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T.O. OR NOT T.O.? WHERE'S THAT THOUSAND OAKS VINEYARD, ANYWAY?

Byline: Eric Leach Staff Writer

THOUSAND OAKS - This eastern Ventura County city is known for its rolling, oak-tree-dotted hills, safe neighborhoods and upscale lifestyle.

Now it's getting name recognition from a $7 bottle of wine sold at 7-Eleven.

The Thousand Oaks Vineyard brand has become a big hit at the convenience store, the only place it's sold. But while it says ``Thousand Oaks Vineyard'' on the bottle, it's actually grown in other parts of California and bottled in Sonoma County.

Tens of thousands of cases have been sold since last fall in about 3,300 7-Eleven stores in 20 states, said Jonathan Gelula, president of KDM Global Partners, which supplies the wine to the convenience store chain.

``These are beautiful wines, and sales nationwide are great,'' he said. ``People are beginning to associate this wine with the 7-Eleven stores.''

Oak trees bring to mind the landscape of California, and the Thousand Oaks name was not meant to suggest the wine came from the city of Thousand Oaks, Gelula said.

``It was a name that appeals to everyone and connotes the rich tradition of California wines,'' he said.

As far as the wine attracting particular attention in the city of Thousand Oaks, ``It was just sort of a happy coincidence,'' he said.

``We're very pleased people in Thousand Oaks are buying it and we'd like to think that they are buying it because it is so good.''

When it initially went on sale last fall, there were three types of Thousand Oaks wine - cabernet, merlot and chardonnay, Gelula said. The producers have since added pinot grigio and white zinfandel. Although Ventura County is considered a good place to grow crops like strawberries, lemons and avocados, its coastal farmland has never been considered wine country, with just a few small vineyards, mostly near Ojai.

``When Thousand Oaks was an agricultural area it was basically wheat, barley, cattle and sheep,'' said Earl McPhail, Ventura County's agricultural commissioner. ``I very seriously doubt it would ever become a wine-growing region.''

On the other hand, several vineyards have developed over the last few decades in the Santa Monica Mountains between Thousand Oaks and Malibu, including the popular Rosenthal Malibu Estate wines from vineyards in the Newton Canyon area above the coastal city.

Rosenthal wines are produced in Los Angeles County and offered in some of the areas most exclusive restaurants.

Simi Valley residents might have noticed another wine, which has been around since 1876, after Giuseppe and Pietro Simi came from Italy to California.

But the Simi Winery is not in Ventura County either. It's in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley, where the Simi brothers eventually settled.

Jagath Lakp, manager of a Thousand Oaks 7-Eleven, said he started selling Thousand Oaks Vineyard in December, and sales have tripled as buyers become more familiar with it.

``At the beginning they'd say, 'Oh, Thousand Oaks, what's this?' but when they try it they really like it,'' said Barbara Cooper, who works in the store. ``There are a couple of customers who buy one a day. They say it's very good wine and it's inexpensive.''

Eric Leach, (805) 583-7602

eric.leach(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color -- ran in Simi edition only) 7-Eleven clerk Harmindejit Singh Sidhu arranges wine at his Woodland Hills store. The Thousand Oaks Vineyard brand is a popular seller, but the wine isn't grown or bottled in Thousand Oaks.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 2, 2006
Words:569
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