The Semlers' Malibu Oasis
by ERIC ROSEN
FROM LEFT: Lisa and Ron Semler with their children, grandchildren and extended family; Saddlerock Ranch is nestled in the mountains of Malibu.
“Dad can take anything—a ranch, a property, even a trailer—and make it into something,” says Devin Semler of his father, Ron. “He has a vision unlike anyone I know of, except maybe Walt Disney.” Maybe that’s why visiting the Semlers’ expansive Saddlerock Ranch in the mountains of Malibu feels like stepping into a fantasy world.
There’s a picturesque horse ranch; garages filled with vintage automobiles and carriages (a particular
passion of Ron’s); caves with rare Chumash pictographs; a faux trailer park with beautifully restored
Airstream campers dubbed “Camp Cabernet”; a menagerie of exotic creatures, including camels and llamas, and even zebras he gave his wife, Lisa, as a birthday gift; and, of course, the 65 acres of grapevines that produce Malibu Family Wines’ Semler and Saddlerock wines. Across the MulhollandHighway from the ranch, visitors can drop by the informal tasting bar to sample the vintages or settle into the lawn chairs arranged on the grass for an impromptu picnic.
All this is even more astonishing considering wildfires charred the area before the multifaceted entrepreneur bought the first 300 acres back in 1978. He envisioned it as a place where his nine children—ranging in age from 10 to 41—could, as he says, “experience the best of nature while still living near Los Angeles and its amenities.” Tami, the eldest of the five girls, would ride her horses through the Santa Monica Mountains. The secondoldest sister, Tabitha, says as kids they would “jump off barns, hike, play and pretend we were The Dukes of Hazzard in golf carts”—a tradition the younger generation of kids proudly continues today. Six of them, and three grandchildren, still live on the ranch.
But Semler had bigger plans. He turned the ranch into an avocado farm and then into a vineyard where Lisa made the first Semler wines in 2000. Thanks to their success, they have since carved out their own registered appellation: the Saddle Rock-Malibu AVA.
Devin is no slouch either. He seems like a gleeful poker dealer as he hands out cards for his numerous businesses, including Brazilian Blowout; the Argyle Salon and Spa at the Sunset Tower Hotel; Kids Courage, a charity for critically ill children; and his latest project, an artisanal tequila called Karma.
“Dad has instilled passion in all his kids—for business, for family and for doing what it takes,” says Devin. That means each of the fiercely independent children has been encouraged to follow his or her own path and be productive in individual ways—whether that’s in one of the family businesses or not. Back at the ranch though, everyone chips in, including setting up wedding events, coaching the younger kids’ soccer teams, helping out at harvest and even designing labels for the wine bottles.
“If you’re going to be in the family business, wine is a great one to be in,” says Tami. Sounds like if you’re going to be in a family, the Semlers is a great one to be in.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ULRICA WIHLBORG
Cover shoot: September 2014 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.