Moraga Vineyards is one of the most unique wine estates in California. Located at a 550-900 foot elevation in the Santa Monica Mountains in the Los Angeles community of Bel Air, the winery and vineyard is the source of remarkably refined wines that perfectly reflect a union of distinctive terroir and the gentle guidance of focused winemaking. The property is owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Grapes are not foreign to the Los Angeles Basin nor the Santa Monica Mountains where in lies Moraga Canyon in which the estate is nestled. The overland expedition of Don Caspar de Portola which established the route of the California missions – El Camino Real –passed by Moraga Canyon on August 5th, 1769. In reference to his sightings while in the region he states, “profusion of wild grapes and Castilian roses in full bloom”. Wild roses still exist on the property and are represented on the four corners of the Moraga wine label.
The property was originally the home of Victor Fleming, director of Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Fleming created a horse ranch on the property and used it through the 1930s and 1940s as a retreat and a secluded venue to host his friends.
In 1959, Tom and Ruth Jones purchased the property. After living on the estate for 20 years, Tom, the longtime CEO of Northrop Corporation, decided to plant grapevines. It was the steeply sloped hillsides and the gravelly and calcareous soils on the property that inspired them to plant vineyards as it reminded them of Bordeaux where they often travelled.
In 1980, the Joneses planted Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc which for two years thrived but by the third year the vines started to wilt and become unhealthy so in 1983, they asked for advice from Professor Petrucci, head of the viticultural department at the University of California at Fresno. After visiting the vineyard, Professor Petrucci determined that the vines had fallen victim to Pierce’s disease and would have to all be replaced.
In 1983, the Joneses replanted with budded over rootstock (already two years old at the time of planting) but this time with red grape varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, as they were considered more resistant to the disease. Later, Sauvignon Blanc and a small planting of Petit Verdot were added to the Moraga Bel Air vineyards.
Because they found their non-commercial vintages so enjoyable, the Joneses decided to officially launch Moraga Bel Air as a commercial entity. The first vintage, 1989, was produced by Bruno D’Alfonso at Sanford Winery in Santa Barbara County. D’Alfonso also made the 1990 and 1991 vintages. For the next several years the grapes were sent up to Etude Winery in Napa to be made by Tony Soter. Mary Hall, viticulturalist for Etude, was brought on as Moraga Bel Air’s original viticultural consultant and continued with Moraga even after she left Etude and joined Harlan Estate.
With the 1996 vintage, Scott Rich began making Moraga’s wine with Soter consulting. Rich left Etude in 2001 so Etude’s new winemaker, Brian Mox, took over, again with Soter consulting. Rich was re-hired as Moraga’s winemaker in 2002, making the 2002-2004 wines at wineries in Napa while building a cave and winery on the Moraga property.
The 2005 vintage marked a significant milestone in Moraga’s history. A state-of-the art winery was completed on the property just in time for the 2005 harvest. This, coupled with the barrel-ageing cave completed in 2004, established Moraga as an Estate Wine and one of the first commercial wineries to be bonded in the city of Los Angeles since Prohibition ended in 1933.
Throughout its history, the wines of Moraga Bel Air have been coveted and highly praised. Robert Parker, Jr. of The Wine Advocate has said of Moraga Bel Air, “This is one of the most distinctive little treasures in California...These are serious wines made with a French orientation. The Reds are very St. Julien-like and the whites are sensational efforts reminiscent of a top white Bordeaux.”
In 2013, at the age of 93 and with 24 vintages under his belt, Jones sold Moraga Bel Air to Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Murdoch made the property his West Coast home and is committed to carrying on the Jones’ legacy of producing top quality wine from one of California’s most unique estate wineries.
Writing to the customers and supporters of Moraga, Mr. Murdoch noted, “Whether we built it or simply come to possess it, the unique things and places in our control will eventually find their way to someone else. It means one of our most important responsibilities is to be good stewards of those things that deserve to be preserved. The moment I saw Moraga Bel Air I knew it must be preserved and it’s my great pleasure to do so.”