This post is a continuation of the trip to the Malibu Wine Country that my friends and intrepid travelers and roving reporters, Dick and Jarlene, took a few weeks ago. I think this is one of the most detailed reports I’ve ever seen. Dick took the time to interview winemakers or owners whenever possible, took detailed notes, used information provided by the wineries, all to educate all of us about Malibu Wines. If you have the opportunity to visit Malibu Wine Country – the wines are good…it is, after all, California! – take it!


Principe Estate Vineyards

Principe Estate, Malibu AVA
Principe Estate, Malibu Coast AVA

Principe Vineyards are located in the serene setting of Hidden Valley, California. The picturesque valley is cooled by the Pacific Ocean breeze and is warmed by the California sun. The perfect soil and the ideal weather conditions produce the finest grapes.

Principe Vineyards are carefully maintained and grown by hand under careful supervision. The location and topography are ideal for a successful harvest. Long warm days with evening ocean breezes and cool nights. The vineyards are located in the serene setting of Hidden Valley, California. The picturesque valley is cooled by the Pacific Ocean breeze and is warmed by the California sun. The perfect soil and the ideal weather conditions produce the finest grapes.

WiSH Vineyards

WiSH Vineyards, Malibu Coast AVA
WiSH Vineyards, Malibu Coast AVA

The vineyard rests upon acreage in the southern Simi Hills transverse range which was formerly a part of Native American Chumash land, bordering on the later identified Rancho Las Virgenes. Incorporated into the rural equestrian community of Hidden Hills, the vineyard borders on 30,000 acres of protected wildlife area under the direction of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. This designated and protected open space assures the continuing, uninterrupted interaction between vine and nature.

Planted in Hidden Hills, California the wines of WiSH Vineyards benefit from steep hillsides, full sun exposures and cooling Pacific Ocean breezes flowing in the evening through Malibu Canyon. Chosen to suit the unique characteristics of the vineyard, the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes has allowed for the full appreciation of the distinctive soil and climates provided by this exceptional locale.

After intense studies of the geography, climate, water, and soils of the site, the determination was made in 2003 to plant the Bordeaux varietals of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Upon planting, the vines developed an immediate affinity for the location and began to thrive. The first harvest in 2005 proved the wisdom in the choice of these varietals. Although young and newly established, the vines had already produced a healthy and abundant crop. Today, the vineyard is reaching peak production and is performing beautifully by producing grapes of superior quality, flavor, and varietal characteristics.

The Owners

After extensive travels throughout Europe, Africa and beyond, witnessing first hand the production of wine at all levels, owners Susan and Bill Hayes determined the best use of their unique hillside land would be the planting of a vineyard. Initially, the idea was to produce wines to be shared with friends and family. After the first harvest, it became abundantly clear they had arrived at a perfect confluence of location and varietals as the wine far exceeded not only their quality hopes but also their quantity expectations. With hundreds of cases of quality wine in production each year, they realized this is far more than a hobby. The vineyard and the wines had become a part of their lives which needed to be shared in a larger way.

The Hayes have assembled a team of experts to guide the vineyard and the grapes to their highest potential. Susan, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, is a professional chef who also holds a certificate as a Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers. She continues to advance her wine knowledge at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone in Napa, California, and also individually studies with Master Sommeliers. Her understanding of the varietals specific to WiSH Vineyards is brought into full light with the knowledge of the entire spectrum of these varietals in the world of wine and wine production. As such, Susan engages fully with the winemaker and vineyard consultant as a constant, resonating voice in the realization of their wine vision.

Sage Hill Ranch & Vineyards

Sage Hill Ranch Malibu Coast AVA
Sage Hill Ranch Malibu Coast AVA

Sage Hill Ranch is a horse ranch & vineyard on 7 acres surrounded by National Park land. The main house has a large wrap-around covered verandah with ocean, mountain and vineyard views. There is a grassy yard with a fountain & huge Sycamore trees. A swimming pool, vegetable garden & chicken run. Horse corrals & tack rooms. Seasonal creek and waterfall.

ALTITUDE 2000 FT. Above the coastal fog.
ACCESS All roads leading to the ranch and on the ranch are paved. There are unpaved fire roads leading onto riding and hiking trails.
PARKING Available in various large flat areas suitable for base camp and within a  2-minute walk of main house.
GEOLOGY Sedimentary rock and Marine Sandstone Coastal mountain hillsides and canyons. Seasonal running streams and creeks.
LOCATION The ranch lies East-West across the Coastal mountains and faces south to the Pacific. It is surrounded by National Parkland.
DISTANCE 5.5 miles from Pacific Coast Highway  4.3 miles from Kanan Rd.
CLIMATE Mediterranean Climate, warm and dry. At this altitude, the ranch is unaffected by coastal fogs.
VEGETATION Cultivated Pines and Indigenous Oak Groves, Chaparral, coastal Sage Brush Ceanothus and flowering wildflowers early spring to mid-summer Cultivated gardens and vineyards.


Tao Vineyards 

Tao Vineyards Malibu Coast AVA
Tao Vineyards Malibu Coast AVA

Tao is a boutique vineyard offering award-winning estate grown grapes, that are handpicked and soulfully maintained. Among the five blocks of varietals planted are Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot, Sangiovese, and Rousanne. Producing a very small production of 350+ cases per year.

Not many people know that prior to Prohibition, Los Angeles was the premier appellation for grape growing and winemaking in all of California. Its temperate Mediterranean climate made it an ideal location for growing fruity, lush, richly-colored grapes.

In 1919, the LA wine industry was jolted by the Volstead Act, which started Prohibition in America. Then in 1933, following the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, nearly all 100 wineries of Los Angeles were shut down for good.

Nikki and Michael planted their vineyard in 2009 which is nestled between two microclimates. One side gets the cool breeze from Malibu and the early morning marine layer while the other side gets the warmer weather.

Their passion for exceptional viticulture combined with the expertise of winemaker B. Alan Geddes has allowed them to create remarkable wines, such as their 92-point Gold Medal Merlot and 95-point Double Gold Medal Cabernet Sauvignon at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Needless to say, they are bringing great pride and respect back to Los Angeles winemaking.

Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate Vineyards

Malibu Rocky Oak Estates
Malibu Rocky Oak Estates
Malibu Rocky Oaks Wine
Malibu Rocky Oaks Wine

I met with Howard Leigh at the Vineyard. It has been family owned since 2003. It sits at 2000 feet and affords a spectacular view of the canyon and presents a picturesque sight from Kaman Road below where you can see the steep grade covered with vines on all sides and the Tuscan Villa at the peak. There are 10 planted acres. The soil is primarily volcanic with a Mediterranean climate.

As with other Vineyards, the wine has to be processed elsewhere and this is processed at their own facility in Healdsburg, CA. The wines are aged in French or American oak dependent upon the varietal for up to 18 months. The primary grapes are Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah but small batches of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Petite Verdot, Cab Franc, Grenache, and Petite Syrah are made.

I tasted the Cab Franc which had notes of dried flowers, spice and some fig on the nose. On the palate, it was smooth while having good body. It had blueberry, blackberry, and hints of plum. While fruity, it is not overly sweet. This is a wine you can enjoy with food or just by itself. It is easily as good as any Franc Cab Franc I have tasted.

These wines are on a par with Napa and Europe in terms of quality and profile.

Rosenthal The Malibu Estate

Rosenthal Estate, Malibu Coast AVA
Rosenthal Estate, Malibu Coast AVA
Rosenthal Estate Tasting Area
Rosenthal Estate Tasting Area

Rosenthal was the first Vineyard in Malibu established by George Rosenthal in 1987. It is located in Malibu Newton Canyon and was the first Malibu AVA established in 1991. The Vineyard is 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean and sits at 1400 feet.

Access to the Vineyard itself is restricted to Club Members and Special events so I met with Elan, the Manager at the Pacific Coast Highway tasting Room. Sitting across the street from the beach, it is the perfect venue for a tasting.

The Rosenthal Wines include the Surfrider brand which is from the Edna Valley. I concentrated my tasting on the Rosenthal Estate Wines. First was the Chardonnay A full-bodied wine, exhibiting nuances of pineapple tropical fruit, lemon, and honey, with a hint of vanilla. The 2014 Grenache/Syrah blend was very smooth. Notes of dark fruits on the nose and palate with distinct Blueberry on the finish. The Merlot A smooth with hints of red cherry, plum, exotic spices, and a touch of oak. Bright berry fruit, smooth middle palate, and a lingering finish, with graceful, well-integrated tannins. The Estate Cabernet was a full-bodied “big” cab. It had the distinct flavors of the Malibu Cabernet’s but with plum and blackcurrant on the palate and a long smooth finish. At 15.5 ABV it will easily compete with Paso Robles high ABV content. This wine screams for a big steak.

The Meritage was a little young but was a nice wine to have without food. Wines can also be sampled at SIP and Cornell Wines.

In conclusion, Malibu Wines are for real. The Vineyard owners are passionate and proud of their wines. All the varietals have the potential to be on par with Paso Robles, Napa, and any other similar region. I hope they continue their path of experimentation and bringing more great vintages to the bottle.




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