Moraga Bel Air Winery: A Hidden Gem in Los Angeles

Moraga Bel Air Winery

There are some hidden gems in Los Angeles that even locals have no clue about. I have run into two of these treasures this past year. One is the Fredrick Weisman Foundation in Holmby Hills, and the other is Moraga Bel Air Vineyard and Winery. Both are situated on residential streets, obscured behind gates. These gems were one of my wow moments, leaving me with a sense of surprise as I embraced this special moment of adventurous discovery. This article will highlight Moraga Bel Air Vineyard and Winery.

Discover Los Angeles Hidden Gem Moraga Bel Air Winery

As a residential Real Estate Broker, I heard about the Moraga Bel Air Vineyard and Winery in the 1980s and 1990s. I heard the property was open to the public once a year but never got the opportunity to visit. Taking the tram up to the Getty, I admired the vineyard from a higher vantage point, and it became a bucket list item for me.

Living less than 10 minutes away in Brentwood, I jumped at the opportunity to visit the property when it availed itself. Winemaker Paul Warson invited a colleague and me to a tasting at the estate. The vineyard speaks of place for Los Angeles; its legacy continues as its owner plans to preserve and respect this unique Los Angeles parcel of land.

Walking through the gates, I was taken by the scenery of rolling hills covered in vines. It is an unexpected surprise upon entering. The Getty looms above, overlooking the property, giving me a sense that art takes many forms. At the Getty, it is the art and Architecture, while at Moraga Bel Air, it is the artistry of winemaking.

Moraga Bel Air Vines with Getty in the Background
Moraga Bel Air vines with Getty in the background

History of Moraga Bel Air Vineyard and Winery

Originally, Hollywood director Victor Fleming, whose screen credits include “Gone With The Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz”. Fleming purchased the property and built a ranch house, entertaining the likes of Vivien Leigh, Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy, and Clark Gable.

In 1959, Northrop Corporation CEO Tom Jones purchased the property and planted vines. By 1980, they planted Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, which lasted three years due to Pierce Disease. Soon after, the Jones planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Shortly after, they added Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc and produced the Moraga Bel Air’s first vintage in 1989. In 2004, Jones constructed the wine caves, and the following year, in 2005 the state-of-the-art winery was built. Since prohibition, Moraga Bel Air became the first bonded commercial winery in Los Angeles.

Moraga Bel Air Caves
Moraga Bel Air Caves

Seeing an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal for the property, Rupert Murdock worked a deal with Tom Jones over glasses of Moraga wine to purchase the property in 2013. Part of the agreement included two stipulations: maintain the property’s legacy of producing top-quality wine and that Tom Jones could live on the property till his death. The latter was honored until Jones’s death in 2014.

Murdoch’s son, Lachlan, will take over the reins of the winery, continuing to preserve the legacy of this unique estate.

The Vineyards

Today, the property sits on 16 acres with 7.5 planted in vines, 40% dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc, and 60% to the five Bordeaux varieties. This canyon location allows vineyard plantings on steep slopes that feature ancient marine and calcareous soils. The canyon floor soils consist of gravel. Breezes coming in off the Santa Monica Bay act to keep the temperatures moderate.

Moraga Bel Air Winery and Vineyards
Moraga Bel Air Winery and Vineyards

Moraga Bel Air Winemaker

Over the years, winemakers like Bruno D’Alfonso and Tony Sotor created the Moraga Bel Air wines. Mary Hall was the original Viticultural consultant. In 1996, Scott Rich made the Moraga wines, followed by Brian Mox. Scott Rich returned to Moraga. Today, Paul Warson is the winemaker.

Paul joined the Moraga team in 2021 with the intention of continuing to achieve the estate’s legacy. Paul is a native of Los Angeles. After graduating from UC Davis and spending six months in Australia, Paul landed a job in Napa. After nine years, he moved to Foley Estates as the winemaker and general manager.

Moraga Bel Air Winemaker Paul Warson
Moraga Winemaker Paul Warson

Moraga Wines

I visited the winery twice. On each visit, I sampled a different vertical of both the Sauvignon Blanc and the Moraga Red.

Sauvignon Blanc: Between the two tastings I sampled 2013 and 2019. The 2013 was a cooler year. The wine displays more viscosity and aromatics. Herbaceous qualities dominate on the nose with citrus and tropical flavors. It was a concentrated and more powerful wine.

2019 was a warmer year. I found the wine softer and fresher, with more tropical notes on the nose.

Typically, the wine ages in 70% stainless steel and 30% new French oak. The wine sits on the lees for nine to ten months. After bottling, the wine is held for two years.

Moraga Estate Sauvignon Blanc
Moraga Estate Sauvignon Blanc

Moraga Red: I sampled 2002, 2007, 2013, and 2017—the wine ages in 100% new oak. The 2002 exhibited velvety, balanced, and smooth qualities that showcased red and dark fruit. My favorite, 2007, displayed nice balance, velvet, and rich qualities. The wine is mature and more complex. As a young wine, 2017 seemed bright, smooth, and balanced with the blueberry flavors.

Moraga Bel Air Estate Red Vertical Tasting
Moraga Bel Air Estate Red Vertical Tasting

Visiting Moraga Bel Air Winery

It was a treat to spend the afternoon nestled in the vineyards. It seemed like an oasis or a retreat, leaving the rest of the city behind. Visiting Moraga Bel Air is by appointment only.

Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted winetasting. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.