To get to the most expensive piece of property in Beverly Hills, you turn off Benedict Canyon Drive and ascend a winding series of roughly paved roads, past the homes of Hollywood producers, professional athletes and aging movie stars. At the end of the last road, you come to a steel gate big enough to be a plot point in the next Mission: Impossible movie. If you’re on the list, the black-suited security team will open the gate and you’ll drive another quarter of a mile up the hill until you come to a cobblestone driveway in what appears to be the middle of nowhere.
Valets waving flashlights — it’s really, really dark up here — direct you to park on a drought-flaunting expanse of lush grass. From there, you walk to another expanse of lush grass, where a party is underway. There are no structures of any kind, just a scaffolding that frames the party — a bar, buffet tables, a band stage, stylishly dressed one-percenters — in fairy lights.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why the owners of this property, called the Vineyard Beverly Hills, have repeatedly claimed that it’s worth $1 billion.
Yes, it sprawls across 157 acres in the most exclusive zip code in the U.S. But undeveloped land in such a hard-to-access location couldn’t possibly command such a price, could it?
Then you see the view.
The entire Los Angeles Basin, from the Pacific Ocean to the downtown skyline, lies twinkling at your feet. You’re at the literal crest of Beverly Crest, standing on the largest remaining patch of developable open space in the hills between Griffith Park and Malibu, looking down at the rooftops of some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in America.
Is it a view worth a billion dollars? To someone with that kind of money lying around, probably.
For now, the owners of Vineyard Beverly Hills, the Noval family, say they have no intention to further develop — or to sell it, despite reports to the contrary. Instead, they’ve decided to plant some of the land with wine grapes and use its expansive, grassy flat areas — leveled off at great cost by a previous ultra-rich owner, Merv Griffin — to host charity functions and private events. Recently, those events have included an Oscar party for James Cameron and a “Diamond Ball” hosted by Rihanna, which raised money for the pop star’s Clara Lionel Foundation.
On Saturday, Oct. 10, L.A. Weekly was invited to attend a birthday party for Victorino Noval, patriarch of the family behind Secured Capital Partners, an LLC that now owns the mountaintop. Acclaimed Spanish folk band the Gipsy Kings provided the entertainment, with help from Swedish pop quartet Riot Child, ex-Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, and Doors guitarist Robby Krieger.
Actor Steven Bauer (most recently seen on Ray Donovan) even took the stage to join Krieger on a few Doors covers, channeling Jim Morrison on “People Are Strange,” “Love Me Two Times” and “Roadhouse Blues.”
The attendees, mostly neighbors and friends of the Noval family, included Heather Locklear, Lethal Weapon screenwriter Shane Black (who balefully told the Weekly, “There’s no story here”), and an assortment of actors, lawyers, musicians, models, photographers, film producers and various Beverly Hills power players. Gregarious men in their fifties talked shop while beautiful women in their twenties hung on their arms and pretended to look interested. By evening’s end, a row of Rolls Royces and Bentleys lined the parking area nearest the party.
Doe-eyed bartenders poured glasses of cabernet sauvignon from bottles labeled “90210,” the Vineyard Beverly Hills’ house brand.
For now, the grapes are sourced from Napa; eventually, the Noval family hopes to blend Napa grapes those from their own vineyard, so the wine can be advertised as having come from “the most exclusive undeveloped land in America.”
Not surprisingly, such a highly prized piece of real estate has had a tumultuous history, which partly explains why it's undeveloped.
The Shah of Iran's family was once an owner, then Merv Griffin and later Mark Hughes, founder of Herbalife. After Hughes died from an overdose of alcohol and anti-depressants in 2000, the ownership became the subject of complex legal battles, as outlined byThe Hollywood Reporter.
However, according to Noval — in an interview with the Beverly Hills Courier intended to refute some of The Hollywood Reporter piece — Secured Capital Partners took ownership of the Vineyard in 2013 after a "settlement agreement" with the Mark Hughes Family Trust and with Chip Dickens, a developer who got involved in 2003 and whom the Reporter describes as being Noval's "main partner" in deciding the property's future (a relationship the Noval family denies).
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"There's been a lot of conjecture and incorrect information on this property," one of Noval's sons, Victor Franco, told the Weekly via a written statement, "but we have invested over 100 million dollars into the property and this has been as asset owned by the Victorino Noval family trust."
"My grandfather Victorino [Sr.] told me that when you sell something, you trade up to something better," added Victor Franco, who serves as the managing member of Secured Capital Partners. "We have yet to find something better. If someone is aware of a property that has more pride of ownership, I would love to know about it."
"We have a responsibility to our community," added another son, Jake, also by written statement, "and will be using our property and wealth for philanthropic events and art installations for both established and emerging artists."
So it sounds like the Hollywood elite can expect to continue partying at the Vineyard Beverly Hills for the foreseeable future. As for that $1 billion price tag? Though it's cited on the property's website, the Noval family still insists that Vineyard Beverly Hills is not for sale.