Stanley the giraffe, Timon the zebra, and Speeder the water buffalo have become familiar sights at Saddlerock Ranch. You can’t miss them as you barrel down the long driveway at the Semler family’s 1,000-acre property, nestled off the coast in the Santa Monica Mountains. The sprawling estate—where the Semler’s winemaking operation is headquartered— hosts a wine safari, tasting room and an endless parade of private events. Suffice to say the family realizes the draw of a great scene.
The family went about creating their new operation, Malibu Wines & Beer Garden that serves their well-respected Semler and Saddlerock varietals, with the same scene-setting goal. And even though the operation just opened in September, as the weekend crowds will attest to, it already has the distinction of being one of the best sipping spots in the Valley.
The Semlers purchased part of the historic estate of silent film star Francis Lederer in West Hills to house their new operation. The entire property was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1978. The Spanish Mission-style hacienda is owned and occupied by a private family; the stables were being used as an art gallery. As the story goes, the Semlers were driving home from West Hills Hospital after meeting one of their newborn grandchildren, noticed the stables and “immediately felt drawn to the place,” explains head honcho Ron Semler. Taken by the historical significance of the property, the Semlers were originally interested in just helping preserve it. It was only later that it “serendipitously showed potential as the perfect home for Malibu Wines & Beer Garden.” The family worked with LA City council member Mitch Englander to find the owner and purchase the stables.
Although the structure has been refreshed, the bones are still very much that of a stable. Stalls, on either side of the middle corridor, are framed by rounded archways. Inside each “cubby” are intimate seating nooks with hay bins—freshly painted a crisp white—still intact. Vintage photos of Lederer, who was once mayor of West Hills, as well as costumes and scripts from his films, line the walls.
Walk through the stable’s center corridor, and you’ll see the real draw at the other end: a sprawling garden, framed by mature olive and pepper trees and pretty landscaping. With an oversized bar and ample seating that extends to the far end of the property, the space can hold up to 230 people. The trees provide a canopy, so patrons can lounge sun-free at picnic tables and wine barrels topped with rounds. Most of the tables also have large red umbrellas, providing even more shade.
At sunset the spot gets even more magical, as twinkling lights dangling vertically from the trees come on. A charming beehive-shaped fountain, a 1947 Chevy Fleet Master similar to one Lederer owned back in the day, and a stainless steel WINE structure that mirrors Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture are other key scene-setting elements.
Guests can order wines by the glass or by flights; there are five to choose from, for both red and white varietals. I chose one of the Semler’s Saddlerock red flights. It consisted of 2015 Pinot Noir (tart acidity), 2014 Sangiovese (spicy finish), 2016 Merlot (warm spice notes), 2016 Zinfandel (stone fruit intensity) and 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (tangy sweetness).
While wine is the star of any Semler outpost, the family also takes craft beer seriously. The bar rotates 15 taps that stream primarily local brews including Celador Ales Melon Saison, Craftsman Heavenly Hefe and Chapman Crafted Pils. Each variety is served in the appropriate glassware and detailed tasting notes correspond to every tap.
In an unusual twist: no food is served—not even bar munchies. Guests can bring their own fare or buy from vendors who are occasionally on site. On weekends Two Doughs is there, serving wood-fired pizza and cheese plates. During my Friday night visit, The Shrimp & Taco Stop and Italian Ice Shoppe trucks were both on hand. The latter was hawking three different alcoholic, fruity Italian ices made with Malibu Family Wines: Merlot with cherries, Pinot Grigio with pineapple and Rosé with strawberries.
While Saddlerock Ranch has become more of a private events hub, the Semler family views Malibu Wines & Beer Garden as more of an accessible, public venue. Smaller private soirees are possible, but Ron Semler says the Valley location won’t ever completely shut down for events. It seems like he is on to something. Point of fact: the wine and beer garden is just as interesting of a destination as the Malibu ranch—save the wild animals.
Malibu Wines & Beer Garden | 23130 Sherman Way, West Hills | 818-712-9760 | malibuwines.com/malibu-wines-beer-garden