Angeleno Wine Company: Drink To Remember
There’s a little quiet courtyard tucked away from the busy passageway of vendors on Olvera Street. It’s part of the Avila Adobe and if you look up, your eyes will catch a dangling hint of a Los Angeles long gone, a Los Angeles steeped in luscious vines. We’re talking about the clusters of grapes you’ll randomly find all around, clusters begging for your curiosity to peel back the rich and juicy history of winemaking in the heart of what we now know as Downtown Los Angeles.
To better understand it all, let’s take a trip back in time. Let’s cross the street and replace our glorious Union Station, with a 400-year-old Sycamore tree, El Aliso. We’ve crossed into the 1830s and we’re captivated by the 60-foot tall tree and its thick bouquet of branches. At its aging feet, you’ll spot a brand new commercial winery belonging to Jean-Louis Vignes. There’s yet to be a population boom so vines outnumber people and wine production is flowing. “We used to be a city of vines, our first city seal was a bunch of grapes and we were making 2 million bottles of wine a year, three years before Napa even had their first commercial winery,” says Angeleno Wine Company’s co-owner Amy Luftig Viste.
You read that right, before Napa, before Sonoma, Los Angeles was the OG California wine country. Cool, right? And even though it’s a fact that feels like a lost memory, Jasper Dickson and Amy Luftig Viste are ready to remind you of our history one sip at a time inside their cozy downtown wine tasting room. Welcome to Angeleno Wine Company.
You might recognize Jasper right away, if you’ve ever picked up a bottle at Silver Lake Wine. He worked there for a decade and says he credits the popular wine shop and its supportive owners with Angeleno Wine Co.’s existence, “If there was no Silver Lake Wine, there’d be no Angeleno Wine.”
And he’s right because he met Amy, his partner in wine, at Silver Lake Wine in 2015. Amy and her husband were regulars and with every visit her interest in wine and winemaking grew, so she started studying up. “UCLA has an awesome wine studies program and so I went and was taking that seriously. Then I started a group called Bottle Babes, which was a group of about 20 women. We met every couple months or so and it was really a way to try and demystify wine in a really fun, and non-judgmental way,” says Amy.
Next thing you know the two are at Barbrix enjoying bottomless mimosas (as one does!) and Angeleno Wine Co. was born. “We wrote a business plan over the next couple of months, we shopped it to a bunch of traditional banks who either didn’t respond or turned us down,” says Amy.
So they kicked off a Kickstarter to find Angeleno Wine Co. a home. “Our goal was to raise 25k, by the end of it we got like 36k. Very humbling,” says Jasper. But now they faced archaic zoning restrictions which limit where a winery is allowed to operate. Add a tight budget to that and you’re left with very little options. But after three years of searching, they found this sliver of DTLA called Mission Junction, just north of Chinatown, where the landlord of a 1925 building on Spring Street said yes! And as of July 13th of this year, Angeleno Wine Co.’s tasting room has been open to the public, Saturdays 12pm-8pm and Sundays 12pm-6pm.
When you show up, you’ll quickly become a part of this small and scrappy wine family. This truly is a small business. “We do everything by hand so we pick the fruit ourselves, we process it here, barrel-age it and even bottle it here. There’s so much love that goes into it,” says Amy.
And that fruit you’re drinking is picked an hour away in Agua Dulce at the Alonso Family Vineyards farmed by Juan Alonso himself. Before Dickson ever met Alonso, he tasted his Tannat, a rare grape varietal he was surprised to learn was growing in Los Angeles County. Dickson never forgot how delicious it was, so he went in search of Alonso for Angeleno and the rest is history. You’ll even spot Alonso’s face looking on from behind the tasting room bar in a beautifully bright mural painted by Brian Lee.
Here’s a list of the wines you can taste at Angeleno: a silky Grenache, a light and crushable Grenache/Tempranillo blend (Bike Path), a refreshing Rosé (The Meadow in the prettiest, hoardable bottle) and their latest release - Amber - an orange wine (Albariño blended with other Spanish white grapes).
But what’s the fun in reading about wine. Just go in, meet Jasper and Amy and taste it all for yourself.
Written by Linda Hosmer (@blockanimal) | Photography by Jack Strutz