the county of L.A. includes a grape cluster, the county became a forgotten wine region.
But today there are pioneers who are focused on producing wine in Los Angeles. I am not talking about driving up to Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo to source fruit and then make the wine in Los Angeles. I am talking about wineries who are sourcing their fruit from within Los Angeles County.
They source from the coastal areas of the Malibu Coast and Bel Air. They get fruit from the elevated vineyards in the Sierra Pelona Valley Viticulture Area in Agua Dulce, north of Santa Clarita. And there are vineyards in the hot and arid Antelope Valley in the high dessert.
From these areas, three wineries — Byron Blatty, Angeleno Wine Co and Cavaletti Vineyards — are leading the charge in putting Los Angeles back on the map as a wine region.
— Byron Blatty
Byron Blatty was founded by Mark Blatty, a native Angeleno, and Jenny Blatty in 2014. After traveling to Napa, Mark and Jenny became wine lovers. But if asked about wine from L.A., they had never heard about it. That was until Mark’s mom gave them a bottle of Moraga Wine from Bel Air. After tasting the wine, Mark wondered why more people did not make wine from Los Angeles and realized there was a hole in the marketplace. He and Jenny decided to fill it.
Byron Blatty works with six or seven vineyards from four different Los Angeles AVAs. They love the diversity of Los Angeles County, with its high mountains, valleys and coast, and blend the grapes from the different vineyards, bringing the diversity to the wines.
Bryon Blatty produces a Rosé of Grenache, Tremor (a blend of Grenache, Merlot and Syrah), Undertaker (a Zinfandel blend), Evenfall (a blend of Tempranillo, Petite Sirah and Merlot), Agenda (a blend of Syrah and Tannat) and Pragmatic (a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot)
— Angeleno Wine Co.
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Angeleno Wine Co. was founded in 2015 by friends Jasper Dickson and Amy Luftig Viste. Jasper, raised in Northern California, was working at Silverlake Wine, a wine shop in Los Angeles, where he met Amy and her husband. Their friendship led to creating Angeleno Wine Company where they focus on unusual grape varieties and want to push the boundaries of Southern California’s wine grapegrowing potential.
Jasper and Amy source their fruit from the Alonso Family Vineyard located in Agua Dulce, an hour north of Los Angele. In this vineyard, owner Juan Alonso planted Spanish grape varieties including Grenache, Tempranillo, Graciano, Godello, Loureiro, Treixadura, Verdejo and Albariño, as well as Tannat, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon. Angeleno Wine Co is producing a Rosé of Graciano, Syrah, Albariño, Superbloom White (Verdejo), Superboom Red (Zinfandel) and Zanja Madre (a blend of Tempranillo and Grenache).
— Cavaletti Vineyards
Inspired by the lost wine grapegrowing legacy of Los Angeles County, Patrick Kelley founded Cavaletti Vineyards in 2016. Patrick also makes wine from fruit sourced from Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, but the focus is on vineyards located within 109 miles of his home in the Santa Rosa Valley in Ventura County.
Cavaletti sources his Los Angeles County fruit from the Swayze Vineyard, located in the Antelope Valley near the Sierra Nevada. This high desert vineyard sits at an elevation of 3,000 feet and Grenache, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Alicante Bouschet, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are planted. Cavaletti is making a Rosé of Grenache and Tempranillo called The 109 Mile Rosé and a Swayze Vineyard Grenache from Los Angeles County.
As pioneers of the revitalization of the Los Angeles wine industry, all three wineries have been met with challenges. The biggest challenge is being unknown brands from unknown regions, and in some cases with lesser known grape varieties.
Another challenge was the lack of winery infrastructure in Los Angeles. As Mark Blatty explained, “the knowledge from Santa Barbara and Napa doesn’t apply here. We have different issues, different pests, different clients and there was no conventional wisdom. We had to learn this region on our own.”
The idea of learning the region on their own also was relevant when Angeleno Wine Co. wanted to open up a winery and tasting room in the heart of Los Angeles.
“There was no template … for permits, for designation of space,” Amy Luftig Viste explained. “It took a long time and even in our darkest moments, we said we would keep going until we could not anymore.”
Luckily, Angeleno Wine Co. persisted and found advocates in the city. Ultimately, a loan from the Economic Development Division of L.A. County enabled them to proceed and today Angeleno Wine Co not only sources fruit from Los Angeles County but also makes the wine in Los Angeles County in their winery and tasting room downtown Los Angeles.
When all three producers started making Los Angeles wine, they got pushback. But, once people tasted the wines, they responded, “wow! These are actually good!”. There is “pride in having Los Angeles County on the label and people recognizing that,” declared Byron Blatty. So, watch out, the Los Angeles wine industry is back.