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From the Dream of One Pioneer to the Reality of Another

Palos Verdes Peninsula is an idyllic setting along the Pacific Ocean. The main road winding along the scenic coast provides views of rolling hills, canyons, coves below the bluffs, and Catalina Island across the sea. Visitors traveling this road may not be aware of a hidden gem, a vineyard, and gardens producing award-winning wines and high-quality organic produce.

Over 100 years ago, the founder of the Palos Verdes Peninsula had a dream to build a beautiful villa and sprawling gardens on a hill overlooking the ocean. That dream has now become a reality by a man with a vision and determination to make it come true.

The Visionary

In 2010, I had the pleasure of attending an event at the newly opened, Terranea Resort. This stunning 104-acre property, on the coast of Palos Verdes, was once the site of Marineland of the Pacific, a marine mammal theme park that opened in 1954 and closed in 1987.

As I was waiting in line for a glass of wine a gentleman came up and made conversation. He asked what I thought of the property. I told him I thought it was amazing and certainly a picturesque spot for a resort. When he mentioned that it was previously Marineland I shared with him that I was aware of the history. When I was a senior in high school, my first job was at Marineland where I worked in the Pearl Cove, shucking oysters, and making jewelry for tourists.

It turned out that this gentleman was Jim York, one of the developers responsible for the Terranea project. During our conversation, he mentioned owning a piece of land across the street that formerly belonged to the Vanderlip family, founders of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Jim’s vision was to plant a garden and vineyard there. As a wine lover, I was intrigued and agreed it seemed a perfect spot, on the hill, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Fast forward to 2021, the property Jim talked about 15 years ago, is now a beautiful vineyard, garden, and event space. Like the Vanderlips, Jim brought his vision to life as well as making history in the world of wine. I recently had the opportunity to meet Jim once again and seeing firsthand how his vision has become a reality. What struck me most about my tour and our conversation was not only his passion for the project but his respect for the history of the property and the roots he was nurturing for the community in honor of the Vanderlip family.

Catalina View Gardens, established in 2011, is a sprawling 121-acres and has been transformed to include an outdoor event space, gardens, and vineyards. As we strolled through the event space, Jim shared with me some of the history of the Vanderlip property. Frank Vanderlip was a prominent banker in New York in the early 1900s. In 1913 he came to California and purchased 16,000 acres of land now known as the Palos Verdes Peninsula. He turned a portion of the land into a family estate and had visions of building a large villa and expansive gardens on the property. Although Mr. Vanderlip never brought his vision to fruition, Jim has taken those ideas and brought them to life here.

As Jim was starting the project, one of the Vanderlip heirs gave Jim a set of drawings, for an orchard, that were done in 1926 by the Olmstead brothers for Frank Vanderlip. Jim took the plans and replicated it, planting a variety of fruit trees including avocados, lemons, figs, olives, plums, oranges, and more. 12-acres in total, his gardens are certified organic and are also full of tomatoes, artichokes, peppers, and other seasonal vegetables. The produce is sold to local restaurants with a majority going to Terranea Resort where they pride themselves on farm-to-table menus year-round.

Our stroll took us through the gardens and down to the vineyard. Planted in 2013, 5-acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes cover the south facing hillside as far as the eye can see. Their first vintage of Catalina View Wines was in 2016. Jim admitted he didn’t know much about grape growing when he took on this project. But he enlisted the help of experts in the field of grape growing and winemaking including a friend in the business, Darioush Khaledi. Darioush is a local Palos Verdes resident and well-known Napa Valley vintner making world-class wines. By his recommendation, Jim hired a company to do studies on the soil, climate, and overall growing conditions. This determined the best varietals were thin-skinned Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which would be resistant to mildew and cluster diseases.

The dream team of Catalina View Wines
(L-R) Nick Zetts, Jim York, Ken Brown

To produce the wine, Jim partnered with Ken Brown, a pioneer in the Santa Barbara wine region. Ken is a winemaker and viticulturist and has mastered the production of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since the late 1977s. While the grapes for Catalina View Wines are grown in Palos Verdes, the production is done in Buellton under the watchful eye of Ken and his team.

During our walk through the orchard, I had the pleasure of meeting farm manager, Nick Zetts. Nick studied agriculture at Virginia Tech and spent two years at Mustards Grill in Napa Valley overseeing their garden operations before coming to Catalina View Gardens. In Jim’s words “I stole him from Napa Valley to oversee the vineyard and gardens because I heard he was the best there is.” Nick admitted to not knowing anything about managing a vineyard when he started but his passion for agriculture is evident in the care of the garden and the quality of the vines.

"I stole Nick from Napa Valley because he's the best there is"

Their first harvest came in 2016 and produced over 650 cases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Production in subsequent years has been between 600-700 cases adding a Rosé of Pinot Noir to the mix. Their wines are sold to local restaurants, markets, and utilized for their events as well as being available on their website.

One of the most impressive aspects of Jim’s story was his recent efforts to have the Palos Verdes Peninsula named an AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the state of California. After 3-years of work and multiple filings with the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Board (TTB) in July of 2021 that dream too became a reality when Palos Verdes Peninsula AVA became official as the 142nd AVA in the state. With this designation, Catalina View Wines can now put Palos Verdes Peninsula on the label, making it a true estate wine.

I left my tour in awe of Jim, his vision and more importantly the impact his thoughtful actions will have in the wine community for years to come. Palos Verdes Peninsula, along this stretch of winding coastal road, has always held a special place in my heart. I have traveled this road for years and am fortunate to live here, with a view of the Pacific, and a world-class vineyard in my “backyard”. The beauty and magic here are undeniable.

To purchase wine or inquire about hosting an event at Catalina View Gardens visit there website here.

Check out my other articles on vintners, wineries and wine regions here. Follow me on instagram here.


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