INGLEWOOD, CALIF. -- Back off, Napa and Sonoma. Beware, Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Runway Red, Runway White and a score or so of premium wines are taking off from California's oddest wine district.
Jets landing at and taking off from Los Angeles International Airport shriek past just 300 feet overhead, but three winemakers are nurturing high hopes.
The vines on the labels are the only ones in sight, except for a tiny Cabernet Sauvignon plant clinging to a fence in an industrial complex where zoning vagaries forced the wineries to locate.
"Most people don't understand that wineries and grapes do not have to be attached," says Hank Donatoni, a United Airlines pilot who, with his wife, Judy, is owner, operator, winemaker and janitor at Donatoni Winery.
Down the block at McLester Winery, Cecil and Marcy McLester attract the most attention with their Runway wines, generic blends with labels featuring a Boeing 747 descending mid-vineyard.
McLester, a salesman for Motorola Semiconductor, says the Runway wines catch the eye of buyers who otherwise might never hear of his premium wines, or those from the other airport wineries.
They and the Palos Verdes Winery of Herb and Pat Harris truck in grapes or juice, mostly from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
Combined production of the three is roughly 5,000 cases a year -- less than industry giant Gallo averages per hour.
Despite the surroundings, they have won a wallful of ribbons and reviews.
"These Inglewood wineries actually are producing premium, award-winning varietals of outstanding merit," Robert Lawrence Balzer wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
But with jets overhead, it's hard to succumb to wine snobbism.
"We get a big advantage," Donatoni jokes. "The racket from the airplanes overhead vibrates the barrels, so we get a year's aging in a month."
The Runway wines make up about 20 percent of the McLesters' production. They also make various wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat grapes.
Palos Verdes makes Chardonnays and Fume Blancs; Donatoni offers Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Nearly all the wines are sold over-the-counter or to local stores and restaurants.
The first of the airport winemakers was Donatoni, who had made wine at home and wanted to go commercial.
But he ran into a peculiar Los Angeles regulation. "The city says a winery needs the same zoning as a steel mill. . . the heaviest industrial you can get," Donatoni said.
So in 1979 he settled on a strip of unincorporated land between the airport and Inglewood, where county laws allow wineries in light industrial areas. The McLesters followed him six months later and the Harrises in 1982.
McLester turned his first modest profit last quarter, but he says it's the perks that count: letting creative juices flow, camaraderie with other winemakers and wine club members, the admiration of repeat customers.
"We don't have the pastoral setting, but we have the winery, good friends, and a party every Saturday," adds McLester.