Angeleno Wine Company exterior
All photos courtesy of Angeleno Wine Company

Resy SpotlightLos Angeles

Angeleno Wine Company Brings Winemaking Back Home to L.A.

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Angeleno Wine Company, located in a historic brick building across the road from Los Angeles State Historic Park, is one of only a handful of wineries to have opened in the city of Los Angeles since Prohibition, and it’s a true L.A. enterprise. 

The winery, with its festive weekends-only tasting room, is run by business partners Amy Luftig and Jasper Dickson, who met and bonded over their shared love for winemaking at Silver Lake Wine (Dickson worked there, and Luftig was a regular customer). Dickson started making wine independently under the label Rhythm Wine, and the two eventually joined forces, founding Angeleno Wine Company in 2014. 

Now, not only are the duo making wine in a building made from the recycled bricks of the first Los Angeles City Hall, they’re even making wine using Los Angeles County-grown grapes. Curious how they’re doing it? Here’s everything you need to know about this one-of-a-kind wine destination near Downtown Los Angeles.

Wine lineup at Angeleno Wine Company
There are usually a dozen or so wines on offer.
Wine lineup at Angeleno Wine Company
There are usually a dozen or so wines on offer.

L.A. was actually California’s first wine region

While Los Angeles may not be associated with wine these days, the city is actually the birthplace of the California wine industry. L.A. can’t lay claim to the first vineyard in California — that was planted by missionaries at Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1779 — but it was home to the first commercial winery in California, Buena Vista Winery, which was founded in 1857. In its heyday in the late 1800s, Los Angeles wineries were making 25 million bottles of wines a year, at least until Prohibition was enacted, which put a swift and unceremonious end to the industry. 

When Dickson and Luftig teamed up, they intentionally focused on grapes from Los Angeles County (more on those in just a minute). “There’s such a rich history of wine in L.A.,” says Luftig. “The grapes here are awesome, and our climate is fabulous for grape growing and winemaking. It just made so much sense to try and bring back that kind of legacy to Los Angeles.” 

Hard at work at Alonso Family Vineyard
Hard at work at Alonso Family Vineyard.
Hard at work at Alonso Family Vineyard
Hard at work at Alonso Family Vineyard.

Grapes come from Santa Clarita to Rancho Cucamonga

Yes, there are vineyards in Los Angeles County. Not a lot, but enough (there are currently six American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs, within county limits) for Angeleno Wine Company to source a diverse set of high-quality grapes. 

Most of the grapes the winery uses come from the Alonso Family Vineyard, which is just outside the town of Agua Dulce, in an AVA that many people have never heard of: Sierra Pelona Valley. Located halfway between Santa Clarita and Palmdale, the Sierra Pelona Valley experiences hot days and cool nights that help preserve the acidity in the grapes. 

Owner Juan Alonso is from Galicia, Spain, so he planted the Galician grapes albariño on his vineyard alongside tannat, tempranillo, and others. He started with about 50 grape vines in 1995, and the operation has gradually expanded since then, currently taking up six acres. During harvest each year, Angeleno Wine Company’s staff goes up to Agua Dulce and picks their own fruit. 

The winery also sources grapes from Lopez Vineyards in Rancho Cucamonga, a historic vineyard with own-rooted vines planted in 1918. (Own-rooted meaning that the vines are not grafted onto another rootstock; such plantings are rare after phylloxera devastated vineyards in Europe in the late 19th century.) Angeleno sources zinfandel and palomino from Lopez, and they recently started working with a three-year-old dry-farmed vineyard called Rock Farms Vineyard in Littlerock, just southeast of Palmdale, for grapes like grenache and viognier, which are suited to the warmer climate. 

The differences are, in their way, a reflection of how climatically diverse the greater Los Angeles area is. “I don’t think it’s that you have to have this climate or that climate,” says Luftig, “but you have to get the right [grape] for the climate.” The diversity of grape varieties is quite unusual for such a small winery, enabling them to experiment: “We get to play around a lot; it’s a lot of fun,” says Dickson. 

Co-founders Jasper Dickson and Amy Luftig
Co-founders Jasper Dickson and Amy Luftig.
Wines at Angeleno Wine Company

Keep an eye out for special bottles

Even though Angeleno Wine Company has their signature wines, they’re always experimenting on new projects, which sometimes result in special limited bottles. One of the most fascinating examples was their foray into fortified wine, using old vines in the Mission San Gabriel, the oldest of which dates back in 1770.

The California Missions Foundation had reached out to the Los Angeles Vintners Association to see if any of its winemakers wanted to help take care of the vines and do something with the grapes they have growing in the Mission San Gabriel. Four years ago, association members including Luftig and Dickson, along with Mark Blatty from Byron Blatty Wines and Patrick Kelley of Cavaletti Vineyards, started to tend to the vines. They were also able to pick fruits to make a historic wine known as Angelica, which was one of the first types of wine to be made in California. 

Traditionally made using Mission grapes and fortified with brandy, Angelica is a sweet wine that’s typically served as dessert — and it was aged and bottled at Angeleno Wine Company’s facility. It seemed only appropriate to Luftig and Dickson to make Angelica with the Mission San Gabriel grapes. To them, it’s just another way of bringing back the history of L.A. winemaking. Needless to say, after three years of aging, the limited release of 300 bottles sold out quickly last fall. 

Guests enjoying the ad-hoc tasting room
Guests enjoying the ad-hoc tasting room.
Guests enjoying the ad-hoc tasting room
Guests enjoying the ad-hoc tasting room.

On weekends, Angeleno Wine Company is the place to be 

On Saturdays and Sundays, the winery’s typically bare brick room fills up with picnic tables and folding chairs, as the space turns into a festive, ad hoc tasting room. By noon, the space will be filled with groups of friends and families, many of them armed with takeout pizza or other BYO snacks (there is no kitchen at the winery, so guests are welcome to bring their own food). 

Angeleno Wine Company does 85-90% of their sales through the tasting room. (They also have a limited distribution in the state, including at local restaurants like Agnes and Wife and the Somm.) The winery offers a $20 tasting flight of four wines, and a few other wines by the bottle. There are usually a dozen different options available. Some of the winery’s best-known wines include the Gold Line, a skin contact wine made from moscato grapes and tannat, a fuller bodied red. There’s also the California Crackler, their 100% Champagne-style wine made from chardonnay. The duo is constantly working on new wines, as well, and some of the more recent ones included a skin-contact albariño, half fermented in barrels and half in stainless steel tanks. 

While they have a growing cohort of regulars, there are still a lot of new faces that come through the winery, both L.A. residents and out-of-town visitors. “It’s always fun to see people surprised,” says Luftig. “That just opens up a whole conversation — when they say, oh my god, who knew wine from L.A. could be good? Well, let me tell you a little history.”