Head north for 20 minutes on Sierra Highway from Soledad Canyon Road, and the landscape starts to change.
The houses get further apart, the traffic thins, and suddenly, there are rows and rows of wine grapes on the right.
Agua Dulce Winery opened on 100 acres in Agua Dulce in 1999, built by billionaire and prolific Los Angeles builder Ray Watt.
Watt “spared no expense” in building the winery, according to Steve Wizan, the winery’s general manager.
After Watt died in 2009, the Goldfarb family purchased the winery in 2010, and since taking over, they’ve won hundreds of awards for their wine. They’re now Los Angeles County’s largest fully operational winery and vineyard.
“We’re a complete vine-to-bottle operation,” Wizan said.
They produce six varieties of grapes, including chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel, syrah, and sangiovese.
All that fruit is then aged in the best Hungarian French oak barrels — purchased by Watt when he first opened the winery – for two to five years. Right now, the cellar is full of barrels, kept cool at 60 degrees year-round, aging vintages from 2011 to 2016.
Open daily for tastings from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., visitors can try the 2009 and 2010 vintages at the moment. Knowledgeable staff guide visitors through the tasting list, whether they’re a first-timer, or a “cork dork,” as Wizan said.
But Agua Dulce Winery is far more than just a tasting room.
“When people come up here, they have no idea what to expect,” Wizan said.
What can you expect? Great wine, and a great time.
It’s the perfect place to bring the family, along with a picnic basket, to spend a day hanging out with the winery’s animals, playing horseshoes, or posing for photos on the scenic property.
In addition to its weekly barrel tasting tours that give you a chance to try wine straight from the barrel and a picnic lunch, the winery also hosts monthly events – everything from wine and paint nights, to wine blending classes.
Agua Dulce just harvested its 75 acres of fruit a few weeks ago, and celebrated its annual Stompfest on Oct. 9 by featuring an “I Love Lucy” lookalike contest, and actual grape stomping – ala the beloved TV show.
On Nov. 12, the winery will host its fourth annual chili cook off. Tickets are just $25, and include a glass of wine, plus chili and cornbread. But if you’re looking to do more than just taste the chili, and think you’ve got what it takes to out-cook the rest, they’re still open for contestants. Reservations are required for contestants and attendees, so plan ahead!
Many of the winery’s events revolve around food for one – good – reason: food and wine go well together.
So what goes well with chili?
That’s easy: Agua Dulce Winery’s award-winning zinfandel. Unlike more fruit-forward varietals like syrah, zinfandel has a pepperyness to it that is a perfect compliment for chili.
“That’s why we’ll be pouring a lot of zinfandel at the party,” Wizan said, though they’ll have all their wines available by the glass on Nov. 12.
If you want more than just a glass, bottles and cases are available for purchase as well. Agua Dulce Winery’s reserve wines are only available at the winery, so it’s a good idea to stock up.
But once you see the place, you’ll want to come back. You may even want to live there. Well, you can do that too. The winery offers a 5,000-square-foot house for short-term rentals, perfect for a weekend getaway full of sipping, sunset-watching, and strolling through the vineyard.
To reserve your spot at the chili cook-off, or another event at the Agua Dulce Winery, email Steve Wizan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 661-268-7402 to complete your reservation.