When my three children were growing up, we visited kid-friendly L.A. attractions ranging from A-Z. The kids are grown now, but we still enjoy spending time together and chatting about life, sometimes even over a glass of wine. So, for this “Date with L.A.,” my daughter Christina took me on a mother- daughter trek to the Malibu Wine Safari at Saddlerock Ranch.
Christina knew I’d fall hard for this adult zoo that brings you face-to-face with exotic animals, is packed with robust wines and surrounded by the lush Santa Monica Mountain range.
Most of the safari guests were millennials my daughter’s age, some celebrating milestone birthdays. I was happy to see several other middle-aged parents with their adult kids as well.
We climbed into an open-air safari-style truck painted in bright animal patterns that matched our wristbands. Our driver, Jean-Christoph (JP), and friendly guide, Gabby, welcomed us aboard.
On our 90-minute Explorer tour through the 1,000-acre property replete with two lakes, wells and gardens, Gabby pointed out rock formations and doled out history lessons. Malibu Wine Safari owner Ron Semler bought the property in 1978 for his oldest daughter (one of nine kids) who had an interest in riding horses. He named the ranch Saddlerock after a huge rock on the property that resembles a western saddle.
The Semlers began acquiring exotic animals, mostly rescues and showbiz retirees such as Stanley the Giraffe from “Hangover, III.” In 1997, they planted the first crop of grapes on steep, south-facing slopes. Today, the ranch has 12 red and white varietals bottled under the Semler name (wine made from their vineyards) and Saddlerock (selected wines from California vineyards).Before we sampled wine, we stopped to feed lettuce to zebras and carrots to Scottish Highlander cows and horses. We also saw alpacas (and their babies), a Tibetan yak, bison and llamas. “I’ll take your picture,” Christina said to me. That’s another way the tables have turned – my kids now take photos of me.
Our first of two wine tastings were at a view spot in the vineyards overlooking the Conejo Valley. JP, a wine expert (but not a sommelier), handed out wine glasses, saying, “This will be your best friend this afternoon.”
Before pouring, he briefly described the white wines: a sauvignon blanc, an unoaked chardonnay and a rosé ideal for poolside. No wine sniffing or swirling on this tour. Just good wine and pretty views. He offered second pours of our favorite whites, reminding our giddy group to carefully hold onto our glasses as we drove to our next stop.
Once there, we sampled a pinot noir, merlot and a cabernet sauvignon and nibbled on crackers spread with artichoke pesto, black olive tapenade and Moroccan ratatouille. Those in the mood for more tastings could ride a shuttle to the nearby Malibu Winery.
Malibu Wine Safari tours start at $65 per person. (Tip: wear shoes and clothing that let you comfortably climb in and out of the trucks.) We may return for one of the five-course farm-to-table garden dinners taking place every other Saturday until October. Cost: $130. lasafaris.com.