The winery is home to a new Chinatown tasting room, featuring wine made from nearby Agua Dulce vines.
Los Angeles is one of the most exciting places to drink wine, thanks to not only its proximity to major wine regions in California but also its place as America’s best food city. One of the most overlooked facts about Los Angeles, however, is the city’s legacy in California winemaking — especially in contrast to the reputation and sheer production volume from the Napa and Sonoma regions.
Angeleno Wine Company is the first winery to open in downtown L.A. in over 100 years. Its recent opening serves as a lens to examine the city’s history. “I love the idea that through this winery, we’re kind of connecting L.A.’s past with L.A.’s future,” says Angeleno Wine Company co-founder Jasper Dickson.
Though Dickson and his partner Amy Lufig Viste have produced wines under the Angeleno name since 2015, what drove the pair to build a facility — complete with a tasting room — was pure passion and a devotion to celebrating the region’s winemaking roots.
In 1833, the aptly named Jean-Louis Vignes opened California’s first commercial winery, though winemaking had been prevalent in the region since the 1700s, initially to supply churches with communion wine using mission grapes. Vignes named his winery El Aliso in honor of the 60-foot sycamore tree that shaded the property, located where current-day Vignes Street hits the 101 Freeway. (Once towering in the center of Yaanga Village, inhabited by the native Tongva people before colonization took hold, the tree was a sacred place where chiefs from nearby villages convened. It was 400 years old by the time it was cut down in 1895.)
Many wineries in downtown and beyond, including in the San Gabriel Valley, flourished. So much so that the original seal of Los Angeles, in use from 1854 to 1905, actually featured a cluster of grapes and leaves, identifying L.A. as the “city of vines.” The first commercial winery in Napa, by contrast, didn’t open until the 1860s.
San Antonio Winery, which opened in 1917, is the last winery still operating within city limits with historic roots in L.A. Because of an arrangement with the Catholic Church, San Antonio produced wine through an exemption made for sacramental purposes, thereby dodging Prohibition. By the end of Prohibition in 1933, only six wineries remained in Los Angeles, and by the early 1960s, San Antonio was the only one. They’ve also since changed their sourcing, with grapes no longer coming from Pasadena, Glendora and Burbank, but instead from Napa and Monterey counties and Paso Robles.
Angeleno Wine Company co-founder Jasper Dickson. Photo courtesy of Angeleno Wine Company.
Angeleno Wine Company owns about six acres worth of vineyards in Agua Dulce, northeast of Santa Clara and southeast of Lancaster. Its distinct AVA, or American Viticultural Area, used to delineate wine-growing regions, is named Sierra Pelona Valley — a 10-square-mile viticulture established in 2010. From here they harvest red and white grapes, with additional supply coming from Lodi. Their output is a modest 2,000 cases per year, with plans to keep production small and as hands-on as possible, with the goal to increase production to 5,000 cases. Dickson and Luftig Viste plan on sourcing from other vineyards to collaborate and keep things fresh.
Beyond permitting and licensing, acquiring funding for their wine company proved challenging but inspirational. Dickson and Luftig Viste, both veterans of Silverlake Wine, secured a loan from the Los Angeles Community Development Commission thanks to a successful pitch outlining the history and return of winemaking culture to the city.
“We showed them the original city seal,” Dickson says.
They also raised money through Kickstarter to get things running. And that’s before their wine-loving friends and family subscribed to regular shipments. “Our wine club is a huge part of remaining solvent,” Luftig Viste says.
Angeleno’s wines serve as a perfect snapshot of what many enthusiasts want today. They pride themselves on using unique varietals such as Graciano, Loureiro, Treixadura, and they are especially jazzed on Tannat, a grape originating in the Basque country that is mostly grown on the border between France and Spain.
Angeleno wines are processed naturally, without inoculation. The wines are also vegan — an important distinction as egg whites, fish proteins and cow parts are normally used for “clarification,” the process where unwanted solid matter is removed from wines before bottling.
“Gravity drags all the particulates to the bottom,” Luftig Viste says, “it’s natural and yes, cheaper.”
The array of options available to customers at the Angeleno Wine Company. Photo courtesy of Angeleno Wine Company.
And the wines? Vibrant. Though Spanish wines are generally assumed to be bold, Angeleno’s are balanced and complex — and each bottle serves as an homage to the city. For instance, their rosé, made from the Graciano grape, is named The Meadow after the park near Silver Lake Reservoir where Dickson and Luftig Viste spent many hours enjoying wine. With prices ranging from $22-$35, Angeleno ensures the attainability of each delicious bottle.
It’s only fitting that the local community is integral to Angeleno Wine Company’s mission to bring winemaking back to the city. From funding locally planted vines and wine production occurring next to Los Angeles Historic Park, they’re bringing it full circle. It’s especially poignant that their facility is located adjacent to streets named Mesnager and Willhardt — winemakers from a time when Los Angeles was known as the “city of vines.”
Angeleno Wine Company’s tasting room is open Saturdays from 12-8 p.m., Sundays from 12-6 p.m. and on weekdays by appointment.