In Greek, Villa Oneiro means “house of dreams,” a fitting name given to the pastoral property owned and cared for by husband and wife Dimitri and Leah Bizoumis. Both born in Greece, where winemaking and olive oil production are deeply rooted in tradition, the couple envisioned a piece of land here in California where they could plant cultural roots with a vineyard, vegetable farm, olive tree orchard and home. They found all this on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California.
“The entire Palos Verdes Peninsula can be very challenging for the development of the grapevines, especially given the close proximity to the ocean and the combination of the marine layer and fog,” shares Dimitri about the vineyard located on a high elevation overlooking the Santa Monica Bay. “But we have beautiful, cold nights and gentle, warm and nourishing days … the perfect environment to grow chardonnay and pinot noir.”
Among Villa Oneiro’s vines there are two to three different microclimates, creating a fantastic array of distinct flavors and aromas for the grapes and in the resulting wines. Leah and Dimitri also harvest from several fruit trees on the property, including citrus, figs, peaches, cherries and olives, in addition to different types of wild berries and lavender harmoniously situated among the vines. Says Dimitri, “It is of most curiosity that one can find most of these flavors when tasting our wines.”
To date, the couple have planted more than 1,000 pinot noir vines and more than 1,500 chardonnay vines, not to mention more than 70 olive trees of different Mediterranean varieties. In addition to selling wine to nearby venues like Terranea Resort, Villa Oneiro also offers fresh produce and olive oil to enthusiastic patrons.
The vineyard enjoyed its first harvest in 2008, first with their chardonnay and followed closely by pinot noir. “Caring for the vines is a year-round task that requires very close observation and constant challenges,” says Dimitri, who will begin this year’s harvest in September. “Harvest is an electric celebration of a year’s hard work. It is almost like a ceremony.”
The day of the harvest begins at sunrise when nets are removed and Dimitri goes over every single vine and drops any fruit not up to snuff, a process that can take several hours. By early evening the couple welcomes an eclectic group of friends to help start the actual harvest.
“We believe that harvesting during the night contributes to a high-quality fruit because it keeps the grapes cool and fresh,” Dimitri explains. “We take a break at late evening hours for a fun dinner while enjoying last year’s wines! After the dinner, a few of our brave guests continue the harvest until the sunrise again.”
Once collected, the fruit is placed on macrobins and gets transferred to a custom crush facility for pressing by early morning to avoid late summer heat. Dimitri will spend the whole day supervising the crush—making sure only good-quality fruit makes it through the line. From crush to bottling, the entire process will take about a full year
That final product comes with a label depicting a photo of an ancient Cycladic female torso dating back to 2800 B.C. The business began distributing both wine and vegetables to Terranea when the resort opened in 2009.
“It is an amazing resort, and they have been a long supporter of our local wines, olive oil and produce,” says Dimitri. Villa Oneiro also partners with the Los Angeles organization Special Needs Network, Inc. (snnla.org), and a portion of Terranea sales supports that charity.
After the wine is bottled, sold and enjoyed, it’s time to start over. Come winter—late December and early January—Dimitri will get his hands dirty again and prune every single vine by himself.
“I believe this is the most important foundation for good fruit,” he says. “One of the most amazing moments is the early bud break stage when you can actually, within several minutes, watch the vines grow in front of your eyes. What an amazing feeling.”
Written by Darren Elms | Photographed by Shane O’Donnell