Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe were exhausted.
The two “American Idol” producers had just wrapped up a stint in San Francisco, the last stop of a nationwide tour for the show’s second season that saw them audition more than 40,000 hopeful singers. Rather than flying back to Los Angeles, they opted for the scenic route and drove down Pacific Coast Highway, stopping in Paso Robles along the way.
There, they hatched an idea with the show’s other big names — host Ryan Seacrest, judge Simon Cowell and creator Simon Fuller — to buy a vineyard. The other three eventually dropped out, but after a few years of scouting, Warwick and Lythgoe bought a 164-acre spread for $5 million in 2005.
The duo spent the next five years creating a Tuscan-style vineyard called Villa San-Juliette. Now, they’re looking to sell the fruits of their labor for $22 million.
“Our knowledge of the wine-making process at that time was certainly not what it needed to be,” Warwick said. “But with our extended experience of aesthetics and set design from our 50 years in the TV business, we were very adamant about the style of the buildings and the atmosphere we wanted to create.”
Bringing a slice of Italy to the Central Coast, they razed the existing home on the property and built Tuscan-inspired structures for hosting wine-tasting visitors and staging events surrounded by sprawling lawns and gardens. Warwick and Lythgoe also added a pair of three-bedroom villas that mirror each other on each end of the property.
“I immediately felt like I was transported to Italy when I first arrived,” said Rodeo Realty agent Brianna Deutsch, pointing out highlights such as a centerpiece fountain and California Oak tree that anchor the compound.
The oak tree. (PM Luxury Homes / TriMotion Media)
The main lodging building. (PM Luxury Homes / TriMotion Media)
The vineyard. (PM Luxury Homes / TriMotion Media)
The vines. (PM Luxury Homes / TriMotion Media)
Aerial view of the compound. (PM Luxury Homes / TriMotion Media)
The wines. (PM Luxury Homes / TriMotion Media)
The barrels. (PM Luxury Homes / TriMotion Media)
The villa. (PM Luxury Homes / TriMotion Media)
The villa’s interior. (PM Luxury Homes / TriMotion Media)
The event space. (PM Luxury Homes / TriMotion Media)
The tasting room. (PM Luxury Homes / TriMotion Media)
For the wine, the producers replaced 80% of the vines and grew smaller batches of grapes that age in French and American barrels.
Although challenges included water supply, the varying market price of grapes and being at the daily mercy of the weather, the vineyard has grown to produce 12 varietals and up to 30,000 cases of wine a year, Warwick said .
Among the events the place has hosted this year are 41 weddings, Warwick said. The owners are selling because they’re getting older and want to travel more.
“Coming from a small cobblestoned backyard with an outside toilet in Liverpool’s Merseyside, the romance of owning a vineyard in California is a dream come true,” Lythgoe said.
“We will leave with a heavy heart but a beautiful memory,” Warwick said.
It’s rare that a wine operation of this magnitude surfaces for sale, but in California’s luxury market, a vineyard can sometimes come as a bonus amenity — same as a swimming pool or basketball court. Celebrities such as Robert Redford and Emilio Estevez have owned homes with vineyards, and last year, hotelier George Rosenthal offered an 180-acre spread with a 10,000-vine vineyard for sale at $38 million in Malibu.
In addition to “American Idol,” Warwick has produced multiple reality competition shows such as “Pop Idol,”’ “Gladiators” and “America’s Got Talent.”
Lythgoe also produced “Pop Idol” before creating and judging the competition show “So You Think You Can Dance,” which recently wrapped up its 17th season on Fox.
Deutsch and Paul Margolis of Rodeo Realty hold the listing.