Vineyards soak up the sun in the 'Napa-bu' hills

Vineyards soak up the sun in the 'Napa-bu' hills
Malibu Family Wines has outdoor tasting bars in a rustic setting. (Fred Seidman)

Not everyone can own a swell ranch on Point Dume with views of the Pacific or call a double-wide in one of those sun-drenched Malibu trailer parks home. For surfers and hikers, Malibu is paradise. And if you don't like the beach and aren't into shopping with the stars, there's wine tasting.

An afternoon of wine tasting on the Malibu trail not only dials into the beach enclave's laid-back lifestyle, it's also fun and relatively affordable. Since this wine trail involves a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway and into the Santa Monica Mountains, it's a good idea to bring along a designated driver.

Three stops for tastings on a Malibu wine tour


Malibu's vineyards are tucked into the mountains and not always obvious, but 198 acres are planted mostly with Bordeaux, Burgundian and Rhone varietals. Last July, Malibu vintners finally got their own Malibu Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area) designation (

A little over a month later, while producers were still celebrating their victory, a sweeping coastal resource protection plan was passed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and approved by the California Coastal Commission, ruling out any further vineyard plantings in Malibu. Ironic, no?

Just to clarify, no wines are actually made in Malibu. Come harvest time, the grapes are trucked out to custom crush facilities in Westlake Village and beyond. Still, 52 vintners are making wines from bona fide Malibu grapes.

The first documented vineyard in the area was planted on the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit by José Bartolome Tapia in 1824. Three decades later, Matthew Keller planted hundreds of acres of grapevines in Solstice Canyon at Rising Sun Vineyard. But the first modern vineyard, the Malibu Vineyard, was established by restaurateur Michael McCarty, of Michael's in Santa Monica, in 1985.

"Malibu is world famous, but very few people are aware of our wine grape growing history, which dates back two centuries," says Elliott Dolin of Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards. "While people sunbathe on the beaches, up here in the hills, our vines have been catching rays of their own." Some locals jokingly call the area "Napa-bu."

Malibu, however, is not the Napa Valley. You won't find tasting rooms dotted all over the canyons. Although some have come and gone, at the moment there are just three open to the public on a regular basis: Cornell Winery, Malibu Family Wines and Rosenthal Wines. Plenty for an afternoon of tasting and lazing close to the Pacific.