Wandering Moraga Estate evokes the feeling of exploring the vineyards of Tuscany with its tranquility, sweeping beauty, and a 1920s Mediterranean revival-style mansion. It’s the middle of harvest and I’m greeted by winemaker Paul Warson with a glass of their 2020 White. Only the glimpse of the Getty Center in the distance reminds me I’m in the heart of Los Angeles — only a few minutes ago I had been sitting in traffic on the 405 freeway. Now instead of cars, I’m enveloped in a private oasis surrounded by sheep — who are a part of their sustainable wine practices.
The estate was originally the home and horse ranch of Gone With the Wind Director Victor Fleming. Regular visitors in the 30s and 40s included Vivien Leigh, Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy, and Clark Gable — who kept horses in the stables. In 1959 aerospace engineer Tom V Jones purchased the property and planted vines as an homage to Jean Louis Vignes, who began making wine in the 1830s in downtown Los Angeles — decades before wine production in Napa.
Moraga Bel Air was purchased by Rupert Murdoch in 2013 after he came across an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. The deal was made over glasses of Moraga wine with the condition that Murdoch maintains the property as it was and continue the winery’s legacy.
A place like no other
Since its inaugural vintage in 1989, Moraga Bel Air is the only winery with estate-grown fruit in Los Angeles. These wines have consistently stumped sommeliers. Wine experts have argued that Los Angeles cannot produce fine grapes, but Moraga’s unique location —steep rocky vineyards 800 feet above sea level, ocean breezes from the Pacific, ancient marine soils, and good rainfall — create a distinct microclimate that defies the typical desert scenario of its basin.
The estate is comprised of seven small vineyards across fourteen acres growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc. Moraga produces two wines made in a Bordeaux fashion – the Estate Red, a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend – and the Estate White, a Sauvignon Blanc.
Farm to table since before the term was created, Moraga has for years provided wine to Los Angeles’ most acclaimed restaurants and bars, including Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, Piero Selvaggio’s Valentino, Alain Ducasse’s Camphor and Steve Wallace’s Wally’s.
Opening the Gates
Despite its Hollywood lure and acclaimed wines, Moraga is a secret even to locals. Most residents pass by daily without knowing there are vineyards or a winery there. “It’s just a regular neighborhood,” says Warson. “The gate is so tall you wouldn’t know what’s behind them until it’s opened.” Warson wants to change Moraga’s hidden status and make sure people have an opportunity to visit this hidden gem. “We want to share this gorgeous and unique property with visitors because this special place should be experienced. It’s an exciting time for Moraga.”
Into The Glass
The wines produced at Moraga are a reflection of terroir, a commitment to quality and are nothing short of extraordinary.
Golden in the glass, the Moraga White 2020 is a rich style of 100% Sauvignon Blanc exuding aromas of white peach, honeysuckle and toasted almond. The palate opens with flavors of citrus, exotic fruits and brilliant acidity and minerality followed by honey-soaked apricot, white flowers and vanilla cream. Pair the Moraga White 2020 with summer salads, oysters, shellfish, crabcakes and rich cheeses.
Reminiscent of a Bordeaux or Napa Hillside was the 2019 Moraga Red of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 1.5% Petit Verdot and 1.5% Cabernet Franc. Full-bodied with a dusty mouthfeel, each sip offers exceptional balance and complexity. Dark chocolate, blue fruit and tobacco meet the nose. Flavors of black cherry, plum, cedar, coffee, herbal cassis, charcoal, caramel and polished tannins follow. Decant and enjoy with steak, roast lamb, duck breast, gratin dauphinoise and chocolate pudding, or cellar to age to perfection.
For the first time in its history, Moraga Bel Air is hosting custom tours and tastings by appointment only. If you are a Los Angeles local or have plans to visit the area, reach out to Moraga via their website to schedule an experience at one of the most unique wineries in California.