Cliff Lede Vineyards (pronounced “LayDee”) was founded in 2002 on site of what used to be S. Anderson Vineyard, a winery that was founded in 1971 by Stanley and Carol Anderson (both now deceased), primarily known for their sparkling wines.
Cliff Lede is from Leduc, Alberta (a small town just south of Edmonton), Canada (note the Canadian flag in front of the parking lot). Along with his brother David, Cliff helped run the company their father founded in 1947 (Leduc Construction), renamed to Ledcor Construction in 1982. They ultimately built the business into one of the world’s largest construction companies. And through Cliff, the company established business in the Napa Valley focusing on wineries, restaurants, premium resorts and private residences. Some of their more notable works include Morimoto Restaurant, Davis Estate Winery, Lokoya Winery, Marciano Estate and the Riverfront Residences along the Napa River in downtown Napa.
After several decades of working at Ledcor, Cliff decided to pursue his passion for wine. His first introduction to wine was at an early age – helping his mother make home wine. Later he became interested and began collecting wines from Bordeaux, and even considered purchasing property in the region. However, he fell in love with Napa after a business trip took him to Northern California.
Cliff Lede owns 60 acres of vineyards in the Stags Leap District; this includes the Twin Peaks Vineyard surrounding the winery and tasting room (named for the two prominent hills rising from the valley floor, in geological terms referred to as toeslope hills). The Poetry Vineyard, formerly the Richard Chambers Vineyard was acquired a year after Cliff established Cliff Lede Vineyards. It is planted on steep hillsides stretching down to the Silverado Trail – entirely to red Bordeaux varietals (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon). The soils here are extremely rocky – and it was challenging to plant; during the replant some of the vines took up to 5 and 6 years to produce enough fruit to use (on the valley floor 3 years is more of a standard). Despite being so close to the Poetry Vineyard, the soils in the Twin Peaks Vineyard are dramatically different – they are gravelly loam – deeper and richer.
From a viticulture aspect, this diversity of terroir is a good representation of what the Stags Leap District has to offer – ranging from its upper most reaches of 400 feet to the valley floor. Even among their two Stags Leap properties, there are micro-climates – the west facing vineyard hillsides become quite warm during the day in the summer but cool off significantly in the evenings. This diurnal temperature swing is important for growing premium grapes including maintaining acidity.
The winery also owns a 20 acre vineyard in Calistoga at the base of Diamond Mountain planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a small block of Sauvignon Blanc.
And further to the north in Mendocino County is their Savoy Vineyard (42 acres located in Anderson Valley). It is planted mainly to Pinot Noir along with Chardonnay and provides the fruit for their FEL Wines (a name that Cliff chose to pay homage to his mother, using the first three initials of her full name Florence Elsie Lede).
As an extension of Cliff’s passion for rock and roll, all the blocks in their Stags Leap District vineyards are named after famous rock and roll songs or albums such as “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Walk on the Wildside”, “Light my Fire” and “American Girl” among others. Collectively these are referred to as the “Rock Blocks”.
Noted viticulturist, David Abreu quickly realized the exceptional terroir of the Poetry Vineyard (as did Cliff when they initially tried some of the S. Anderson wines from this site). Abreu oversaw its replanting using clonal material sourced from a number of premiere Napa vineyards. While Abreu was the original vineyard architect, he is no longer involved in the management of the vines – their vineyards are controlled entirely by their in-house vineyard team.
Winery & Winemaking
2005 was an important year for Cliff Lede; it was the year the winery was completed, the tasting room opened as did the nearby luxury Poetry Inn. Prominent architect Howard Backen of St. Helena based Backen, Gillam, & Kroeger Architects was hired to design the winery. Cliff’s background in construction and architectural preferences certainly influenced its design. Visually impressive inside, like most Backen winery projects are – it has a more contemporary feel rather then some of his more ‘rustic’ looking designs. And like most area Backen projects it features inspirational views of the Napa Valley.
Inspired by the shape of tanks during a visit to Château Latour in Bordeaux, Cliff commissioned Missouri based Paul Mueller Company to create special truncated tanks (during fermentation to help submerse more of the cap). Each tank corresponds to a specific vineyard block. And in what is a fairly unique delivery system, during harvest, a specially designed crane gently moves and lowers a hopper full of whole berries into each tank.
Sorting is a big part of their attention to detail before fermentation – after the grapes come into the winery they are sorted by hand, then using an optical sorter and finally doing one more hand-sort.
Conveniently, a 20,000 square foot cave connects directly to the winery.
Michel Rolland was brought on in the early years as a consultant, Philipe Melka also made the wine for several years and today Christopher Tynan is the winemaker (formerly assistant winemaker at Colgin Cellars).
Focusing on Bordeaux and to a lesser extent, Burgundian varietals, Cliff Lede produces a variety of wines from the Stags Leap District, from other vineyards in the Napa Valley, Anderson Valley and several single vineyard wines including since 2012, the coveted Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Sauvignon Blanc is a wine that Chief Operating Officer (formerly Vice President & General Manager) Remi Cohen calls, “a thoughtful style of Sauvignon Blanc” referring both to the varietal composition of this wine and how it is made in the vineyards and winery. It is certainly a unique Sauvignon Blanc for Napa. While Sauvignon Vert (also called Muscadelle) is the varietal generally used in the smallest amount it is perhaps from a local historical perspective, the most interesting varietal in the blend. It was sourced from a dry-farmed block of vines originally planted in 1946 from Napa’s Chiles Valley. Both the Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon are also from old-vine vineyards. The wine is aged in both oak barrels, concrete eggs and stainless steel – remaining in each respective vessel until bottling. During fermentation the lees are stirred weekly in barrel and during the aging less frequently.
The 2017 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc is golden straw color in the glass; it shows bright floral notes on the bouquet including jasmine and honeysuckle and as it opens becomes more citrus like. Offers some textural weight complemented by excellent acidity. Not tart on the palate but balanced nicely between flavor and acidity. Shows notes of wet stone and flinty nuances along with lingering flavors of mandarin.
The 2015 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District was made with grapes from both of their Stags Leap District vineyards as well as from a few neighboring vineyards. The wine shows nice depth on the bouquet with mostly darker fruit aromatics including blackberry along with a sweetness of mocha and a subtle hint of dust. Medium bodied, the wine shows a pleasing roundness on the entry lingering with nicely integrated tannins.
The 2014 Scarlet Love Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District is highly aromatic with notes of bittersweet chocolate, blackberry, boysenberry, dry dirt and as it opens more sweetness of mocha and vanilla show. Has a wonderful depth of flavor – a very rich showing. Luscious. Somewhat chewy, earthy and long last tannins anchor the pleasing finish. Fruit for this wine was sourced from both of their Stags Leap vineyards.
The 2014 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District is their flagship wine; every year it is made with fruit entirely from the Poetry Vineyard. This wine is noticeably dark in the glass with a very appealing bouquet showing aromas of blackberry, cassis and a darker spice nuance, perhaps a hint of white pepper. A powerful wine on the palate, it is richly layered with flavors of blackberry, cedar box spice along with being somewhat savory. The wine finishes strong with great length, anchored by grippy long lasting tannins and oak spice. This certainly is an age-worthy specimen.
This gorgeous property seamlessly blends four of Cliff’s primary passions; wine, architecture, art and rock & roll. Several sculptures are located in the tasting room courtyard including what is probably the most photographed piece – bronze painted Twin 6’ Hearts by pop artist Jim Dine.
Guests can taste in the tasting room without needing an appointment (all other tasting experiences require an appointment). The tasting room used to be Carol Anderson’s home (the prior owner) before it was significantly remodeled. Guests can also buy a glass of wine in the tasting room and then visit the FEL Pinot Garden – a very relaxing outdoor space. And reservations can be customized based on your wine preferences – longer experiences are offered, often for collectors or serious wine enthusiasts who desire a more intimate tasting as well as a tour of the property and winery.
Veranda tastings overlook the courtyard – incidentally, mid Spring is a great time to be here especially with the blaze of color from the nearby gardens.
And the Backstage Tasting Lounge is for serious wine enthusiasts and or those looking for a more intimate tasting experience. Formerly a walk-in art gallery, it is now a private space featuring rotating works of art typically relating to rock & roll musicians. The lounge is also home to the Platinum Playlist – an allocation membership with access to three of their most acclaimed wines, Poetry, Songbook and Cabernet Sauvignon from Beckstoffer’s To Kalon Vineyard.
Regardless of where you taste on the property, the sounds of classic rock & roll will invariably be a part of your experience.
Formerly known as the CrossRoads Inn (founded in the late 1980’s) this luxurious 5-room boutique hotel re-branded and opened in 2005 as the Poetry Inn. It is the only accommodation along the Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap District and is perched on the hillsides directly above Cliff Lede’s Poetry Vineyard and is mere minutes from the tasting room.
Each room is named after a prominent poet including Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Robert Louis Stevenson and e.e Cummings – and each author’s books are available in their particular room. One settled in, guests can enjoy the seasonally heated pool and Jacuzzi, spa and use of the highly personalized concierge services. Each room features a wood-burning fireplace, a private balcony, and both indoor and outdoor showers. And guests enjoy a luxurious breakfast made by the Poetry Inn chef (in-room dining available).
We have visited the property several times; regardless of the time of year, the views are stunning of the valley floor below. Private west facing porches overlook the vineyards and are complemented with postcard like sunsets that slowly fall behind the Mayacamas mountains to the west.
In early 2019 Cliff Lede entered into a joint 50/50% partnership with Mas Doix, a family-owned winery in the D.O.Q region of Spain – located about a 90 minute drive from the Barcelona–El Prat Airport (BCN) with the roads hugging the coastline before turning inland to the steep rocky landscape of the Priorat. And remarkably, Mas Doix is only located about a 8 minute drive from another Napa Valley owned winery, Perinet (owned by Alpha Omega).
Located as the crow flies within a fairly short distance from the Balearic Sea (part of the Mediterranean Sea) the region is influenced by the nearby water including a diurnal drop in temperature between day and night as well as receiving fog. Winters tend to be cold and summers hot and dry. The region also features plenty of micro climates. The most prominent red grapes grown in the region are Garnacha tinta (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan). The earliest records of vineyards in the region date back to the 12th century.
Brothers Valenti and Ramón Llagostera and Josep Maria Doix and his wife, Maite Mora began Mas Doix in 1998 when Valenti encouraged the families to produce their own wines rather then selling their grapes to the cooperative. The first vintage of Mas Doix was from 1999, produced in an old stone cellar room in a family home in the village of Poboleda. Valenti and Ramón later bought out the shares from the Doix’s but kept their family name of the winery since it was already well established.
The partnership between Mas Doix and Cliff Lede came about through interesting channels. Remi Cohen had previously tried one of Mas Doix wines in the Napa Valley – she told us during a vacation to Spain she visited the Priorat where she met Valenti. Timing was perfect – Cliff Lede was looking for an international investment and Mas Doix was looking for an investor to help finance the construction of their new winery.
For many years Mas Doix made their wine in their small cellar – in 2018 construction began on a beautiful new winery perched on a hillside overlooking Poboleda and surrounded by their own vineyards. This winery will open in early 2020.
During our time in the Priorat we visited a number of steep hillside vineyards – with vines growing in very rocky slate (schist) dominated soils. Valenti showed us a vine that had been removed from a vineyard years ago – including the roots – the roots were almost flat – thin from having to work their way in between the vertical fissures of the rocks searching for water – the deeper the roots, the older the vines.
The 2017 La Crestes is made from much younger vines then their other showings. Valenti calls this his ‘wake up wine’. Offers mostly red fruit aromas on the bouquet including red cherry and raspberry. Very approachable in its youth, this lighter style showing features excellent acidity and softer style tannins – this is a wine that dances across the palate with its freshness.
The 2016 Mas Doix Salonques is a blend of 65% Grenache, 25% Carignane and 10% Syrah. Dark ruby color in the glass, immediately shows darker fruit aromatics including blackberry, a minerality component. There is a freshness and liveliness to the bouquet that is certainly appealing. Good acidity forms the backbone of all their wines and this is clearly evident in this wine. A thread of acidity runs the length of the palate – juicy with flavors of red cherry. The red fruit continues onto the finish with a noticeable grip of tannins – moderate in their texture and not course.
The 2015 Mas Doix, Doix Costers De Vinyes Velles is a blend of 55% Carignan and 45% Grenache (both from old vines ranging in age from 85 to 110 years old). This is a wine that according to Valenti, “asks for a little attention”. Elegant on the bouquet with aromas of herbs and darker fruits – slightly savory with a hint of cocoa powder. Offers a wonderful balance across the palate – generous with its taste profile but not heavy at all. The texture is certainly an appealing characteristic – the way it feels across the palate with seamless well-integrated tannins. Offers flavors of raspberry and plum and a long lasting finish. Good acidity. An impressive showing.
Two very special and very limited production wines are the 1902 (Carignan) and the 1903 (Grenache) named after the year these vines were planted. Valenti calls these tiny vines the ‘wise men’ – short and growing very low to the ground with extremely tiny yields, these are among the oldest vines in the Priorat.
Poboleda, the closest village is located only about a 5 minute drive from Mas Doix. Like other villages in Spain, the streets are narrow. Park your car in the car park at the entrance to town and make the short walk down. The town features several cafes and restaurants including Hostal-restaurant i Apartaments Populetus, a small 3-star hotel (where we stayed) and restaurant with clean and comfortable rooms with breakfast included along with ear plugs (perhaps to block out the aggressive church bells that ring several times an hour). Oh and the nearby Happy’s Bar is a great place to catch up with some of the village elders for local gossip (conversations in Spanish or perhaps some broken English if you are lucky).
All visits are by appointment, typically with Valenti or Ramón – guests can choose from several tasting options as well as being able to visit select vineyards. And for those who are unable to make it out to the Priorat, tastings can also be arranged in Barcelona. For more information or to schedule and appointment, visit: www.masdoix.com
Total annual production for Cliff Lede is typically between 18,000 and 20,000 cases with the majority of this from two wines, the Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and the Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. For more information, to schedule a tasting and or to join their one of their wine clubs, visit: www.cliffledevineyards.com
Twin Peaks Vineyard
Backstage Tasting Lounge
Poetry Inn (photos coming soon)
Mas Doix, Original Cellar
Mas Doix, Winery & Vineyards
Mas Doix, Old Vine Grenache & Carignan Vineyard
View Sommelier Amanda McCrossin’s visit to Cliff Lede: