Is There Wine on Mars?

Wines from Los Alamos' Martian Vineyard

Martian Ranch & Vineyard is the polar opposite of most Hollywood-financed wine outfits.

Located in Alisos Canyon, just east of the tiny Santa Barbara County town of Los Alamos, the vineyard, owned by Nan Helgeland (who is married to L.A. Confidential screenwriter Brian Helgeland), is planted predominantly with workhorse Rhône varieties, all farmed organically and biodynamically.

In the same manner that Martian avoids putting prestige-grabbing grapes in the ground, the wines are not priced prohibitively; the bottles in the first widely available vintage, which recently arrived in Los Angeles, all hover around the $20 mark.

Winemaker Mike Roth's Albariño, Grenache Blanc and Grenache rosé, all fermented with native yeasts and barely sulfured, are three exceedingly pretty wines, ideal for summer drinking. The trio also shows that largely unmanipulated wines don't have to be full of funk.

But if you do like a wine with a pronounced earthiness and some savory elements, Martian's Ground Control Grenache Noir is for you. Semi-carbonic maceration (the same process that gives Beaujolais its light structure) and stainless-steel aging create a meaty wine with fresh, easy-drinking texture.

It has guaranteed itself a standing place next to our grill.

Martian Ranch & Vineyard wines are available at The Oaks Gourmet, Domaine LA, and elsewhere