Malibu clutches the cusp of the Santa Monica Mountains as they spill down from the coast ranges of California into the Pacific Ocean. The spot might be best known as a surf mecca and a glitzy hub for A-lister villas. However, the wave-splashed beaches and palm-speckled boulevards are just a part of the story.
There’s something else to look forward to in this corner of the Golden State: Malibu wine safaris.
Yep, the dust-billowing, chaparral-topped peaks that rise above this happening town can lay claim to some of the most accomplished viticulture on the West Coast. As if to say “move over Napa,” the wineries unfold in rolling blankets of grapevines between the canyons and sage scrub.
Many – like the idyllic Malibu Solstice Vineyard – have gorgeous locations, with sweeping views of the Cali peaks helping to make them a top backdrop for weddings and other events. Others boast long histories: The likes of the Semler Malibu Estate Vineyards go back all the way to the late 1970s.
This guide to the best Malibu wine safari and wineries offers plenty of fodder for that grape-tasting odyssey. It’s laden with romantic places for sipping a crisp Zinfandel while the rollers of the Pacific crash onto the rocks nearby. In addition, it’s got chic cellar doors where you might even meet a Hollywood celeb or two on the weekend. Let’s get started…
Malibu Wine Safaris
Getting us started on this list of Malibu’s most attractive wine adventures is the original Malibu Wine Safari. It’s run by the folk over at the acclaimed Saddlerock Ranch – the home of the alluring Semler Malibu Estate Vineyards (but more on that one later). Here, we focus solely on the unique wine-and-nature combo that’s offered by their Malibu Wine Safaris packages themselves…
Whisking you away from the hub of Downtown LA, some 30 minutes out to where the mountains meet the ocean, the excursion is something to remember. You’ll ride in open-air game vehicles that are just like the ones they use in the Kruger National Park and other iconic South African reserves.
The trip takes you to a 1,000-acre estate that’s home to – of course – succulent Cali wines, along with a unique menagerie of wild creatures. That means you can spot bison, zebra, alpaca, and giraffes in between glugs of Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh, and did we mention that the location is simply gorgeous. Upon the sun-scorched tops of the Santa Monica Mountains, where the sunsets are romantic in the extreme, and there are groves of eucalyptus, oak and olive trees peppering the slopes.
Malibu Solstice Vineyard
Few vineyards in California – nay, the world – could lay claim to such a beautiful locale as the Malibu Solstice Vineyard. Perched on a series of crumpled chaparral hills just above Santa Monica town, this one enjoys roundabout panoramas of the peaks and the coast. On one side, you can watch as the waves break against the points of Zuma. On the other, you can gaze at the hazy heat drifting down into Escondido Canyon.
But enough about the gorgeous setting. What about the wine? Accolades have come thick and fast for the exclusive tipples of Solstice. The winery was a winner at the 2016 San Francisco International Wine Competition, where its rich red Cabernet Sauvignon won first place. It’s easy to see why, too – the winery has worked hard to mimic the terroir of Bordeaux’s own bottles. It was entirely planted from French clones when it started in the 1990s. And nothing but hand-picking takes place on the farm.
Of course, given the stunning backdrop offered by the Santa Monica Mountains, any Malibu wine safari to the Malibu Solstice Vineyard promises to be one to remember. Just don’t be surprised to rock up and find an event is happening. Weddings, reunions, honeymoon parties – they are all commonplace in Solstice.
Semler Malibu Estate Vineyards
Set under the silhouette of a bulbous rock spire on the bends of the Mulholland Highway, Semler Malibu Estate Vineyards is surely up there with the best in California. Once upon a time, this was a rustic family ranch. However, devastating bush fires in the 1970s meant that the land went up for sale. Soon after, it was bought as a riding coral by Ron Semler, who had plans to plant avocado trees and escape from the buzz of LA. With the ups and downs of the Santa Monica climate, avocados weren’t to be. A new crop was soon chosen and in by 1996, the farmlands were transformed into fields of young Cabernet Sauvignon.
Fast forward a few decades and the Semler Malibu Estate Vineyards is now a must for any wine lover cruising up the Pacific Coast. After undergoing a total facelift starting in 2015, the whole facility is now cutting-edge and stylish. In addition, visitors can enjoy myriad labels from the fields. You will taste gold-tinted white wines that have undertones of sweet lemon and citrus. Pinot Grigio variations have subtle hints of floral cherry and fruit. In terms of red, you can’t miss the famous Semler Reserve – a dark, full-bodied flavor with tobacco and mahogany infusions.
Perhaps more than anything, the Semler Malibu Estate Vineyards is known as the home of the original Malibu Wine Safari. That combines the wild adventurers of a South African game walk (the ranch hosts giraffes and rare waterfowl) with classic wine tasting, California style. Alternatively, standalone tasting rooms are open daily from 11am-7pm. Be sure to make advance reservations.
Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate
Like many of the vineyards where you can head off on a Malibu wine safari, the Rocky Oaks Estate is a combo of wedding venue and cellar door. You’ll find it set right in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains, virtually equidistance from Thousand Oaks and the strips of Malibu itself. That means stunning views that are sure to tug at the heartstrings! Yep, there’s really nothing like watching the sunset glow cornfield-yellow across the chaparral from here. And there’s something special about the way the green grape rows look against their backdrop of rugged ridges and scraggly Cali oak trees.
If you do head to Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate for the wine, not a wedding, you’re in luck. There are only 37 acres of planted grape. And all work is hand-done. The result? A meticulously crafted set of bottles that are sure to have you coming back for more. The patchwork of different varieties grown in the grounds means you can enjoy some tantalizing blends – think Syrah and Cabernet whites with toasty, nutty finishes. Alternatively, there’s the rounded Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, which seem to meld acidity and subtlety for a perfect meat accompaniment.
But the Malibu wine safari options don’t end there, either. The folk at Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate also organize wine cruises in Malibu bay, which take place on luxurious A-lister yachts on the Pacific. And this is a wedding venue extraordinaire, coming complete with five-star lodgings and an infinity pool that’s got a view to die for.
The Rosenthal Malibu winery
Another popular choice for wine aficionados near the glinting West Coast beaches of Malibu is the Rosenthal winery. Sat right at the trailheads that start to wiggle and wind into the rugged Malibu Newton Canyon, the tasting rooms and grand buildings of this estate is something truly special. Their grounds are planted with the usual Californian Cabernet Sauvignon. And there are extra vines of Merlot, Viognier, and Chardonnay to ensure variety. In addition, Rosenthal Malibu runs the Surfrider label, which collates the top-rated grapes grown across the Golden State, with some of the proceeds donated to charities that help preserve the ecosystems of the Pacific Ocean.
Regular viticulture workshops are on offer in the on-site cellar door. That has even won awards and been listed among America’s 50 top bars. It’s easy to see why. From Friday to Sunday people flock to the lantern-lit gardens to enjoy live music and food trucks. There are occasional stand-up comedy nights to boot, and breezy terraces and patios with oodles of seating. It’s a fine place to meet and mingle with the high society of LA!
A tour of the vineyard itself is another must. Dashed through a small valley bottom between wooded hills, this one gets cooling breezes of the ocean. The Pacific Coast Highway is just a short drive away, but the vistas are all emerald green vines and woodland and hazy hills. Private guided walks around the facility cost $75 per person. There’s a minimum of eight guests per group, and each package includes a tasting of Rosenthal wines.
Malibu Wine Hikes
Brought the walking boots and hiking poles? Want to get out and about in the sunny Santa Monica Mountains? Keen to feel the earth crumble beneath your feet and smell the pine forests on the slopes? Well, these days, you can do all that and still get to enjoy about classic Cali wines. Cue Malibu Wine Hikes.
These journeys are the brainchild of the same folk responsible for the ever-popular Malibu Wine Safari. They’re perfect for those who like to combine adventure with great bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. You can start your tour at the Saddlerock Ranch on the edge of the Rocky Oak Park. From there, a two-mile loop trail meanders through oak groves, under rock-ribbed peaks, and amid regimented rows of grapes.
When the walking route is complete, it’s time to pop the corks. The wine begins to flow, and guests get a tasting session that involves three tipples. Each is fresh from the barrels of the Semler Malibu Estate Vineyards. Wine hikes cost in the region of $35 per person. There’s a minimum group size of 10 required to run the event.
Sign Up For A Hidden Malibu Wine Country Tours
Presenting themselves as a more local alternative to the Malibu Wine Safari packages that abound, the people at Hidden Malibu Wine Country Tours promise a rustic taste of Ventura country and a day spent in the simple company of vines and mountains. The trips will transport you far from the buzz of metropolitan life in Hollywood and LA. They take you out to the bucolic hills in private transportation. Luxury rides in limos and dedicated shuttle buses are even available.
Then, you’re treated to tasting sessions and guided walks through three wineries. They’ll showcase the trademark tipples of the region, with a variety of reds and whites. There’s a stop for lunch included. And the real draw? You get a dedicated, in-the-know private guide the whole way. That means you can ask any questions about the terroir or the history of the area.
Hidden Malibu Wine Country Tours run trips throughout the week and weekend. The average cost of an excursion is $225 per person, which includes lunch. In addition, possible to organize larger events and corporate outings on request.
This is just a taster (no pun) of the sort of awesome wine events that are on offer near Malibu. From Malibu Wine Safari twists to chic wineries, there are plenty more.
If you can think of any, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below!