Zuma Beach Paradiso: Church Estate Vineyards = Auberge de Soleil in the ‘Bu

Should you ever meet Robert Haggstrom Church - owner of Church Estate Vineyards Рyou will be struck by how plain folk he seems to be. After a couple hours sipping wine and lunching on his terrace, checking out his spectacular wine cellar, and listening to his views about making wine, quotes by Hunter S. Thompson start coming to mind.

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn PRO”

“Buy the ticket, take the ride”.

Bob has 8 acres a few hundred yards east of Zuma Beach that he transformed over eight years into a verdant paradise. I did not say tropical because the grounds seem more consistent with a lush European garden. There is nothing chapparal about the estate yet it does not scream “other planet” either. I am sure there would be and probably have been objections to¬†the extreme makeover of what was once ordinary gently sloped scrub hillside into a pond, streams and gentle – almost invisible – forest falls after a rainy season. This transformation would only work if it were an exclusive getaway in Napa something like Auberge de Soleil.

Wait a minute. IT IS!

Karen, new Director of Marketing and Events for the Church enterprise, meets us at the locked wooden gates. We park adjacent to the sunken clay tennis court and let her drive us around the place: stable for 8 walking horses, the Sequoia grove (as in there are 200 foot Sequioa trees), community garden, swan pond with landing stop, rock bordered stream, and finally the 2 acre terraced vineyard. The vines are pristine. Netting has just been added as the fruit clusters are hanging. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay only. Impressive start.

We finally pull up to the Normandy-style home and enter the 6 bedroom chateau that is “available on a limited basis for exclusive clientele”. Karen runs the wedding book and wouldn’t you like to work with this set up? The kitchen is professional with French pavers, a French floor to ceiling pizza oven, and enough copper pots and pans to make Julia Child rise up and drool.

Karen has enough charm to close any deal and Bob is a very generous host. But the tBoW tasting team [ed. IGTY and tBoW on this mission] is of a singular mind; bringing perspective in Pinot to Bob and Karen. Bob is a collector of Big Ticket Cabernet and First Growth Bourdeaux.

this is a wine cellar

He has all the collectible producers from 2003 Harlan in mag to 1982 Lafite. Proving he is more than just a trophy hunter he also has a few vintages of d’Yquem and an extra fine collection of Port; Fonseca and other notables¬†from 1963, Graham etc. from 1977, and another dozen bottles on display through 1994. He is a champagne fan as well. He holds Krug in the highest esteem which he “discovered” through personal quest. However, he admits he is at the beginning of his Pinot Noir education.

Except he knows enough to plant Pinot Noir instead of Cabernet on the coast of Malibu!

We have brought two bottles of Pinot Noir as reference points for his own Church Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir. Bob humors us; allowing us to open our wines and even fill his glass. Karen, too.

2006 Philipe Livera Gevrey Chambertin ClosVillage Reserve Vielle Vignes $37: A North Berkeley selection which¬† usually means they selected the barrels. We pour this one first considering this may be Bob’s first Burgundy. It is tight, acidic, almost stringent. Not showing well right out of the bottle. Karen says it has a flat finish. She is right…the Burg is showing poorly! Bob has an aerator that we use when we return to this bottle in 15 minutes. It works wonders. The wine emerges full of blueberries and spice. Ends up being my favorite of this tasting. On to the next wine. 13%

2006 Williams Selyem Russian River Valley $90: Wham bam. Friendlier than Mel Gibson after three martinis. So approachable which is the hallmark of W-S wines. Bright, Pinot fruity, light weight, not at all juicy or dense. Some beets on the flavor, balanced. It is a blend of their main Russian River sources: Drake Estate Vineyard, the Allen Vineyard, the Flax Vineyard, the Rochioli Riverblock Vineyard, the Bucher Vineyard, and their own Litton Estate Vineyard. Bob is a fan. His first W-S wine. IGTY is pleased since it was his contribution. 14.3%

2007 Church Vineyards Pinot Noir $37: Tough competition for this wine made from 4 year old vines. Like those gutty little football Bruins of olden times the wine shows well once again. Cola, cherries, nicely balanced. Want to taste it in coming vintages. Bob puts it through the aerator which opens it up even after 30 months in barrel. The winemakers are Santa Rita Hills all stars Bruno D’Alfonso and Kris Curran and they are staying for future vintages as well.

Bob says he wanted to grow Cabernet being a Cab collector however John Selman of Malibu Village Wines – and general Go-To-Wine-Man for the Bu – talked him into planting Chardonnay which prompted Bob to do further “red” research leading to his decision to plant Pinot Noir [ed. the typical complement]. Good job! Bob does show some thin¬†skin when it comes to the Malibu appellation extending into Agoura Hills but he points out Agoura Wine Country just does not impress…unless¬†you’re from Coalinga.

We shoot him the “vision” question. “I want Church Estate Vineyards to be the Lafite, the Opus…the Williams Selyem of Malibu wines. In¬†my opinion Malibu grapes are going to produce great wines…for reasons more than the name.”

Do not under estimate this man. Try his Church Estate Vineyards along with the McCarty Pinot Noir and Schetter’s Malibu Sanity. These guys are leading the pack.

1 Comment

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    igty says:

    nice day, beautiful home and grounds, and a host with the most generous demeanor one could find. his wine is coming, if it’s this good now with 4 year old vines, he could produce some first rate juice in the years to come. the facility would be my first choice for a wedding or special event in L.A…..WOW!
    what else can i say, except tBow made me the designated driver, as always–thus i was forced to hold back. again this small production wine is worth consideration if you see it on the menu or store shelf. the santa monica mountains have a multitude of very distinct micro-climates and it’s a perfect place to play around with some interesting varietals. don’t dismiss these wines because you’ve endured some plonk in the past….the vintners i’ve seen are working hard to produce quality wines. they’re working out the “kinks” faster than expected.

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