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Wineries put Valley grapes to good use WINE TIME - Marketing director Cyndee Donato proposes a toast at Antelope Valley Winery's new location at the corner of Avenue M and 20th Street West in Lancaster. Donato and her husband, Frank, Donato, have run Antelope Valley Winery since they purchased it in 1991 from McLester, who stayed on as the winemaker. Valley Press photo by Evelyn Kristo.


This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press June 23, 1999.
Valley Press Staff Writer

LANCASTER - Thousands of acres of vineyards and a number of wineries can be found scattered throughout the wetter climates of Napa Valley and Oregon.

But Cyndee Donato, marketing director of Antelope Valley Winery, said grapes have a history in the Antelope Valley as well.

"It's so hard to dispel the notion that there's never been grapes here before," Donato said.

"We're really not doing something that's never been done here before, we're just reviving it."

Donato and her husband, Frank, have owned Antelope Valley Winery since they purchased it in 1991 from Cecil McLester, who has since stayed on as the winemaker.

"There were a lot of pre-Prohibition wineries in Leona Valley and scattered up through Bouquet Canyon," Donato said.

"When Prohibition came, it forced them out and everyone went to alfalfa or some other crop."

AV Winery, complete with about 5 acres of vineyards surrounding the facility and another 6 acres of vineyards in Leona Valley, as well as some grapes bought from other local vineyards, offers selections from grapes solely produced in the Antelope Valley.

But Donato said usually their wines are a mix of their own grapes with others from around the Valley and some from outside the area.

"We are probably at about 40% of our own grapes and 30% from different vineyards in the Antelope Valley, and then another 30% from vineyards around the Temecula area," she said.

After seven years of running their winery out of a warehouse in an industrial center off of Sixth Street West and Avenue M, the Donatos recently moved the winery operation to 42041 20th St. West.

Aside from the acres of vineyards surrounding the new, red barn-like winery, the facility's wine tasting and business offices, as well the wine production equipment, are now all under the same roof, which provides a more complete experience for those interested in a tour or in wine tasting.

"We are constantly growing and, since we've moved into this location, we've seen a large increase from last year, about 38%," Donato said.

She said the winery is a profitable business, but the problem with a start-up winery like theirs is that they end up putting most of the profits back into the business.

She said the winery, which is considered a small boutique winery, produces about 4,500 cases of wine annually, with 12 bottles in each case. She added that the bottles sell at between $5 and $17.

The winery is currently getting ready to bottle this year's stock of wine in July. The wine will be called "Journey 25," celebrating McLester's 25th year as a winemaker. It will sell for under $20, Donato said.

Donato said the Journey 25 will be a combination of Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel grapes, all grown in the Antelope Valley.

Two years ago, she said, the winery released another wine produced from all locally grown grapes, called "Fusion." It was a huge success around the community, she said.

"Two years ago, Fusion sold really fast," Donato said. "So everybody is waiting for this next one."