Thus far, Malibu winegrower Elliott Dolin has lived three lives — all of them quite different, and all of them successful.
First, there was the Brooklyn-born bass player who began his career with Manhattan Transfer when they were in their formative years and had not yet recorded. “But I was always intrigued with Nashville,” Dolin says, still lean and angular and standing as if even now he can feel the bass pulsing on his hip and the tug of the sling across his chest. So Nashville became his home from 1974 to 1983 — though, truth be told, most of the years were spent on the road, playing dates and studio sessions with singers such as Donna Fargo, Ray Price, and Brenda Lee. “At the time,” he says as he shows me around his Malibu estate, “I didn’t realize how significant that period was in country music, yet I was a part of it.”
Dolin found that he liked the warmer weather of Southern California whenever the band passed through on tour and decided to move there. “My timing wasn’t good,” he laughs. “I didn’t want to go back on the road, and all the Los Angeles sessions musicians were going to Nashville to look for gigs. The synthesizer was taking over our work.”
It was time, Dolin thought, to bridge to a steadier career. Having purchased a duplex in Nashville, he dipped his toe into real estate transactions when he rented out half, which almost paid the mortgage. So he decided to get into commercial real estate, took on a partner, and made a bundle with his firm, Pacific Prime Properties. He also met his wife-to-be, Lynn, during this period; began collecting vintage cars; and fell in love with wine. “I got these invitations to attend wine dinners with guys who had big cellars, and I had no ideas what to bring,” Dolin laughs. It was a quick learning curve.
When he and Lynn purchased their current home, Dolin entered the third phase of his life: being a serious wine producer. The mansion was a multi-year fixer-upper project sited on a plateau above the beaches of Malibu, with a spectacular view of the Pacific, about a mile away. It came with an acre of land too steep to be part of the lawn, which sloped downward toward a canyon. As it faced south, Dolin decided it would be a great place to plant grapes. The first vintage of Dolin estate chardonnay was bottled in 2009, and it wasn’t long before his wines were winning awards in statewide competitions.
Eight years later, Dolin’s winery has grown from its initial 105 cases of barrel-fermented chardonnay to about 2,000 cases of chardonnay and pinot noir made from grapes sourced from the estate and other vineyards in the quickly expanding Malibu appellation, as well as from other prime Central Coast properties. Although Dolin is involved in all phases of production, Kirby Anderson is the winemaker of record, working out of a custom crush facility in Paso Robles. The wines have good distribution in California and are expanding into other states. Several prominent restaurants on the coast now have Dolin wines on their lists.
Of course, Dolin is not the first musician to be lured into winemaking; there is a large, illustrious group of former record producers, singers, and pickers who own or are partners in wineries. What’s the attraction? “I’m not sure,” Dolin says, “although musicians are certainly creative, and we seem to have a passion for whatever we do.”
But he hasn’t totally abandoned his previous existences. Dolin still is involved in real estate sales and still occasionally picks up the bass. “I sit in with bands from time to time when I go to clubs,” he says, “and sometimes a few guys and I will get together to play.” Would he be tempted to make one last stand, going on the road again if the right gig came up? “Yeah,” he says, without pausing. “I think I would like to do that.”