The Wine Day Trip: From L.A. to Malibu

Destination: Cornell Winery & Tasting Room, Rosenthal Estate Tasting Room, and more

Pondering what to do with your 48-hours of freedom? Consider this: a wine tasting day trip to stain your teeth purple. This recurring column will guide you to some of the most exciting wine road trips around Southern California, complete with tips on what to drink, what to eat, and where to stay.

Game Plan:
Malibu wines are on the rise, evidenced by the fact that the new Malibu Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area) is in the process of being approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)—a major victory for long-time advocates intent to prove that the wines they make are distinctly expressive of Malibu’s terroir (climate, soils, and growing conditions). So round up four of your best friends and head to Malibu, but leave your beach towels at home because you’re going wine tasting instead of sunbathing.

UPDATE: The Malibu Coast has been officially awarded “AVA” status. Read about it here.

Hit the Pacific Coast Highway (windows down, of course) then head up into the Santa Monica Mountains along Malibu Canyon Road or Kanan Dume Road to Mulholland Highway, with the Cornell Winery & Tasting Room as your first stop. Nestled into a wooded area this log structure looks like an old stagecoach stop straight out of a Hollywood western. Owner Tim Skogstrom and his associate Kristina Banfield work the tasting room, talking history and guiding guests through tasting flights, which run $10 per person. The flights change weekly with about 15 boutique producers being represented out of the approximately 50 produces in the area. (Note: make sure to Google the other local wineries to find out which are open or will see guests by appointment only. Skogstrom and Banfield are great resources as well, so don’t by shy—ask questions as they may have the inside scoop).

Also along Mulholland Highway is Malibu Family Wines, a ranch estate that boasts 60,000 vines planted on approximately 65 acres, and a tasting room nestled into picturesque landscaped scenery—rose gardens and rolling hills of vineyards as the backdrop with incredible views to boot. This is the perfect spot for a picnic, and provides an unexpected chance to see a collection of exotic animals like zebras, camels, buffalo and peacocks. The tasting room is open seven days a week (must be 21 and older, no children, infants or pets) and tables are first come first serve, but you can book a semi-private area by calling in advance. Flights range from $12 to $16 per person.

Coming down from the Santa Monica Mountains, head to The Rosenthal Estate Tasting Room, which is on the PCH directly across the street from the Pacific Ocean. Mark Appelbaum is the Tasting Room Manager, and he suggests downloading the Rosenthal Estate Winery app, which offers a calendar of events detailing live music (live jazz every Friday night) and food truck schedules for weekends. You’ll sample a flight of four wines, a mix of red and white wines from Rosenthal Estate and their second label “Surfrider,” which are wines from Edna Valley and Saint Louis Obispo—they also pour from other regions in California’s Central Coast. Flights are $12 per person. (Hint: Ask about the wine club, which provides the opportunity to party it up at the Rosenthal Estate—a 25 acre retreat off Kanan Dume Road, closed to the public, surrounded by 32 acres of hillside vines, bolstered by cool breezes from Newton Canyon.) 

If you’d rather someone make all the decisions for you, check out Malibu Discovery’s Malibu Wine Trail Tour, which hits the major tasting rooms and a few other stops along the way.

Winery Spotlight:
I spoke with Elliott Dolin, Owner and Winegrower of Dolin Estate Vineyards, at a recent tasting of Malibu wines at Duke’s. Dolin doesn’t have a tasting room, but his wines—the recipients of several awards like Double Gold at the 2012 SF Chronicle Wine Competition) are poured at Cornell Winery & Tasting Room. “While not an actual ‘winery’ it is a wine shop and the de facto tasting room for most of the small wine producers in and around the Malibu-Santa Monica Mountains region,” he said, adding that the owner, Tim Skogstrom, is a “a staunch supporter of the local Malibu area wine producers.” Dolin’s Chardonnay is one of the best I’ve tasted from the region—medium-bodied, citrusy, with subtle notes of toast, it’s a mouthful of delight. Look for his Chardonnay and his Rosé of Pinot Noir, which has a gorgeous nose and is perfect for sipping all-year round in L.A. (if you can get your hands in it).

Tasting Etiquette Tip: Judge on the second sip. As you’re tasting (and spitting because you’re tasting several wines), it’s good practice to take a small sip of the next new wine you’re trying, and spit it out without thinking about it. This cleanses your palate and readies your taste buds for the second sip when you really get to experience the wine.

Hours & Location:
Cornell Winery & Tasting Room
29975 Mulholland Hwy., Cornell (aka Agoura)
Open Thurs, 4pm-9pm; Fri-Sun, 10pm-6pm

Malibu Family Wines
31740 Mulholland Hwy., Malibu
Open daily, 11am-6pm  11am to 6pm 

Rosenthal Estate Tasting Room
18741 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu 
Open Mon-Thurs, 2pm-8pm; Fri, 2pm-10pm; Sat-Sun, 11am-10pm 

Where to Eat: 
For lunch, consider stopping off at The Old Place, next to the Cornell Winery & Tasting Room, a ranch-style restaurant serving a limited lunch menu from 11am-4pm. 

For a late post-wine-tasting snack or dinner, head to a favorite spot among locals: V’s Restaurant, where an afternoon menu (served from 3pm-5pm), boasts reasonably priced bites like beef and veal meatballs ($11), V’s chopped salad ($12) or share a few pizzas ($14-$17) and a bottle of Malibu wine for the table. Chardonnays from Hoyt and Dolin are on the list along with blends from Malibu Vineyards and Semler.

Other local restaurants worth checking out: Malibu Pier Restaurant, Geoffrey’s, Nikita, Tra Di Noi and Gravina where other Malibu labels grace the wine lists.

Where to Spend the Night:
This is one day trip that shouldn’t require over-nighting it, but if you’re from out of town, make sure to end the day in style and luxury by staying at the famous Shutters on the Beach. This luxury hotel offers superb wines by the glass at each of their restaurants, which offer unobstructed views of the ocean and Santa Monica pier.