Malibu Becomes Newly Designated Wine Region

Michael Cervin

The coastal city has been given the status as Malibu Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area), an official classification reflecting unique characteristics of grapes grown in the region.

The federal government has given Malibu an important designation — status as the Malibu Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area), an official classification that reflects the unique characteristics of this specific grape-growing region.

“We want to put Malibu on the map,” says Elliot Dolin, former bass player for the original Manhattan Transfer and owner of Dolin Estate who grows Chardonnay on his property. Officially, Malibu Coast joins two already established AVAs: Malibu-Newton Canyon, designated in 1996, and Saddle Rock-Malibu in 2006. All three AVAs share similarities including high elevations, warm temperatures, marine fog and volcanic soils. Malibu Coast will be the umbrella designation with the other two AVAs agreeing “to be the AVA within the AVA, and that lends credibility to all of Malibu,” Dolin tells The Hollywood Reporter.

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Prior to AVA, status wines made in Malibu would have been designated on the front wine label as simply Los Angeles County. “That’s not a sense of identity,” says Dolin. “But Malibu Coast conjures a positive vision, a sense of place,” he says. The new AVA is 46 miles long, eight miles wide, and includes 52 grape growers with 198 acres of vines and elevations ranging from sea level to 3,100 feet. To the north, the AVA is bounded by Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village along the 101 highway; to the south is the Pacific Ocean, to the west Oxnard and to the east is Los Angeles.

Petitioning the federal government is generally not a simple process. “The application process was almost three years on the nose,” says Dolin, who was part of a core group of grape growers that spearheaded the idea. “The application was accepted on its first go-round, and then during public comment, there was no opposition.” That’s a rare occurrence since wine-growing regions seek special status, often finding themselves at odds with residential priorities. You might think wine is new to Malibu but the first documented vineyard was planted on Rancho Topanga Malibu in 1824, though the recent escalation in commercial vine plantings began in 1985. “We’re looking forward to making great wine so we can do justice to the honor,” says Dolin.

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Not familiar with Malibu wines? Here are three to try:

Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay: Dijon clone 96 and 25 percent 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, Vintage Grocers, Malibu)

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, Vintage Grocers, Malibu)

Malibu Sanity 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, Vintage Grocers, Malibu)