Elliott Dolin, proprietor of Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards, is a man for whom all the wrongs seem to turn right. Back in the day when he was a bass player, he was in the Manhattan Transfer before they had a recording contract. Then he moved to Nashville, where the jobs were, only to shortly head out to LA -- "the promised land," as he puts it, "of great weather, cars, the ocean, the Beach Boys" -- just when all the session musicians moved to Nashville. You know, where the work was.That led him into real estate, as he'd had some experience renting out half of his music money-covered duplex, and the eventual creation of Pacific Prime Properties with partner David J. Hager. And then the purchase of some prime Malibu real estate for his own home with his wife Lynn. "Grapes came second on the property," he recalls. "Our landscape architect originally suggested a cutting garden ... I don't really know what that is, for tea and crumpets in the afternoon? It didn't resonate with me, but being a wine enthusiast and on the coast, I thought a vineyard of chardonnay was an obvious choice."
That south-facing, 400-foot elevation vineyard (not many grapes get to a view of Point Dume) is now the source for delicious chardonnay that has won double gold at the San Francisco Wine Festival. "It's always cool with the coastal fog, but we get great sun exposure," he says. "By sheer luck the orientation I chose, on the diagonal, works out perfectly for sun exposure."
Dolin brought in winemaker Kirby Anderson (who had worked at Gainey among other places), and that raised the quality. "Kirby's philosophy is balance and a very very sparing use of oak," Dolin explains. "It has a supporting role rather than just clobbering it." The current 2012 release, aged in 22% new French oak, has just enough wood for a backbone lacking any butter, plus enough acid, and citrus notes, to keep it firm and delicious.
Given the limited acreage of the site (the original 2009 vintage was a mere 109 cases), Dolin admits, "This could maybe be profitable if it became a cult wine and sold for $100 a bottle [it retails for $39], but that's not going to happen." So Dolin decided, as a red wine lover originally anyway, to expand north. "We needed something besides chardonnay, so we dovetailed on Kirby's reputation in the region and expanded into Central Coast pinot noir." That means this fall Dolin is also releasing three single vineyard pinots (Talley Rincon, Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills) at a relatively bargain priced $45 each and a Sta. Rita Hills pinot, actually all from Sebastiano, but at a true steal for prime Santa Barbara fruit at $32.
"Each is distinctly different but because of the vineyard," Dolin states. "We used generally the same technique on all the pinots." The reds definitely are all perfect expressions of their sites, a fine way to get to know what terroir means and still have wonderful wines.
In the meantime, Dolin is also proud he helped spearhead the movement to create the Malibu Coast AVA, finally approved this fall. (His 2013 chardonnay will be the first with the Malibu Coast, instead of a Los Angeles County, AVA on its label.) Alas, that news was immediately followed by the L.A. County supervisors' approval of a new Santa Monica Mountains land use plan that banned any new vineyards in the region. "The original land use plan banned all forms of agriculture and equestrian use," Dolin points out, "but those advocacy groups got in changed things. The supervisors backed off on the others, but had to ban something, so we got the ban." While grape growers are still fighting the new rules, "it's harder to undo it now that it's done," Dolin says. "We're not all that competitive with one another, and it's better for us to raise the perception beyond, 'This is the place where you can't grow grapes.'"
If anybody can do that it's Dolin, with his beautiful boutique wines.