Reputedly, it is here in LA County that the first Vitis Vinifera varieties were planted in California, giving birth to an industry that has become integral to the state’s identity and its economy. At the turn of the twentieth century, Los Angeles was perhaps the largest wine growing county in the state with almost nine-thousand hectares under vine and huge potential for further growth. However post Prohibition, the area has become increasingly urbanised, and land once designated for agriculture has been given over to the construction of houses, freeways or - as has been famously sung about many times - parking lots! Viticulture, though forced to head for the hills, remains, and it is here, in tiny plots at high altitude, that many of Los Angeles’ grapes continue to grow today.
There are five smaller designated AVAs within Los Angeles County, amongst them, the picture perfect and much merited Saddle Rock Malibu, and the vast Antelope Valley of the California High Desert - whose lengthy title is a source of significant interest. Malibu-Newton Canyon, Sierra Pelona Valley and Leona Valley make up the quintet, which can be considered under two distinct localities.
The Malibu AVAs - in the Santa Monica mountains to the west - would, were it not for their altitude, experience a moderate oceanic climate on account of their close proximity to the Pacific and its effect on temperature extremes. However, the vineyards of these appellations are largely protected from the expected coastal influence by their elevation, and as such enjoy a large diurnal temperature variation which enables grapes to ripen slowly and natural acidity to be retained. Wines from these AVAs - though not widely known beyond the state boundary - are often bold and intense in style, and very much respected by industry professionals.
The other three named appellations are situated in the county’s northeastern reaches, further from the coast and subject to the hot, dry conditions synonymous with inland regions at this latitude. Again, it is the benefits of altitude that ensure conditions for successful viticulture, as were it not for elevations up to almost one-thousand metres above sea level, wine growing would likely prove impossible in these areas. Additionally, viticulture is practiced on a small scale at a number of other locations within Los Angeles - notably within the city itself! However, these areas do not have their own specific AVA and wines are instead produced and sold under the county label.
Given the geography of the area and the increasingly limited amount of land available for agriculture, wine growing in the county of Los Angeles is perhaps always destined to lack the scale or widespread appeal of the state’s viticultural giants, Napa and Sonoma. However, it has made considerable advances over the last twenty years, and it offers plenty of opportunities in tours and tastings for the wine tourist looking for something a little different.
Sporting perhaps the greatest name of any world wine appellation, Antelope Valley of the California High Desert is an American Viticultural Area (AVA) northeast of Los Angeles. Established in 2011, the area has so far proven particularly successful at producing rich, intense Zinfandel wines.
Malibu is a Southern Californian city famous for its extravagant houses, Mediterranean climate and scenic coastline which extends over thirty kilometres. Synonymous with celebrity and affluence on account of its being home to many Hollywood A-listers, Malibu is also quietly making a name for itself in the wine world.