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Ever dream about going on safari across vast plains in faraway places such as Tanzania or Kenya? Through Malibu Wine Safaris, you can experience the next best thing: a wine safari, which swaps the costly logistics of traveling to another continent for wine — and plenty of it.
Dakota Semler, who is CEO of Malibu Wine Safaris and also the son of Ron Semler, founder of sister companies Malibu Estate Wines and Malibu Family wine, explained that the idea of Malibu Wine Safaris had stemmed from a family trip to Africa.
“We were fortunate enough to experience a few safaris in Kruger National Park in South Africa and Chobe National Park in Botswana and loved the idea of exploring the wilderness and its amazing creatures,” Dakota Semler said. “We already had exotic animals as pets on the property, so when we returned from the trip, we built a custom safari truck because we thought it would be the most fun way to interact with the animals and share the ranch.”
That ranch is Saddlerock Ranch, which is also owned and operated by the Semler family. And luckily for me, it’s nearly positioned in my backyard — or, rather, the picturesque, rolling hills of Malibu, Calif.
Malibu Wine Safaris takes visitors onboard open-top safari vehicles with a guide and a driver to traverse the ranch’s some 1,000 acres. And when the vehicle comes to a halt, that’ll probably mean one of two things: It’s time to sample another varietal of wine, or it’s time to deliver snacks to the ranch’s hungry residents.
Amongst the furry crew clamoring for bites of carrots (provided on the tour) are two American bison named Chipotle and BBQ Sauce, usually the first to greet visitors by the front gate. Also eager to snag tasty morsels are a herd of llamas — with delightful names including Dali Llama, Llama Sutra, Barack Ollama, Kendrick Llama, M. Knight Shamallama and Llama Odom. Add two alpacas named Ziggy Marley and Damian Marley; four donkeys with the names Dixie, Champ, Taquito and Burrito; and two Tibetan yaks called Yakkity Yak and Don’t Talk Back — and it’s one heck of a party.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. Visitors might also find themselves in the company of a white horse, zebras, water buffaloes (including one that goes by the name Safariana Grande) and the ranch’s most illustrious resident, Stanley the giraffe.
“Some of the animals are purchased; some are rescued from areas where they no longer have homes or have poor living conditions; and some are born here,” Semler said, noting that Sylmar, Calif.-based Bob Dunn’s Animal Services and several ranches throughout California are among the organizations that have relocated animals to the ranch.
All on-site births are natural. Certified veterinarians only intervene post-birth by removing the newborn animal for initial nursing. During my visit, I encountered a baby zebra just 3 days old, sleeping peacefully near his attentive mother.
After my group’s tour guide gave introductions of these animals, as well as the opportunity to hand-feed those lolling and roving about, we climbed back into the tiered vehicle to head toward the working vineyards and ranch and, more importantly, to begin tasting our allotted six types of wine from either the Saddlerock or Semler label.
“All of the Semler wines are made from our estate-grown grapes,” Semler said. “Some of our estate wines may include sauvignon blanc, cabernet and syrah, and there are a total of 10 varietals that we grow on Saddlerock Ranch.”
Meanwhile, the Saddlerock-labeled wines are outsourced from vineyards around California. According to Semler, a few of the most popular varietals are chardonnay, pinot noir and muscat.
At Malibu Wine Safaris, a tiered open-top vehicle takes passengers through Saddlerock Ranch. // © 2015 Valerie Chen
On-site animal births are all natural; this baby zebra was born just days before. // © 2015 Valerie Chen
The grounds have plenty of spots for photo opportunities. // © 2015 Valerie Chen
A view of Malibu, Calif., and beyond // © 2015 Valerie Chen
A gourmet cheese plate is included in the Vintner Tour. // © 2015 Valerie Chen
See vintage vehicles such as Volkswagen vans at the last stop of the Vintner Tour. // © 2015 Valerie Chen
The main office and gift shop for Malibu Wine Safaris // © 2015 Valerie Chen
Some of the items available for purchase // © 2015 Valerie Chen
The property is available as a wedding venue. // © 2015 Valerie Chen
Malibu Wine Safaris has six tour options available: Family Tour (available only on weekdays), Explorer Tour, Explorer Giraffe Tour, Mimosa Tour, Vintner Tour and Vineyard Lunch Tour. The majority include wine tasting, and all offer time with the ranch’s animals.
Since I had chosen the Vintner Tour, our next stop was to see caves, surprisingly located within the property grounds and featuring well-preserved pictographs (also included in the Vineyard Lunch Tour itinerary). While doling out wine, our guide explained how the pictographs were painted by Chumash Indians, and the images confirm and depict the Portola Expedition of 1769. Also found adjacent to the caves during a late ‘80s dig led by University of California, Los Angeles, were the remains of a buried Chumash princess.
Feeling a bit buzzed from the liberal pours of wine, we hopped back onboard and then continued deeper into the ranch, listening about its history and passing striking vistas of Malibu and beyond. The rows of grapevines seemed endless — in fact, there are approximately 80,000 vines throughout 85 acres of the ranch.
Upon reaching a grassy area with scattered vintage Airstream trailers, a Bob’s Big Boy fiberglass statue and a quintessentially Californian Volkswagen van, our group sampled more wine varietals, enjoyed an artisanal cheese platter and watched as the slowly descending sun signaled the finale of our vino-fueled journey.
- Tour prices range from $55 to $225.
- The commission rate for travel agents is up to 20 percent. Please contact Spring Saunders at [email protected] for more information regarding commission.
- It is suggested to book weekend tours at least two to three weeks in advance.