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Los Angeles never ceases to amaze me. Just when I thought I’ve covered all the cool spots around, I discover a place like Aqua Dulce and the Sierra Pelona Valley Viticultural Area. Located in the hills near Santa Clarita, the town is not only famous for rustic Hollywood movie shoots, but also boasts a burgeoning wine country and a renowned French restaurant.
My getaway to area began last Sunday, when I headed north on the 5 Freeway, switched to the 14 Freeway, and found myself on a beautiful, winding road cutting through rustic hills and ancient rock formations. As I continued on, I past ranches with cattle and horses and saw hawks soaring against the backdrop of iconic Vasquez Rocks. I was only about 40 miles from Pasadena, but the scenery took me much farther away.
In a few minutes I drove through a tiny town, and followed a sign down a dusty dirt road to Reyes Winery, where I rendezvoused with a friend. We then met winery owner Robert Reyes, who gave us a tour of the property and showed us to the tasting room, where we sampled some of his award-winning grapes.
Located at an elevation of 2800 ft, in the newly established appellation officially known as the Sierra Pelona Valley Viticultural Area, the winery started in April of 2004 when Reyes and his family planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Muscat on his 16-acre plot. Since then, his love of wine and wine-making turned from a small harvest for family and friends into a thriving enterprise that has to date won 18 significant medals and awards.
During our wine flight we sampled two gold medal winners: a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, with aromas of cherry and cocoa, and subtle tastes of peppercorn, pomegranate and mandarin; and a 2009 Merlot. I quickly understood why Reyes has made a name for himself in the industry and why the Sierra Pelona Valley was recently granted American Viticultural Area (AVA) status.
While sampling various varietals, I examined some of Robert’s vineyard-inspired paintings. Besides an expert vintner, he is also an accomplished painter with his pieces displayed around the property.
After tasting, Robert told us about the upcoming First Annual Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Festival, which will be held Saturday January 26 at Reyes Winery. Attending the event will be Sierra Pelona Valley Vintners, local winemakers and other wineries and breweries from all across southern California. There will also be gourmet food, live music by Still Moving Project and much more.
We then headed a couple miles down the road to Le Chene French Cuisine for lunch, where we met chef-owner Juan Alonso and experienced a memorable lunch in an historic castle-like structure made of river rock and surrounded by centennial oaks.
Famous for great wine, traditional French dishes and romantic atmosphere, the place is a secluded gem. Alonso, who was born in Spain and raised in France, opened Le Chene in 1980 and is also an expert vintner. He says his restaurant offers over 900 different French and Californian wines.
And then there is the Le Chene food. Our lunch began with tasty duck pate, accompanied with tomatoes, tiny pickles and caramelized onions. I then experienced the exciting Eggs Fisherman, with rice, potatoes, scallops, shrimp and mushrooms, covered with lobster sauce and topped with two poached eggs. While I was devouring this masterpiece, my friend was sipping Juan’s red blend of Syrah, Grenache and tannat, and enjoying a tasty plate of Arctic Char Meuniere, potato au gratin and sweet potato puree.
Reyes Winery is located at 10262 Sierra Highway Agua Dulce, 91390. For more info, call (661) 268-1865 or visit: www.facebook.com/ReyesWinery or www.ReyesWinery.com. For info on First Annual Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Festival, visit reyeswinery.com/spv-winefestival. For more info on Le Chene, call (661) 251-4315 or visit: www.lechene.com.
-Photo by Greg Aragon