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 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 author. 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. 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.
Total annual production 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)
Check out Somm Amanda McCrossin’s visit to Cliff Lede: