Moraga Vineyards is a wine growing estate in the Santa Monica Mountains at an elevation of 600 to 900 feet, five miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Los Angeles community of Bel Air. Owners and native Californians, Tom and Ruth Jones have lived on the 16-acre Moraga Canyon property since 1959, purchasing a small horse ranch originally built by Victor Fleming, director of Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.
Grapes are not foreign to this canyon land the overland expedition of Don Caspar de Portola, which established the route of the California missions (El Camino Real), passed by Moraga Canyon in August of 1769. In his diary, expedition member Father Juan Crespi mentions a "profusion of wild grapes and Castilian roses in full bloom" in the canyon. Wild roses still exist on the property and are represented on the four corners of the Moraga wine label.
The Moraga Canyon site has a microclimate that is distinct from the surrounding area. Records from the last 45 years indicate the annual rainfall in the canyon averages 24 inches, compared to 15 inches in downtown Los Angeles. The soil also differentiates Moraga from other California appellations. Submerged under the Pacific Ocean for millions of years, the Los Angeles Basin was thrust upwards to create the current topography. As a result, Moraga has deep gravel beds in the canyon bottom and hillsides composed of ancient calcareous sandstone seabed in which many marine fossils and shells are found.
Tom Jones an aeronautical engineer as well as a wine lover, was CEO of Northrop Corporation for 30 years before retiring in 1989. In his executive capacity, he and Ruth traveled the world. While visiting vineyards in Europe, they were impressed with the similarity of their property's soil to that of Bordeaux. The hills of Tuscany reminded them of Moraga's terrain, with its south-facing slopes. Inspired by these similarities, the Jones' set out to plant a vineyard in their own back yard. They started experimenting in 1978 with several varietals, clones and rootstocks to find the best match with Moraga's terroir. By 1985 the wine made from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot proved to be very encouraging. It was obvious that the high cost of hand-farming the hilly property would not permit Moraga to compete on the basis of price. The only chance of commercial success would be to produce a wine recognized to be of the highest quality.
The first Moraga Red Table Wine was produced in 1989 and released in 1992. The blend for Moraga Red Table Wine is typically biased toward Cabernet Sauvignon, but includes a substantial contribution from Merlot, with the objective of always producing the best possible blend. It is aged in the finest French oak chateau barrels for approximately 20 months, and then put in 19th century Bordeaux-style bottles with an extra deep punt and antique colored glass. The wine is aged for almost an additional 2 years prior to release.
Our first Moraga White Table Wine was produced in 1998 and released in 2000. The grapes for the Moraga White Wine consist of a single clone of Sauvignon Blanc. They are grown in the deep gravel beds and cooler temperatures of the canyon floor in what we consider the optimal growing environment for this variety. It is fermented in a combination of new French oak and stainless steel barrels, than aged for approximately nine months solely in stainless steel barrels. The white wine receives one year of bottle age prior to release.
The winemaking team has substantial history with the vineyard and possesses an intimate familiarity with the nuances of this complex site. Tony Soter, who built his reputation helping shape such Napa Valley stars as Araujo, Della Valle, Spottswoode and his own Etude Wines, started working with Moraga, as the winemaker, in 1987. Later he brought Scott Rich, formerly Etude's winemaker, to succeed him at Moraga. Both Scott and viticulturist Mary Hall, who is also Harlan Estate's viticulturist, have been involved with Moraga since 1995.
Perhaps the single most important decision made in the wine making process is the time of picking. While brix, pH and titratable acid measurements are closely monitored and help us track the vines' progress, it is the development of flavor that determines the readiness of the grapes within each vineyard block. With the experience of each vintage we have been able to improve our understanding of the ripening patterns of our vineyards. We selectively pick from vines which have come to full maturity on the basis of taste. Ultimately, it is all about flavor and tannin development. With regard to structure, ageability, and elegance, these wines are more akin to the wines of Bordeaux than to their California cousins.
The 2005 vintage marked a significant milestone in Moraga's history. A state-of-the art winery was completed just in time for the 2005 harvest. This, coupled with the barrel ageing cave completed in 2003, establishes Moraga as an Estate Wine. Moraga is the first commercial winery to be bonded in the city of Los Angeles since Prohibition ended in 1933.