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Carrie Bell is a California native who has been covering travel, entertainment, and weddings for more than a decade. She is currently TripSavvy's Los Angeles expert.
Updated on 11/08/19
Southern California may never have the wine tourism draw of Napa, Sonoma, or Paso Robles, but oenophiles still have plenty of delicious wines to taste and buy in SoCal. The Los Angeles wine scene especially has grown a lot over the last decade. With a new downtown winery, plenty of tasting rooms, wine bars and specialty stores, events, and even a wine safari, there’s plenty to see and sip when its wine o’clock.
The thriving LA wine culture is actually a return to its roots. Before the film industry took root, LA was the nation’s commercial winemaking hub and was blanketed by vineyards. The San Gabriel mission made the first vintages in 1796 for religious services, but secular vineyards were being planted as early as 1784 in what is now Glendale, La Cañada-Flintridge, and Eagle Rock. Ventures took off in downtown in 1833 when Jean-Louis Vignes planted vines from his native Bordeaux for a winery. (Vignes Street is named in his honor.) By the mid-19th century, there were more than 100 wineries within the city limits, most of which lined what are now Alameda and San Pedro streets.The industry crashed with Prohibition, the Depression, urbanization, and vine diseases so the epicenter of California winemaking shifted north.
A few wineries are upholding the tradition and hoping to reinvigorate the industry. San Antonio Winery, founded in 1917 by Italian immigrant Santo Cambianica, survived Prohibition by making altar wine and is still going strong four generations later under Cambianica’s descendants. Fruit is now sourced from their estate vineyards in Paso Robles, Monterey, and Napa, but the winery remains on Lamar Street. They offer tours and tastings and have one restaurants.
Angeleno Wine Company received the first permit to make wine in Los Angeles in 100 years and opened the first new winery in downtown since Prohibition this summer, complete with a tasting room housed in a building made of brick recycled from LA’s first city hall. Founders Amy Luftig Viste and Jasper Dickson currently use grapes from a family farm in the North end of the county, but blending and production happen in the new 1,500-square-foot facility. Taste the fruits of their labor—many of which have hometown-inspired names like SuperBloom or Zanja Madre (LA’s first aqueduct)—while surrounded by 1,000 barrels from the most recent harvest. The winery is open on weekends and weekdays by appointment.
Although Pali Wine Co. (and sister label Tower 15) wares are made near Santa Barbara, the company takes its name from the Pacific Palisades where the owners live. They also have a dog-friendly tasting room in the Arts District with a super chill vibe, trivia, free Wi-Fi, and a tap program that allows imbibers to taste fun, young, and sometimes more experimental wines that come directly from the barrel with no fining or filtering.
Wines coming from the Malibu American Viticulture Area (AVA) only started being officially recognized in 2014, but the ritzy enclave now offers LA’s highest concentration of tasting rooms like Cornell, The Barn at Cielo Farms and Rosenthal, which hosts screenings, yoga classes, karaoke nights, and stand-up comedy on their patio.
LA Wine, opened in Chinatown in 2018 about a block from the Metro station. Owner David DeLuca crushed the transition from Brooklyn barkeep to California winemaker. LA Wine only carries Golden State vintages, specifically those produced in AVAs from Mendocino down to Santa Barbara. Be sure to order DeLuca's single-vineyard 2016 Chardonnay and 2014 Syrah.
Drown workday woes in creative champagne punches (one’s inspired by "The Office"), gooey fondue, terroir-driven esoteric wines, and bottomless brunch at Severance on Melrose Avenue. They also put together picnic boxes for Hollywood Bowl goers, go all out with themed pop-ups, and teach hands-on sabering seminars.
Mirabelle’s list of European and American wines, all but the rarest of which are available by the glass, is as deep as the cassette tape collection that fills the cozy Valley Village space with nostalgic tunes. Mirabelle also serves a surprising amount of delicious food with only a cooktop and a toaster oven. Don't miss the daily happy hour deals or grilled cheese Thursdays.
East Hollywood’s Tabula Rasa carries around 150 wines at a time, mostly from boutique producers toiling in the natural, organic, or biodynamic realms, and programs guest DJs, jazz bands, and pizza nights regularly. Every Tuesday a portion of sales is donated to a community organization.
Start summer weekends right — sitting atop a Los Feliz hill at the Barnsdall Art Park, glass of shiraz in hand, watching the sunset while a DJ spins and food trucks whip up dinner. The Friday night 21-and-older ticketed wine mixers, held May through September, raise money for Barnsdall's programs and renovations to the on-property Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hollyhock House, which you can tour for an additional $15.
Wine and Wildlife
Another great opportunity for group wine outings is the Malibu Wine Safari. Get squired around a 1,000-acre Santa Monica Mountains ranch in custom, open-air, off-road vehicles, stopping to take in the bucolic splendor, sample wines from the three house labels including Saddlerock and Semler, and feed the bison, zebra, llamas, and alpacas that also call Saddlerock home. (Most retired from movie and TV careers.) There are tours that include a five-course wine-paired dinner, Chumash cave paintings, or a visit with Stanley the Giraffe.
Malibu Wines & Beer Garden in West Hills offers live music on weekends and pairs with local eateries like Two Doughs Pizza.
Wine at Hotels
Sometimes you can satisfy your wine cravings without leaving the hotel. Malibu Beach Inn's Meditasting package combines guided meditation led by mindfulness coach with a tasting of a trio of Henriot Champagnes in the oceanfront private dining room. One of the four participants much be staying at the hotel to book.
On the first Friday of the month, Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes invites guests to the terrace for a complimentary ONEHOPE Wine tasting while they perform the nightly sunset and crystal bowl sound healing ritual.
Uncorked at The Langham brings Napa to Pasadena on Saturday afternoons through October. Winery partners like Coppola and Charles Krug bring their beverages to try, grown-ups taste wine flights, the sweet sounds of a live singer-songwriter fill the garden's air, and lawn games keep welcomed children occupied.
The pop-up Rosé Beach Bar was such a hit last summer at Shutters On The Beach that the Santa Monica hotel brought it back again. The tiny crescent counter pours the pink stuff, including the house label made by Champagne Pommery, sand-side for 10 folks at a time and is a fabulous place to watch the sunset.
The new Rosé Cabana at theLuxury Collection’sSLS HotelBeverly Hills is on the hotel's sundeck and has a floral motif and pink ceramic chandelier. Rental comes with a bottle of the titular beverage and bites. It can be reserved by non-guests.
One of the experiential programs offered by extended-stay property AKA Beverly Hills is a jaunt to Napa that includes a tour and tasting at Far Niente Estate, dinner at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, and transportation by helicopter.
Sporting floor-to-ceiling wine racks and a sunny patio on which to eat foie gras or avo toast, Santa Monica’s Esters Wine Shop focuses on small operators but has a high-end retail room too. Sunday's casual themed events (i.e. wines made by dads) welcome all types of wine lovers with cheese and five pours.
Owned by one of LA’s first female sommeliers, Silver Lake’s Vinovore makes picking a pinot fun with a tasting chart organized by animals like silver fox (elegant, refined, crisp, and sparkling) or pink pony (frisky and flirty, fruity reds), an inventory emphasizing lady winemakers from around the globe, and gift boxes based on personalities.
Come for the 2,500 bottles that line the walls and stay for more than 200 cheeses at Wally’s, the Beverly Hills culinary commerce champion that offers a vinoteca, bar, and restaurant that stay open until last call at 2 a.m.
Harper’s Club can bring your wine hobby to the next level. Founder Chris Hoel, a former French Laundry sommelier, helps customers curate cellars and track down rare, old, not widely distributed, and coveted wines through collectors, auction houses, distribution companies, and winemakers. He also plans wine-related travel and organizes private events.
Wine Country Weekends
While LA's wine scene is great and only getting greater, remember that three and a half hours or less in a car can deliver those seeking a grape-centric getaway to Paso Robles, the Santa Ynez Valley, Los Alamos, and Temecula. Ojai and Santa Barbara's urban wine trail can even be done as a day trip.
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