Palos Verdes, a peninsula southwest of Los Angeles, has never been known for grapevines. But that’s the region’s most talked about crop today. In June, the federal government approved the Palos Verdes Peninsula American Viticultural Area (AVA) as one of the country’s newest wine-growing appellations.
“Palos Verdes is a peninsula with an ocean breeze, very similar to Santa Barbara or the Sonoma Coast,” says Darioush Khaledi, a grocery store mogul-turned-vintner who splits his time between Palos Verdes and his namesake winery in the Napa Valley. “It’s the perfect weather for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.”
Though Khaledi has not planted grapes here, he applauds the region’s two most prominent commercial producers: Villa Oneiro Vineyards, where Greek-born proprietor Dimitri Bizoumis, who is a dentist by day, planted his two acres of grapes in 2006; and Catalina View Gardens, where real estate developer Jim York has planted about seven acres since 2012.
York spearheaded the AVA application by researching the region’s geology, geography and history by himself, rather than pay for an appellation creation consultant.
“You have to demonstrate distinction,” says York of that process, which he thought was long—he began working on it three years ago—but not particularly complex.
There are just nine vineyards total within the 15,900-acre appellation, and York believes his is bigger than all of the others combined. He expects that to change, and would like to see whatever industry that emerges function like a co-op.
“There are areas where we can grow a spectrum of different wine grapes and have a much bigger portfolio, which would be more attractive,” says York, noting that smaller vineyards are growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese. “It’s never going to be profitable, but it’s really enjoyable and rewarding. I expect that it will grow substantially.”
Like any extreme coastal setting, Palos Verdes presents some challenges for grapevines, most notably fog-related blights like mildew and botrytis. Pests like yellow jackets and mealy bugs are also a concern.
“I felt that, behind the defects in the grapes, that there were very nice wines to be made,” says Ken Brown, winemaker at Catalina View and a veteran vintner who’s been making Santa Barbara County wines since the 1970s.
Brown was finally convinced by the 2018 wines. He thinks the 2019s and 2020s may be even better, largely thanks to the attention of Nick Zeets, Catalina View’s vineyard manager.
“Setting aside extreme adverse weather conditions, I am now confident that the continuation of the adopted precision viticultural techniques will lead to consistency of many more outstanding wines,” says Brown.
Bizoumis experienced similar pressures at Villa Oneiro. “It’s a very unique microclimate,” he says. “Every year, there is something to learn.”
He is less bullish on the potential for more vineyards, at least of substantial size.
“The problem with Palos Verdes vineyards is that land is so expensive,” he says. “To buy five acres, it’s about $7 to $10 million. It’s more expensive than Napa. It would be difficult for someone to replicate this at this scale.”
So, will Khaledi one day jump in with his friends? Probably not. “Having 120 acres of vineyard in Napa Valley is enough for me,” he says.