Clif Family Winery operates a beautiful open-to-the-public tasting room in St. Helena called Velo Vino or in Italian, “Bicycle Wine”. This is a fitting name because this is the same family that makes Clif Bars which are known world wide by bicyclists and other outdoor adventurers. They released their first vintage in 2006. The founders of Clif Bar, Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford have always enjoyed good wine and found inspiration to start a winery during extended bike tour stops at villa estate wineries in Northern Italy.
They also own the Clif Bar Farm (all organically farmed) east of Angwin and their wines are made at a nearby custom crush facility. Sarah Gott is one of their winemakers. She has has a lot of winemaking experience in the Napa Valley having been winemaker at well-regarded wineries such as Quintessa and Joseph Phelps. The grapes used in their wine are sourced from vineyards that are becoming increasingly organic. Their philosophy is that blended wines make great wines and as a result all of their wines contain several varietals. They make several whites and the rest are made from red varietals.
The tasting room is located on busy Highway 29 in the south part of the St. Helena city limits. St. Helena requires all wine to be poured in new tasting rooms within the city limits to be from the Napa Valley. As a result Clif’s Hill Climber wines are not poured here – only their Napa wines are on the tasting menu. The nice thing about their Napa wines is they are all small production, usually around several hundred cases and are only available online and directly from the tasting room; they are not distributed. Several different tasting options are presented, all paired with their “mountain mixes” – nuts and dried fruits.
During our most recent visit we sampled several of their young Sauvignon Blancs. The 2010 Rte Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc shows notes of lime and pineapple on the nose with flavors of stone fruit as well as pear. The 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is slightly blended with Chardonnay – is smoother, rounder and has a bit more weight. This is a clean easy to drink wine – great for summer events on warm days.
Gary plays trumpet and Clif Family’s “Improv” label is a tribute to his musical prowess. The most food friendly wine we tried is their 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Some of their Cabernet Sauvignon comes from premium vineyards sourced from Oakville and Diamond Mountain which are regions that because of their unique terroir produce different characteristics in the wines. The fruit from the valley floor Oakville vineyard they source from produces softer fruit (mouth feel) and the hillside Diamond Mountain contributes more tannins and a bigger bolder flavor. However, these complement each other very well when blended together. Clif Bar’s wines are among the most affordably priced wines in the Valley (both their Napa wines and non Napa wines). You can find their wines locally at the Oakville Grocery and the Sunshine Market in St. Helena. They also produce an olive oil pressed from olives that grow on their farm (samples available in the tasting room). And yes, samples of Clif Bars are also on site.
The following wines are not poured on site but we tried offsite during a prior visit. The 2006, “The Climber” is a delightful blend of Savignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier and a touch of Chenin Blanc. This is a very affordable wine which is all about the fruit both in the aromas and on the palate. Each varietal brings unique components which when blended all together make a very pleasurable wine. Their 2004 “The Climber” Red Wine contains 5 varietals with Zinfandel and Syrah making up the majority of the blend. The Syrah gives it the very dark color; it is a balanced wine with a super soft mouth feel. Hints of raspberry round out the palate. For a wine of this quality its hard to beat the price!
A very neat concept for packaging wine is the “Clif Climber Pouch” or alternatively, the “All Terrain Wine Transport” ( www.climberpouch.com ) – this unique wine container holds the same volume as two wine bottles, is lighter, more environmentally friendly and won’t break! A small valve serves the wine. The pouch lets very little oxygen as wine is served and it will last longer (open) than say an opened wine bottle.
Along with their respect for the environment and limiting their carbon footprint where possible, Clif Family donates 1% of their total gross profits to an organization called 1% For The Planet – funds from businesses who participate in this are distributed to organizations protecting the environment worldwide. Much of the inside of the tasting room is made from recycled materials.
Those looking to start their day or add a burst of energy later can stop by the tasting room and order an espresso. Several sit down tables are located indoors and a patio is located outside in the back of the building. The tasting room is popular with bicyclists and has become a good place to relax before or at the end of a bike ride. A number of employees work in the tasting room – of various ages. During our most recent visit they were extremely welcoming and knowledgeable. Main street St. Helena can be insanely busy (especially on summer weekends) – fortunately Velo Vino has their own parking lot which wraps around the building. Serious wine enthusiasts can call ahead and reserved their private tasting room. Visit: www.clifbarfamilywinery.com and www.velovinonapavalley.com
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