Congrats on the New Appellation; Don't Plant Any Vines!

Malibu Coast vintners are fighting a measure to ban new vineyard plantings
Aug 22, 2014

Last month, vintners in Malibu Coast celebrated the U.S. government's designating their region the newest wine appellation in America. This month, they are fighting for the right to keep growing grapes. On Aug. 26, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors will vote on a measure to adopt a Land Use Plan for the Santa Monica Mountains, which includes the entire American Viticultural Area (AVA). The plan bans future vineyard plantings, but vintners fear it could lead to removing vines too.

“If they pass this, I have to take my vineyard out,” said Jim Palmer of Malibu Vineyards. “They’re trying to make vineyard guys be the bad guys, but if anyone’s a good guardian of the land, it’s vineyard owners.”

The Land Use Plan for the Santa Monica Mountains is a local proposal to keep the area protected as outlined by the California Coastal Commission. Established in 1972, the California Coastal Commission regulates the use of land and water in the coastal zone, allowing local governments to decide the ground rules for development in their area.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, sponsor of the measure, said that existing vineyards will be safe. “Any legally permitted vineyard is grandfathered in,” Yaroslavsky told Wine Spectator. “The backbone of this plan is preserving what is there. Preserving the ridgeline, preserving the mountains as they are, protecting the wildlife, the water quality, protecting the oak woodlands, the sycamores and the chaparral.”

But Malibu-area vintners are nervous that enforcement of the rules might lead to confusion over what a “legally permitted vineyard” is. Some vineyards were originally planted as landscaping and not as commercial ventures, other vineyards may have expanded under existing permits, which may no longer be considered legal.

The recently approved Malibu Coast appellation is 46 miles long and 8 miles wide, comprised mainly of the Santa Monica Mountains. The entire AVA compasses about 44,000 acres, only 200 of which are planted with vines, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Chardonnay.

Malibu has a history of vineyards and winemaking going back to the early 1800s–during the mid-1800s, the Los Angeles area was a hub of wine production. Prohibition put an end to that momentum, and modern vineyards weren’t planted until the 1980s. There are currently about 50 vintners in the area, but no production facilities are permitted, only vineyards. Because production is small, most wines aren’t distributed beyond the L.A. area.

Vintners petitioned the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for AVA status in 2011, and their proposal was approved in July. Up until now, most wines made from grapes grown in the area had Los Angeles County or California on the label, though two other AVAs already existed in the area, the Malibu-Newton Canyon Valley AVA and the Saddle Rock-Malibu AVA. Both of those now lie within the new AVA.

“If you look at the big picture, any new AVA needs new vineyards to grow and survive,” said John Gooden, owner of the 1-acre Montage Vineyard. “That’s why it’s so important to challenge the rules. This is a farming issue and a land-rights issue.”

Many vintners are blaming Yaroslavsky, who is in his final term. “He’s rushing to get this finished so he can leave a legacy that he saved the Santa Monica Mountains and ride off on his white horse,” said Gooden.

They also feel they're being targeted unfairly, and that vineyards should be considered an asset because they provide an effective firebreak and help soil erosion. “There’s never been a ban on vineyards in California,” said Gooden. “If the Coastal Commission says they can ban vineyards here, where will they do it next?”

Yaroslavsky pointed out that the vineyard interests in the Santa Monica Mountains are a tiny portion of the 52,000 acres he’s trying to preserve, adding that there are thousands of places to plant grapes in California, but only one Santa Monica Mountains. “I’m a wine connoisseur myself, though connoisseur might be too strong of a word,” said Yaroslavsky. “We love wine country. We love Napa and Sonoma. But we also love Big Sur and the Yosemite, and we don’t expect to find vineyards there.”

Environment Legal and Legislative Issues United States California News

You Might Also Like

Oregon's Evenstad Estates Buys Burgundy Domaine and Vineyards

Oregon's Evenstad Estates Buys Burgundy Domaine and Vineyards

The owners of Domaine Serene are adding 15 acres in the Côte de Nuits to their growing …

Jun 18, 2021
Grand Award Winner Eleven Madison Park Returns with Plant-Based Menu

Grand Award Winner Eleven Madison Park Returns with Plant-Based Menu

The New York destination is back, with a twist. Plus, Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat …

Jun 17, 2021
Wine Spectator's 40th Annual New York Wine Experience Is Sold Out

Wine Spectator's 40th Annual New York Wine Experience Is Sold Out

The wine world's signature event will be held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square from …

Jun 16, 2021
The Future Is ‘Collective’ for Napa Valley Vintners

The Future Is ‘Collective’ for Napa Valley Vintners

Collective Napa Valley, a year-round philanthropy program, will replace the discontinued …

Jun 15, 2021
Instagram Live Chats: View Wine Spectator's Upcoming Schedule

Instagram Live Chats: View Wine Spectator's Upcoming Schedule

Our next two episodes feature Harmon Skurnik of Skurnik Wines and winemaker Jean Hoefliger

Jun 20, 2021
SND: U.S. and E.U. Suspend Tariffs in Aerospace Dispute for 5 Years

SND: U.S. and E.U. Suspend Tariffs in Aerospace Dispute for 5 Years

President Joseph Biden's administration lifts 25 percent tariffs on wines, spirits and …

Jun 15, 2021