Wine Tasting By Proxy

laraine newman cameo lgwineglassI’m sure there are stranger routes that land you on a tour of a winery surrounded by the beauty and quirky history of Santa Clarita, but you wouldn’t think a rare breed of dog (and a college application) would be one of them. I take my dog, who is a white Portuguese water dog, to a play group (don’t judge me) in Pacific Palisades. Jill Miller, a breeder of Rottweiler’s and the lady who surrenders her back yard to be mangled by at least 9 puppies every Saturday happened to mention one day that she knew someone else who had owned my rare breed of dog. At that same time, our daughter Hannah and I recently toured Chapman University and had fallen in love with it. Turns out, that same owner of our rare breed of dog, Barry Goldfarb, also had a daughter who had gone to Chapman and he stayed very involved with the school. Jill insisted we meet.

I dragged my heels for a while, but finally, at Jill’s assurance that Barry was a ‘cool guy’, I called...

He invited Hannah and me to his house. My first thought upon seeing him was: jock. I only mention this because it’s the last thing you expect a vintner to look like, but that was his business. After we talked and he showed me and Hannah his amazing collection of antique slot machines, he was gracious enough to offer my husband Chad and me, along with Amy Ephron and her husband Alan Rader, a tour of his winery, the Agua Dulce Winery.

It was important that Chad and Amy and Alan come. I needed them to come. Not only do I know nothing about wine. I don’t drink. A lifelong teetotaler, if it didn’t taste like Delaware Punch, I was out.

Despite the fact that I knew nothing about wine, I knew enough to think that Santa Clarita was an odd place for a winery. Home of Vasquez rocks (think the backdrop for Star Trek, Bonanza, The Big Valley…the list is endless), ‘movie ranches’ and retired animal actors (no lie) something as refined and ancient as wine making and vineyards seemed incongruous nestled a hop skip and jump from the set of TV’s Vegas! I later learned that the ongoing success of the wines produced at Agua Dulce earned the area an appellation and that the winery itself resides in the Sierra Pelona Valley.

At the entrance of the winery sits The Lucy Barrel. A replica of the one in the infamous I Love Lucy grape stomping episode, tourists can pose with a Lucy look alike at certain times of the year.

winetourOur guide was terrific. She presented the history of the winery and wine making itself with economy and humor and I was utterly transfixed from start to finish. Listen, she made barrel making riveting. Like how even though the wood had been tempered to bend into a cylinder, the metal strips and fastenings mustn’t penetrate the wood inside, lest it affect the flavor of the wine.

They had state of the art equipment including one of the only 53 rotating fermenters in the country. I learned that wine nerds were called ‘cork dorks’, and the opening on the barrel used to siphon for tasting is…wait for it… a bunghole. No kidding.

These are the things that stuck in my mind because obviously I couldn’t describe how anything tasted. It was interesting to learn, however that, according to our guide, the American palate is accustomed to sweet wines. I believe the names Boones Farm and Ripple were mentioned. Well, as long as they’re consumed in a Snuggy.

After the tour, it was time for lunch. There were several lovely outdoor areas within a landscape of vineyards and mountains. We (were led to) the newly built gazebo (with an amazing view of the llamas in his exotic animal park, yep, that's there, too…)

Barry and his friend, whom he introduced to us as “The Legend” joined us along with Barry's beautiful daughter Amy (Chapman Alum, by the way) who was working at the winery that day.

winegroupI noticed a lot of really interesting rustic ironwork, like the chandelier above us and sconces located all around the buildings. Me and Chad both commented on them. “We make them” said Barry. “So the jock-vintner is also a decorator?” I suppose he’s invented something everyone uses all the time too. He has. (sigh)

I was beginning to feel like the biggest slacker ever until I bit into the sandwich provided by the tour. Took my mind off of everything. Probably the best bread I’ve ever had and I’ve lived in Paris people! Amy commented on it too. The rest of the meal was sensational and “The Legend” turned out to be former NBA Champion for the Lakers, Keith Erickson.

Alan, Amy’s husband, and a very discerning wine drinker said the wine was very good and Chad joined their Wine Club. This winery is a short drive from Los Angeles and the experience is well worth it. I’d go for the sandwiches!!

AGUA DULCE WINERY - 9640 Sierra Highway, Agua Dulce, California 91390 / Open Daily 10am-5:30pm


Laraine Newman is a founding member of The Groundlings Theatre Company and an original cast member of Saturday Night Live.  She lives in her hometown of Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.