Corti TV: Moraga Vineyard

At the invitation of Roxanne Langer, Director of Sales and Marketing Moraga Estate, Darrell Corti and I flew down
to spend the day at this unique vineyard. Roxanne picked us up from LAX at 11am and drove us to the vineyard
located in Bel Air, just a stone's throw away from the 405 freeway and the Getty Center. We were joined by Darrell's
dear friend Steve Wallace (who shares the same birthday and birth year with Darrell). Steve is founder of the renown
Wally's Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles. We were also joined by Moraga winemaker Scott Rich.


The Moraga Estate is a part of Hollywood legend. It was owned by Academy Award winning director Victor Fleming
who directed the Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Fleming used it as a horse ranch in the 1930's and 1940's.
Screen legends such as Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, and Spencer Tracy were frequent guests.


Moraga Estate was purchased by Thomas V. Jones in 1959. Mr. Jones was an aerospace executive who took control of  the Northrop Grumman
Corporation in 1960 and led it for 30 years before retiring as chief executive in 1990.  He made the Cover of Time Magazine in October 1961.


Mr. Jones was at no loss in having celebrities, heads of state, and famous wine makers visit Moraga Estate over
the years.  Famed actor Jimmy Stewart  and his wife gifted Mr. Jones with two donkeys in the early days of his
Moraga Estate.

Steve Wallace tells of what became of the donkeys.

Christian Moueix of Petrus, on his first visit, compared Moraga's gravel and limestone soil composition to his own vineyards
in Bordeaux. President and Mrs. Reagan were frequent visitors.
In 1983 a small dam was built at the back of the canyon, which sits at
the north end of the 
property.  This was done because a prior storm threatened the vineyard. In his eight years as President of the
United States, this was the only dam in the country which Ronald Reagan dedicated.


Mr. Jones started planting wine grapes on six acres of his estate in 1978 after learning that he had deep
gravel soil along the Benedict Canyon Fault running through part of the estate. He chose Bordeaux varietals
— Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. In 1982, he bottled his first wine,
and eventually created Moraga Vineyards, which now bares wine grapes on the majority of the 16 acre
property.  Steve Wallace was asked to meet with Mr. Jones early on to consult, and became one of the first
to sell Moraga Estate wine.  Moraga was one of the first the first commercial wineries to be bonded in the
city of Los Angeles after prohibition.  Mr. Jones sold Moraga to Australian-American media mogul
Rupert Murdock in May of 2013, but continued to live at the estate.  Mr. Murdock and his wife, American
actress and model Jerry Hall, have continued the wine making traditions of Moraga Estate and plan to
further promote it as the unique vineyard it is.  Mr. Jones passed away at his estate on January 7, 2014.


We arrived a little before noon and spent some time just soaking up the beauty of the vineyard and the estate.

We settled into the office/tasting room shortly after our look around. Roxanne and Scott had a line up of wines
ready to be opened.  Roxanne brought some lunch in, so we ate first then started to taste the white wines.
The vintages of white wines presented were 2003 in magnum, 2004, 2006, 2011, and 2014 all in 750 ml.


The white wines were a delight to taste. Solely made from Sauvignon Blanc, they were very Bordeaux like. So much
so, I believe it would be difficult for many experts to distinguish their origin, if tasted blindly. They age very well. The
2003 vintage, in my opinion, was amazing. Rich and very elegant with crisp acidity, notes of orange melon, grapefruit,
Meyer lemon and wonderful mineral character. Scott brought out a 2001 vintage, which he hadn't tasted in a good
number of months. He wanted us to see what we thought as he felt it hadn't developed as nicely as the 2003 vintage.
Darrell, Steve and I were quite surprised, as was Scott upon tasting it.  I was amazed in that this 2001 vintage seemed
to be fresh like the 2014 and 2011. I mentioned that it would be interesting to taste these vintages blindly to see how the
tasters might put them chronologically. I think it would be a difficult thing to do.


While tasting the flight of  white wines, Steve asked about sweet wine.

As far as dessert wines go, I have been very fortunate to have experienced tasting a broad diversity of sweet wines
over the years. Everything from late harvest domestics to the diversity of the best of French, German, Italian,
Hungarian, Greek, and
Australian dessert wines. I love this wine. I couldn't spit, nor dump any of it let alone put the
glass down. The balance of sweetness, acidity, and wood were harmonious. Hints of Membrillo (Quince Paste) and lush
concentrated raisin were so elegantly present.  Impressive, very impressive.


A few hours had passed while we dissected the scents and flavors of the white wines. We decided to take a
break and stretch our legs. We piled into Roxanne's car and she drove us around and up through the Bel Air
neighborhood to the top access entrance of the vineyard.  The views from the crest of the main hill were
spectacular. There are slopes of this vineyard that exceed a 45 degree angle making parts of this estate true
"Heroic Viticulture"    All vineyard work is done without any machinery.
The "birds-eye view" from the top of the vineyard certainly gave an even greater appreciation of this unique

We walked through some of the vines and just took in the beauty.  To make the ride down more comfortable for the rest,
I graciously said I would hike down the hill. I shot video and took pictures between the long gazes of appreciation as I

Once back at the bottom of the vineyard, I took a closer look at the original horse stable built in
1937.  The southern most stall houses a small office filled with endearing memorabilia.


We continued our tasting as soon as Roxanne returned with the rest of the group.  The red wines were next up.
The flight consisted of  1993, 1996, 2005, 2009, and 2012 vintages. In fairness to the red wines, we at Corti Brothers
always taste red wines first, then white wines. For me, it was a little tough tasting the flight of red wines after such an
amazing experience with the flight of white wines.  With honesty being the best policy, and pulling no punches I found
the flight of red wines good, certainly well made examples of California produced Bordeaux style red wine, but echo
Darrell's opinion that perhaps Moraga should become a property which makes only its best wine. That being white.
In the world of wine, so many do not break from what is safe especially when it comes to general opinion. If ever a
property which produces both red and white wine could opt out of red to concentrate on such an amazing production
of white, Moraga could be that property. It would certainly set general opinion right on its ear!


Our remaining time at Moraga was growing short. I took a quick peek inside the wine cave and took a few last looks around.

I can't compare Moraga Estate to any of the many vineyards and wineries I have had the pleasure to visit in the U.S. and
internationally. It is truly unique. My best wishes to Moraga Estate for an long and hopefully ground breaking future.

To Roxanne and Scott, Thank you for an amazing experience!

Rick Mindermann

Side note: On Thursday February 16, 2017, the internationally acclaimed British wine critic, journalist and wine writer 
Jancis Robinson
OBE, MW paid a visit to the University of California at Davis, California. She donated her personal
archive of
papers, notebooks, tasting notes and professional photographs to the Shields Library and was the focus
of the evenings event.  Mackenzie Smith, the UC Davis Librarian, hosted an intimate dinner following the event.
Darrell Corti included a magnum of Moraga 2003 White Wine in the dinner.  Jancis thought very highly of the wine
mentioning that she was holding a tasting of 2003 white wines in London upon her return and would make mention
of the 2003 Moraga White Wine.