Malibu Coast vintners — all 52 of them — are doing a victory dance right now. Three years after first applying for AVA (American Viticultural Area) status for the Malibu Coast, the vineyards there have been granted their own AVA.
What does that mean exactly? Wines from Malibu-based estates now have the option to include Malibu Coast AVA on their labels. Elliott Dolin of Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards, one of several winery owners to spearhead the application process, says, "It allows us to establish a sense of place and an identity for our wines. It also gives us some credibility in the wine world at large and reestablishes the history of wine grape growing in Malibu.
"Malibu is world-famous, but very few people are aware of our wine grape growing history, which dates back two centuries. While people sunbathe on the beaches, up here in the hills, our vines have been catching rays of their own."
The new AVA is about 46 miles long and 8 miles wide, mainly in the Santa Monica Mountains, and includes 52 grape growers with a total of 198 acres of vines. To the north, it is bounded by Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills and other urban development along the 101. To the south is the Pacific Ocean, to the west Oxnard and Camarillo, and to the east the city of Los Angeles. Elevations range from sea level to 3,111 feet at Sandstone Peak.
Note that this is not the first Malibu AVA. There are two previously established appellations: Saddle-Rock Malibu and Malibu-Newton Canyon. However, in its ruling the TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) has determined "that the established Saddle Rock-Malibu and Malibu-Newton Canyon AVAs will be part of the Malibu Coast AVA because all three AVAs share similar characteristics, including high elevations, warm temperatures, marine fog and well-drained soils that contain volcanic material." They will be AVAs within the larger Malibu Coast AVA.
The application written by Ralph Jens Carter on behalf of the wine grape growers of the area goes into the history of the Santa Monica Mountains, which have been inhabited for more than 8,000 years. The first documented vineyard in the area was planted on the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit by José Bartolome Tapia in 1824.
"Matthew Keller, who purchased the land in 1857, planted hundreds of acres of grape vines in Solstice Canyon and named it the Rising Sun Vineyard. The first modern day vineyard, the Malibu Vineyard, was planted in 1985 by Michael and Kim McCarty," owners of Michael's Restaurant in Santa Monica.
The document goes on to assert that vineyards in the area "often act as an effective fire buffer around homes thus coexisting with the flammability of the natural vegetation and the annual Santa Ana winds while assisting in the protection of lives and property in this area of historically repetitious wild fires." (In theory, yes, but the McCartys lost their home and two of their five vineyard blocks in the Great Malibu Fire of 1993.)
Celebrate the new appellation by opening a bottle from any of the Malibu Coast vintners, which include Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards, Colcanyon, Montage, Malibu Sanity, Malibu Family Wines and Casa Dumetz.
And if you don't have a bottle on hand, Malibu Farm at the end of the Malibu pier has a good selection of local wines.