Monday, July 11, 2011

Malibu Wines - Yes, There Are Wineries and Vineyards in Malibu (Perfect Staycation Spot!)

Whenever I'm with my friend 'Designer', random but serendipitous things tend to happen to us.  We don't necessarily plan for adventure but somehow end up on them.  Back in May, on a whim we had gone to LACMA's annual Muse Art Walk - as we arrived fairly late in the day, we chose our first gallery for speed - because it was attached to the parking lot we pulled into. It happened to have a wine tasting table outside.  At the time we thought, "cool, free wine, just in time before they call it a night!" - little did we know that was only the start of our next adventure. 

The company hosting the tasting was called Malibu Wines.  On a previous hike up Temescal Canyon, we had spotted vineyards on the hills overlooking the ocean, roughly in the Malibu area - but we thought those might have been private backyard wineries of the rich and famous.  As if reading our minds, the friendly wine rep at Art Walk proceeded to talk about their tasting room up in the hills of Malibu, and that we should check it out sometime.  In fact, she had tokens she was giving out for complimentary tastings at the tasting room!  "Take as many as you want," she said, "it's the end of the day.  Take some for your friends!"  We actually liked the wines they sampled at the show, grabbed a few tokens, made a note to look up the place and moved on to the gallery.

It wasn't until Designer's birthday came up this past week, and we were looking for a daytime activity to celebrate (before hitting the bars, wanted to make a full day of it!) that we remembered the tokens that had landed in our hands so long ago - and decided to use them for a mini staycation. 

We were excited to see that we could bring our own food to eat in their picnic area - as they do not have a restaurant on the premises, which was all the more appealing to us as we are both on a budget! 

So, first order of business was to pick up sandwiches and salads from Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery in Santa Monica - which was conveniently for us on the way to the PCH.

Despite being a weekday, the deli was packed with hungry throngs of people, probably 6 deep, 4 wide by the deli counter - and since we were off to a late start due to pre-Carmageddon traffic, we opted for the pre-made sandwiches and salads.

It was grab and go, then a straight shot up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. Finding the winery was a bit of a process  - the road up the hill, Mulholland - was a small street that didn't have an obvious sign and we passed right by it the first time.  After getting up the hill it was another challenge to find the entrance to the winery - largely as we had been distracted by an amazing looking Tuscan villa atop a hill (we vow to go back to visit) and Malibu Wines had such an unobtrusive entrance, you wouldn't notice it unless you knew where to look (thank you, iPhone GPS!).

As we finally set foot on the grounds of Malibu Wines, we were completely charmed.  It was a cozy space with just a dozen or so tables out among olive trees and lush greenery, three open bar counters set into stone-walled buildings, with a giant vintage looking water/wine tower, vintage pickup trucks bearing wine barrels, and rustic wooden chair-swing adding personality.  On the far side is a gazebo which we thought was made for weddings, and a silver airstream which we guessed is a service station when they have barbecues for private events.

Apparently Malibu Wines is not a working vineyard - but they do pour two wine labels: Semler (from the vineyard across the street) and Saddlerock. Three tasting flights were on offer: one for each label, and a "Light" flight with combinations of the two.  Each consisted of four wines. 

As it was a hot summer day, we decided to go with the Light flight ($12 normally, but free for us that day with the tokens!) - which included tastings of NV Saddlerock Sparkling, 2010 Semler Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Saddlerock Chardonnay and 2009 Semler Rose.

I am definitely not a wine connoisseur, so not going to attempt to analyze the wines, but to my amateur palate I liked the NV Saddlerock sparkling (Blanc de Blanc) the best - it tasted light and refreshing, pairing perfectly with the gorgeous weather that day!

We took our glasses to the picnic area and unpacked our Bay Cities Deli spread:  'Godmother' sandwiches (with genoa salami, mortadella, coppacola, ham, prosciutto, provolone, lettuce, tomato), caprese, potato salad and the cutest single-serving tiramisu cups with plastic shovel-like spoons packed in!  Not sure if the sandwich was so named as it represents an offer you can't refuse - but the ingredients and fresh bread really was pretty irresistible!

To walk off our meal, we went to explore the 'upper deck' - another seating area just up a short walkway, that is even more laid back - with sunny deck chairs arranged around 'tables' made of half-buried wine barrels.  The upper deck was an intimate space laced by grapevines and other flowering plants - and afforded great views of other vineyards in the hills beyond, including the Tuscan estate we were mesmerized by on the way up.
We loved both the upper and lower decks, and sat in each area just taking in the relaxing atmosphere, embracing sun and gentle breeze. 

Malibu Wines offers extended hours in summer (open til 9pm instead of 6pm), but they stop offering tastings at 5:30pm.  Unfortunately we did not realize there was a cutoff time, so by the time we were ready for second rounds, the tasting offers had been shut down.  The manager wasn't altogether friendly when communicating this, which was the only blemish on our experience that day - and despite the attitude I decided to get a bottle of the Blanc de Blanc ($30) for Designer's birthday, and because we weren't done with our staycation yet.  Not to mention that they have live music Fridays and Saturdays*, on their outdoor stage - and we were expecting it to be nothing short of movie magic, with twinkling lights strewn throughout the space playing off the rustic stage and intimate little outdoor performance space.  We got all that and more when the fun local two-man cover band came on and played everything from Oasis to Extreme to Cee Lo.  Great place for a casual fun date or girls day/evening out.

All in all, a fantastic, super affordable local getaway that we can't believe is only about 35 minutes' drive from downtown Santa Monica!  Had a great time and was just what Designer and I both wanted / needed that day.  Will definitely be back the next time we need to relax and recharge!

[See more pics from our Malibu Wines adventure in my photo album on Facebook!]


Malibu Wines
31740 Mulholland Highway, Malibu, California 90265
Ph: 818.865.0605

Tasting Room: 7 Days a Week from 11am – 6pm (last call 5:30pm free admission, $10-$12 for tastings) Extended summer hours: Fridays & Saturdays until 9pm (*free admission, but requires minimum one bottle purchase)


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