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Winemakers toast local wine region

Second Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Festival spreads word of emerging appellation, promotes synergy

Posted: May 3, 2014 10:33 p.m.
Updated: May 3, 2014 10:33 p.m.

The second annual Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Festival at Reyes Winery in Agua Dulce on April 26.

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Like a toast with friends, the second annual Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Festival at Reyes Winery in Agua Dulce brought together local and regional winemakers for a convivial afternoon of sun, food and plenty of cheers.

The April 26 event celebrated and promoted the local Sierra Pelona Valley wine appellation, or a designated grape-growing region, as well as supported the College of the Canyons Culinary Arts and Wine Studies program, donating all excess revenue to the program.

“It’s a wonderful event — great venue, good food samples and really great wines,” said Saugus resident Laurie Connolly, enjoying a glass of red with her friends.

About 25 wineries and home winemakers offered roughly 1,000 guests tastings alongside food, beer and craft vendors, said Robert Reyes, owner of Reyes Winery.

“I was surprised we have our own wine appellation,” said Valencia resident and local wine enthusiast Keelan Moon. “There’s a lot more winemaking that goes on in this valley than I thought.”

A budding region

Declared a wine appellation in 2010, the Sierra Pelona Valley American Viticultural Area is home to two commercial wineries and various home winemakers in the SCV.

About 10 square miles north of Highway 14, between Santa Clarita and Palmdale, the appellation comprises 96 acres in Agua Dulce Canyon, Mint Canyon and Sleepy Valley, according to the Federal Register.

“Every appellation has its own attributes and microclimate, giving the vines their own character and nuances,” Reyes said. “Our microclimate is conducive to good grape growing. We get the breeze from the ocean, and the vines are adaptable to the dry, desert climate.

“We’re fortunate to be here,” he said.

Wine industry professionals seem to agree. Since its first vintage, Reyes Winery has acquired 32 medals and produced wines that score in the 90s in various regional tastings and festivals, he said.

Also at the festival, Agua Dulce Winery General Manager Steve Wizan poured three reds in their lineup of “easy-tasting, low-tannin” wines.

All their grapes are estate grown in the Sierra Pelona Valley appellation, he said, because producing wines from a single appellation gives a winemaker “street cred.”

“The reds love it here,” Wizan said. “The dry climate increases the sugars in the wine, so there’s more alcohol. Then the valley cools off at night, because it’ desert climate, allowing the grapes to recover from the heat.”

Thinking beyond the Sierra Pelona Valley, Wizan has hopes for the dry climate of Los Angeles County wines.

“It’s really ready to explode,” he said of the L.A. County winemaking scene.

A taste of synergy

Contrary to the dynamic in other industries, the wine industry welcomes competition.

“We want to promote the area as a wine destination,” Reyes said. “Competition is good. It’s synergistic. If we can all do it together, we can all get something out of it.”

In the spirit of breaking bread, Reyes welcomed competitors, home winemakers and regional successes to pour at his event.

Backyard vintner Stephen Hemmert poured a 2010 Zinfandel, his specialty.

“I grow the zin grapes in my backyard,” he said. “All the grapes are local.”

Striking up a partnership with other local growers, Hemmert sells his wines at Reyes Winery and La Chene.

Juan Alonso, 34-year owner of the local French restaurant, is credited by many with planting the first wine grapes in the SCV in the early 90s.

Alonso grows grapes around the La Chene property and produces them in the facilities at Reyes Winery, Alonso said. Alonso Family Vineyards Wines are also 100 percent locally grown.

With a wide scope, Alonso pours varietals from tannat to syrah to tempranillo.

“We’re happy to be here,” Hemmert said.

An upcoming vintage

Reyes first planted grapes in 2004 after more than four years of working through the licensing process.

“This is a passion for me,” said Reyes, a computer programmer turned real estate professional turned winemaker-painter.

Learning wine out of a “tiny little book” 40 years ago, Reyes enrolled in winemaking courses at University of California, Davis.

“There’s always something new to learn,” he said.

On 16 acres of land, Reyes has planted 15 acres of five different varietals: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, chardonnay and muscat, he said.

Though the vines grow more balanced each year, producing better wines over time, the California drought has presented new challenges for the 2014 vintage.

Reyes’ vineyard receives water through two deep wells, now unable to keep up with demand from the vines.

“There isn’t enough water to maintain the vines,” he said, “so we’re bringing in water. The value of a ton of grapes is significant compared to the cost of bringing in water.”

Bud break, when grape buds first open on the vine, occurred a month early this year because of the unusually dry year, making the vines vulnerable to frost damage.

Despite the California drought, Reyes’ grapes thrive — especially the syrah, a personal favorite of Reyes’.

Offering a barrel tasting, he pours his 2013 syrah, a robust wine with lots of tannins.

“It’s been in the barrel about six months,” he said. “We’ll keep in the barrel another year-and-a-half to let it rest (and soften). It’s rough and tough now, but with the passage of time, it gets better and better.”

Giving the glass a swirl and a sniff, Reyes tasted his barrel syrah.

“We’re expecting a good crop this year,” he said.



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