Hunting Down the BEST of Malibu Wines

vineyardflwrsWEB.jpgMalibu Wine Country…what makes it so different from anywhere else in the Golden State? Besides the Mediterranean stretch of coastline with the ubiquitous “Tuscan villas”, superb surf breaks, and Hollywood folks…really nothing at all. Especially when it comes to winemaking it’s just another region with the same issues.
The surge in planted acreage – 150 new – over the past five years is almost matched by the number of new vineyards – 50 plus. Obviously, there are a lot of hobbyists in Malibu who have caught the winemaker’s lifestyle bug. What have we learned about Malibu as a winemaking region? Good wine can be made here. Bad wine too. Matching grapes to terroir which includes weather, water and soil, is not the only hurdle.
If there is one feature that it seems does make Malibu different it is that the winemakers as a group may be so new to the wine culture. There is certainly no requirement every winemaker start with a degree in enology. A well-stocked cellar with a wide range of wines would do. We have encountered plenty of self-made vintners all over the state and the world. However, when it comes to winging it in winemaking the learning curve can be steep and long. That is why hiring out the essential roles – vineyard management and winemaker – can cut years and degrees off that curve. However, for certain individuals the idea of rolling caroldotoreWEB.jpgup your sleeves and getting busy with grapes is just too intriguing to let somebody else have all the fun.
The tBoW tasting team visited Carol Hoyt of Hoyt Family Vineyards in Malibu recently. That visit is covered along with reviews of a few other Malibu wines at the end.
Carol and husband Stephen planted their one acre vineyard in 2001. She originally planted half to Chardonnay, and the balance to Malbec and Merlot. Their love for wine fueled the decision to try making it in their backyard. Of course, it helped that the Tony Griffin Malibu acreage was next door and in plain view. She is getting her winemaking schooling at Terravant in Santa Maria where many Santa Rita winemakers crush, ferment and store. She hired the winemaker at SummerlandcarolwinesWEB.jpg which was certainly a good decision as that winery is known for its consistently decent and sometimes very good wines.
She uses the Smart-Dyson technique to increase her yields by 100%. She produced 165 cases in 2009 but also lost a large share of her crop from heavy rain in October. She explained the gamble of pruning late to delay bud break – a defensive measure against high Spring winds that send blooms into the Channel – which increases the risk for encountering late season rain as you let the fruit hang until ripe. Her “basic program” is 50% new oak and 80% malolactic fermentation. She is completely involved in the winemaking process including the tasting! Carol – we asked in our most sensitive voice – why do you do make wine? “I like to drink it.” So we did. Here is what we tasted.

2004 Hoyt Family Vineyard Malibu Chardonnay
: First vintage, young vines. All hers. Candy nose. Some citric flavors but fruit fading fast. Made at the Camarillo facility (where the herd she left behind makes wine). 13.2%
hoytchard05.jpg2005 Hoyt Family Vineyard Malibu Chardonnay: More character. Aging. Bubble gum nose. Still too sweet for my palate. 14.1%
2006 Hoyt Family Vineyard Santa Maria Chardonnay $28: She decides to go for it and see if she can make a Rombauer California buttery fruit bomb. This is half Santa Maria and half Hoyt estate fruit. All over your face. Turns out she thinks it is too much. We agree. But there is definitely a market for an under $30 “big” California Chardonnay. 14.2%
2008 Hoyt Family Vineyard Chardonnay $34: Nice light gold color. This wine presents with a doughy nose. Flavors are glycerine-like [ed. sugar substitute, cooking oils], with tart fruit. More French in style, like a fat Macon. Best of the set. 14.1%
Summary on Hoyt Family Vineyard: Carol is still looking for the right style for her “drink-it-all-day-Chardonnay.” She grafted Chardonnay over to her Merlot and Malbec stock after one vintage; a good decision. She admired the consistency and buttery oak flavors of the Rombauer Chardonnays and that is what she believes she can produce in Malibu. She was one of the “locals only” crowd early on, thinking she would only make wine from Malibu Hills/Malibu Coast fruit. She has since abandoned that idea which we think is another smart move. She has sourced juice from Santa Barbara and Paso in the past which she will need to continue if she wants to hit her annual goal of 2,000 cases. Her retail price point near $30 will help establish her brand. A tried and true plan no matter the wine region. The bottom line for Malibu Wine Country, says Dotor√©, is wait a few decades and enjoy the sunsets.
Here are some other Malibu wines tasted recently.
2008 Griffin Family Vineyards Malbec $36: Looks,smells and tastes like Malbec. Deep color, acid balancing the rich fruit. We review the Griffin Chardonnay below which we also found to be well-made and appealing. More so than this wine but for a simple, if dumb, reason. We cannot understand why anyone would grow and bottle Malbec when the Argentines do it so well for half the price. 14.7%
MVsangiovortex07.jpg2007 Malibu Vineyards Vortex Sangiovese $26: Well made wine that tastes Italian. The blend includes Merlot and Cab Sauv. We applaud the low alcohol and the price point. The wine tastes like California Sangiovese, sweet/tart and ripe flavors, light to middle weight. Some dustiness which assign to tannic acids. Nice wine that could compete with Italian Chiantis. 12.5%
griffinchard06WEB.jpg2006 Griffin Family Vineyard Malibu Coast Chardonnay $35: Is that acid? Or is it salt? Whatever, this is a pleasant surprise in a local Chardonnay. Made by the Summerland winemaker (See Hoyt). Good citric style fruit. Tastes like he used some oak. Is this Schistic soil we are tasting as in chalky? Green apples like Mendocino. Flinty. Kind of bright in the flavors with the acid. Lean strong Chardonnay. A mountain Chard? Quite unexpected and very pleasing. 14.1%

2003 J Wilkes Santa Barbara County Block E Pinot Noir
$45: Tasted this the same night as the The Malibu Vineyard Rambla Pacifico Malibu Pinot Noir [ed. Jan 30 2010 post]. Could not help but make the contrasts. The Wilkes was far more dense, rich and darker. Dark vs light; deep vs rustic, new world vs newer world. Conclusion: the Malibu wines if made well are lighter and even more Burgundian in weight and restraint. Not as dense as Santa Rita HIlls Pinot Noirs. All the Malibu wines may be rustic to be sure. Some may also be diamonds in the rough. Schetter definitely has the right idea but then he has had A LOT of very good Burgundies. Back to the McCarty wine. There are some tobacco flavors that do not belong. This is like watching early Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns. Drive-in movie fun on release that are now classics. Rough. Unpolished. Satisfying. Real cowpoke from the most unlikely place. 14%
Money shot of Hoyt Vineyard at top. A good spot for drinking an “all-day-Chardonnay” below.

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