Malibu Wine at County Line: One Vineyard Two Counties

Talk about living on the edge… “I wanted to do something creative” said Barbara Rotter, vintner and co-owner of Chateau Soleil where you can see right down to Leo Carrillo State Beach from her Chardonnay vineyard at 2000 feet elevation. So in 2003 she began planting 5 acres of vines on her 26 acre ranch just up the road from Neptunes Nest off PCH. Here in the late summer/early fall of 2010 she produces 500 cases of wine including Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The Chardonnay is on the south slope below the tennis court and is in Los Angeles County. The other vines are above the house and in Ventura County. Like quite a few – OK, every single one – of the Bu vintners we have visited and reported, the geographic and architectural site is truly special.

So are you and (hubby) Al wine lovers? “Not really. I just wanted to follow my heart and do something creative” – and we suspect grand. Barbara makes up her mind and takes on a project like a mountain lion. With guidance from the ubiquitous George Rosenthal she found a vineyard manager (Corky Roach, the generic choice among the local novices), planted her vines and hired a local daily vineyard manager since Corky must make his busy rounds up and down the coast. At harvest she quickly ships her grapes off to the other ubiquitous generic vinification choice – Camarillo Custom Crush. What good fortune for the 3C operation. What started off decades ago as a home brewing/wine making resource for home brewmasters and winemakers has become the #1 local choice for Bu vintners to convert their juice into bottled wine.
Here is what we tasted, in order.

2009 Chateau de Soleil Malibage Rosé Los Angeles County
: A 50-50 blend of Cabernet and Syrah. The wine is red not pink, masculine style with good acid and balanced flavors. 13.9%

2008 Chateau de Soleil Chardonnay Los Angeles County: Served with too much chill which shades the alcohol. Still tasty with lemon meringue flavors from oak and fruit. Some folks making decent Chardonnay on this coast. 15.3%

2008 Chateau de Soleil Pinot Noir Ventura County: Very fruity; mark of the 3Cs. Also served chilled but did not improve when the temperature eased. An example of how the character can get stripped out of a wine. 15.1%

2008 Chateau de Soleil Syrah Ventura County: The true-to-character wine which probably means it should be easy to grow here. Best so far. Good flavors. Smoke left in the juice. 15.1%

2008 Chateau de Soleil Cabernet Sauvignon Ventura County: Another mountain Cab like Don Schmitz Solstice label. Veggie flavor, medium body but tastes like Cab. Like Solstice this wine is also vinified at 3C. Mrs. tBoW likes it. 14.7%

2007 Chateau de Soleil Malibage Reserve Ventura County: They created the Malibage term because it is the same blend Рhalf and half Cab/Syrah Рas the Rosé. Charcoal nose, balanced, medium weight, lean. Reminds me of the Solstice 100% Cab. 14.8%

Do not look for these wines in your local markets. The Rotters are just getting around to pricing and placement. If there is a 2010 Malibu Wine Festival they will enter for the first time. The Chardonnay will probably get a gold medal.

To summarize…alcohol levels at 15% plus are unnecessarily out of control. There are enough local vintners [ed. Schetter, Hoyt, McCarty] that have shown you can bring in Bu juice under or close to 14%. Just like Don Schmitz on top of another mountain to the south, the Rotters have relied on the old guard for direction. As with Schmitz, we believe they might find more contemporary direction among compadres whose goals may be closer to their own. There is a new guard in the Bu that has a tentative grip on doing something special in the region. They recognize there is a difference being located on the coastal side of Malibu wine country versus inland, or as one vintner described the inland side, being in Agoura. They select which fruit to plant carefully, they invest in their vineyards heavily, and they make sure to extend this commitment to excellence all the way through to finishing the wine. Chateau de Soleil belongs with them. The Rotters – like so many other Bu vintners – just need to broaden their palates a bit and drink more wine from other places. Hofa!

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