L.A. Confidential: Power Players, The Semler Family

Though I normally cover dining (and soon travel!) and the occasional Polo piece (tee hee) for L.A. Confidential, I hadn't done one of their "Power Player" pieces...until I was asked if I'd like to do a write up on one of Los Angeles's best known families, the Semlers.

The Semlers, headed by patriarch Ron, are the irrepressibly quirky force behind Malibu Family Wines, and the very classification of Malibu as an American Viticultural Area. Their ranch is somewhat legend as a film backdrop, wedding venue, and all-round fantastical place that's home to prize horses, zebras and buffalo in the menagerie. Ron also has an incomparable collection of vintage automobiles and carriages.

All that's just scratching the surface of this close-knit multi-generational family, and the sprawling ranch that they inhabit way up in the wild hills of Malibu.

Unfortunately my article is not in the online version of the magazine, but I'm pasting the text below, and you should definitely head to the newsstands soon to pick up your copy before the December issue comes out!

Grape Expectations: The Semler Family

“Dad can take anything—a ranch, a property, even a trailer—and make it into something. He has a vision unlike anyone I know of, except maybe Walt Disney,” says Devin Semler of his father Ron. Maybe that’s why visiting the Semlers’ expansive Saddlerock Ranch in the mountains above 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 zebras he gave his wife Lisa as a birthday gift, camels and llamas, and, of course, the 65 acres of grapevines that produce Malibu Family Wines.

All this is even more astonishing considering that when the multi-faceted entrepreneur bought the first 300 acres back in 1978, the area was charred and barren from wildfires. However, he envisioned it as a place where his nine children, ranging in age from 10 to 41 now, “could experience the best of nature while still living near Los Angeles and its amenities.”

Tami would ride her horses through the Santa Monica Mountains. Tabitha would “jump off barns, hike, play, and pretend we were the Dukes of Hazzard in golf carts,” a tradition which 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 Saddlerock-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 Spa and Salon at the Sunset Tower Hotel, a charity for critically ill children called Kids Courage, 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, from setting up wedding events, to coaching the younger kids’ soccer teams, to helping out at harvest and designing the 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 are a great one to be in.