Thursday, September 1, 2016

Tasting the Wine, Beer, and Cider of California’s Conejo Valley

Ladyface Ale Companies Conejo Valley Brewery

When you’re in California, it’s pretty easy to find a nice glass of wine or a cold craft beer.  Conejo Valley is no different.  During our weekend getaway to Conejo Valley, we tasted what the area, a short jaunt from Los Angeles, has to offer. 

Sunland Vintage Winery

Sunland Vintage Winery Wine Conejo Valley

On our first night, we stopped in at Sunland Vintage Winery and had a wonderful time sipping wine and listening to Michael and Debby Giovinazzo talk about their wine and history. 

Michael Giovinazzo has Italian heritage and wine runs in his blood, though he didn’t necessarily always know that.  He hasn’t been making wine his whole life.  Wine, rather, was more of a retirement plan.  Mike’s grandfather, Giuseppe Giovinazzo, was a winemaker in Italy and became a bootlegger in the United States during Prohibition.  When Prohibition was repealed, he started Sunland Vintage Company in Los Angeles. 

Giuseppe Giovinazzo Sunland Vintage Winery Conejo Valley

Mike’s father inherited Giuseppe’s love of racehorses, so pursued that as a career rather than winemaking.  Mike worked in IT.  However, as retirement started peeking around the corner, Mike decided to try winemaking and discovered a new passion.  Sunland Vintage Winery specializes in Italian varietals and may make the most Italian wines of any winery in Ventura County.  Italian wines are bottled under the Giovinazzo label while non-Italian wines are bottled under the SVI label. 

Many of the wines have names that mean something to Mike.  The Goddess, made with Tempranillo, is named for his wife Debby, who works in the tasting room at his side.  Tre Ragazzi is a big boy wine named for his three sons.  Delicate Princess, a blend of non-Italian grapes, is named for his daughter-in-law. 

Sunland Vintage Winery Conejo Valley

The Sunland Vintage Winery tasting room is located in a strip mall in Thousand Oaks.  They’ve been making wine for six years and the tasting room has been open for three years.  The tasting room recently underwent an expansion and is a cozy place to visit, relax, and sip wine.

Ladyface Ale Companie

Ladyface Ale Companie Beer Conejo Valley

Ladyface Ale Companie is a brewery and restaurant in Agoura Hills.  If you want to have a hearty meal with your craft beer, Ladyface Ale Companie is the place to visit.  My favorite beers from our tasting was the La Grisette, a Belgian farmhouse wheat ale with a crisp tart taste that was almost citrusy, and the Picture City Porter, a nice rich porter that was sprinkled with coarsely ground coffee bean to accent the coffee flavor.

Westlake Brewing Company and 101 Cider House

Westlake Brewing Company and 101 Cider House Conejo Valley

On our quest for new Southern California craft beer we also stopped in at Westlake Brewing Company, located in an industrial park in Westlake Village.  Westlake Brewing Company is a fun place to hang out.  Along with bar-height tables there are also pinball machines, an air hockey table, and a stage for live music. 

Westlake Brewing Company Beer and 101 Cider House Cider Conejo Valley

As much as that all is, there’s more.  The same space houses 101 Cider House, so those not into beer can have a nice cold cider.  101 Cider House’s ciders are made with natural ingredients, locally sourced apples and quince.  They have no added sugar, are 100% raw, and are unfiltered.  Flavors are unique, like the pineapple mint, watermelon basil, and cactus red.  The most intriguing is the Black Dog, a black cider made with Ventura lemon and activated charcoal.  Rome thought it looked like a science experience, but it was actually my favorite, so I had to learn the story behind this inky cider.  Apparently the cider-maker is a bit of a health nut, so he decided to make a “healthy” cider with a detoxifier thanks to the activated charcoal.  You know, so you can detox while you tox.

There’s also a winery in the same space, but we stuck with beer and cider.

Five Threads Brewing Company

Five Threads Brewing Company Beer Conejo Valley

One parking lot over from Westlake Brewing Company and 101 Cider House is Five Threads Brewing Company.  This brewery is smaller and has a more intimate feel.  It also encourages fun and games with retro games like Connect Four and Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots (I was the red one). 

Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots Five Threads Brewing Company Conejo Valley

My favorite beers were the Game Day Blonde, a light cream ale with hints of lavender, and the Lucy, a dark English pub ale on nitro.

For threads of a different kind, visit re Aloha Shirts a few doors up from the brewery to rummage through some great modern and vintage Hawaiian shirts.

Thank you to Conejo Valley Tourism for hosting our weekend getaway and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Katherine Belarmino has been traveling for over ten years on a quest to see as much of the world as possible, experience new cultures, and sample other cuisines and libations. She also writes the travel blog Travel the World, which journals her world travels with her husband Romeo and seeks to encourage others to take the time to travel.