This article, published in our November 2018 issue, has been updated in the wake of the Woolsey Fire, which devastated the Malibu Coast viticultural area.
It looks like a mirage: grapevines standing in neat rows amid the Joshua trees of California’s high desert. But tucked away in the windswept town of Littlerock in the Antelope Valley, about an hour’s drive north of downtown Los Angeles, is Golden Star Vineyards—one of dozens of working wineries within L.A. County.
More than a century ago, Greater L.A. was home to so many wineries that it was nicknamed the City of Vines. More recently, wine grapes have been grown commercially everywhere from Encino to Bel-Air to Catalina, with the bulk coming from two certified American Viticultural Areas: the Antelope Valley and the Malibu Coast, the latter of which was ravaged earlier this month by the Woolsey Fire.
As those vintners begin the process of replanting and rebuilding—although not all will rebuild, according to the Los Angeles Times—the L.A. area’s less-well-known AVA is a day-trip away.
In this hot, arid climate, the sturdy syrah grape does especially well, but some growers are finding success with heartier Italian and Spanish varietals, too. Here’s where to sample the bounty.
Thief & Barrel
Winemaker and sommelier DiMaggio Washington co-owns this Lancaster winery that has a cozy tasting room as well as a “custom-crush” facility used by some of the region’s 40-plus small producers. Don’t miss the award-winning syrah from his Rancho Santiago Vineyard.
Golden Star Vineyards
Farther out, in the hinterlands of Littlerock, this winery is worth a visit for its estate-grown malbec and smoky syrahs sourced from Chavez Vineyards, one of the region’s biggest producers.
Sierra Pelona Valley
Just south of the Antelope Valley lies a tiny AVA called the Sierra Pelona Valley. Syrah tends to be the star here as well—especially at Reyes Winery, which also makes a unique skin-contact chardonnay and cabs that age like a dream.
Antelope Valley Winery
Across the 14 freeway from Thief & Barrel, this gift shop and tasting room pours wines under its Donato Family Vineyard label. A handful come from vines on the property, of which the tart, plummy sangiovese is the most memorable.
Alonso Family Vineyards
Sierra Pelona Valley
Juan Alonso currently sells his grapes to other winemakers like Byron Blatty Wines, where the syrah is used in its rich Tremor blend. But you can order some of Alonso’s own earlier-vintage wines at Le Chêne, the French restaurant he runs just down the road from Reyes Winery.
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