Sun, wine, zebras, sand traps—these were all elements of a memorable Wednesday in Malibu. S invited some of her fellow tour guides to a wine sampling at Malibu Wines on Mulholland Highway at Kanan Dume Road in Malibu, California.
All five of us packed into J’s SUV in the early afternoon for our trip from West Los Angeles up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). It was a spectacular day with clear views from Palos Verdes to the Malibu Peninsula. When the sky is free of haze Santa Catalina Island, 20 miles off mainland Los Angeles, is easily visible. But on this unusually pristine day it was so clear we could see the outlines of buildings on the island.
The Pacific Ocean has many colors in its palette depending on the weather. This day we were treated to a deep teal/turquoise with choppy white wavelets. Unfortunately, on the trip along PCH from Santa Monica to Malibu there is not a continuous view of the ocean as it is obstructed by beach houses and condos two or three stories high. There are stretches of hundreds of yards where there is not so much as a crack of daylight between buildings. In effect, unless you are particularly interested in creative uses of stucco, this drive can be pretty boring and disappointing to out-of-town guests.
We turned right off PCH on to Kanan Dume Road. Once through the tunnel you are in an entirely different country. In fact, you are in the country. The vista changes to rolling green hillsides decorated with yellow monkey flowers (mimulus brevipes). I felt like I was back in Italy as the vineyards came into view with neat rows of plantings climbing the slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains. Who knew there was a flourishing wine industry just 35 miles west of downtown Los Angeles?
We found a shady spot to park the car and were greeted by B who directed us to the wine tasting area which is an outdoor walkup bar. We were instructed to pick our choice of wine tastings from three flights: Semler Estate, Saddlerock Ranch or a flight of light wines. As I prefer reds, I picked the Ranch flight. Our server was most congenial, describing each wine as he poured.
My first taste was a Chardonnay. As I am not a connoisseur of white wines, I really can’t comment. The next two wines were a Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon which were both fine. I have probably drunk more Pinot and Cab in my lifetime than most people but neither of these appeal to me anymore.
The last wine on my list was a Syrah. For the past year, since a friend and I enjoyed a first-rate bottle of Syrah at a popular Culver City restaurant near my house, I have been a big fan of this variety. So my anticipation level for this wine was very high and it could have been a huge letdown. I picked up the glass and sniffed a little. I had already read the description which promised a “nose of blackberries, blueberries and a hint of vanilla.” So far so good.
I took the first sip. Let me just say that at that very moment in time I could not recall ever tasting a better wine. Maybe it was the beautiful day, maybe it was the lovely environment. Nevertheless, my lips were caressed by the finest silk, angels sang, perfume filled my nostrils, I felt gossamer wings of butterflies on my tongue and I envisioned endless fields of summer flowers. If I had tasted this wine first I would not have wanted to spoil it with any other.
Lest you think we were all tipsy by now, each tasting was about one-eighth of a normal serving of wine, enough to get a good sense of the flavors, but not enough to become inebriated.
Our hostess then offered to take us on a tour of Saddlerock Ranch (the namesake of my wine flight.) We piled into her truck and took off down the road. We were in ranch country, no doubt about it. Could we still possibly be in Los Angeles?
This is one of the reasons I love living in LA as we have such a large variety of scenarios to choose from. Take your pick of snow-covered mountains, sandy beaches, desert landscapes, world class orchestras or art museums, the country life with horses or big-city living with skyscrapers—you can have it all and if you drive fast, sometimes in the same day!
We arrived at the Saddlerock Ranch gate, having no idea what to expect with the exception that we would be looking at some grapevines—okay. Have you visited Denali Park in Alaska where from the comfort of the bus you see magnificent vistas, including Mt. McKinley (Denali) and various kinds of wildlife. This was a mini version of that excursion, but southern California-style.
First of all, Saddlerock is just that: a rocky formation jutting out of the landscape in the shape of a horse saddle. Then, happily grazing or sleeping in their various corrals we encountered bison, llamas, camels, zebras—and horses, of course. Throughout the ranch we viewed staged vignettes of country living from days gone by including a John Deere tractor, an Airstream trailer park (albeit not functional) and a big yellow 50s taxi. The whole time I was still tasting that wonderful Syrah, imagining that it was actually grown on the vines we were passing on our tour (I know, it really comes from the Central Coast).
The adventure continued as we climbed back on board the truck. Next stop, the Malibu Golf Club on Encinal Canyon Road. Upon entering the clubhouse we noticed the high wood panel ceiling was dotted with dollar bills and we were conjecturing how they got up there.
The restaurant windows provide a wide view overlooking the golf course which is lined with trees in a picturesque setting surrounded by the greenery of the Santa Monica’s. The outside bar is a converted cargo container with chandeliers made of wine glasses and wine bottles. Very creative recycling.
We returned to Malibu Wines where B graciously provided us with a bottle of wine of our own choosing to split five ways. S and I pumped for the Syrah and the others (wisely) acquiesced. We sat at a table in the garden shaded by an umbrella, contentedly munching on crackers and nuts as we shared that scintillating Syrah. I could have stayed the rest of the afternoon and evening soaking up the peace and serenity (not to mention the wine). But it was the end of our idyllic visit. The traffic and civilization were beckoning.
On the return trip we noticed a dome structure on the hillside to the south of Kanan Dume Road. In the sunlight it glowed as if built of copper. Searching the internet later on, I discovered it is a house constructed of wood which you can check out by clicking here.
As we turned off Kanan Dume on to PCH, the sparkling Pacific Ocean was still waiting for us with its many hues of blues and greens. We all agreed we were indeed fortunate to live in southern California in such close proximity to so much of nature’s bounty.
For a photo gallery, click here. Some of the photos of the ranch may be a tad blurry as they were taken from a moving truck.
(All photos copyright roslyn m wilkins.)