Lieff Wines is a relatively new producer in the Napa Valley; their first commercial vintage dates from 2004. Robert and Gretchen Lieff own 22 acres of steep rugged rocky hillside vineyards on the western face of the Vaca Mountains across from the town of St.Helena. While they are fairly new to the wine-making scene, the age of their wine production does not tell their full story in the wine industry.
Robert has been involved in one way or the other in the Napa wine industry since the mid 1960′s. He first came to the valley in 1960 when he was in law school at Columbia University and helped pick cherries with migrant farm workers (back when the Napa Valley certainly had a greater diversity in crops). He was a lawyer for the original 12 acre sale of land to Robert Mondavi in 1966 and was one of the few that attended Mondavi’s opening day ceremonies that same year. And the price per acre in that sale was $5000.
The appellation of Oakville has played and important role in regards to Napa wine in Robert’s life. He was one of the founding partners of Far Niente Winery in the late 1970′s. At the time, the historical winery building was covered in ivy and the property needed much work. He remembers Robert Mondavi pulling ivy off the building to expose the sign and using cables hooked to their jeeps one weekend to pull off the rest. A day later a building inspector from the city of Napa called wondering why a new building had gone up on the property “without” a building permit!
Robert purchased their St. Helena property in 1997 and soon thereafter started developing the vineyards. Only 2 acres were initially planted; today the vineyard is composed of 5 acres planted almost entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon with one small section of Petite Verdot. The vineyard is in a prime part of Napa Valley not only for the views but from a vineyard standpoint. The grapes struggle here on very rocky volcanic shallow soils. Developing a vineyard in this terroir is certainly not an easy task. Huge rocks line the edges of one of their vineyard blocks – many of the rocks removed from the vineyard are no longer seen here as they were sold and trucked off the property.
The Lieff’s are active with the Napa Land Trust organization and placed their 22-acre property in the trust which effectively gave up their right to build another winery on the property. In addition to this vineyard, the Lieff’s divide their time between their ranch in Santa Barbara County of which 40 acres are planted to vineyards and the grapes are sold to local Central Coast premium producers.
Today Lieff focuses on two Napa wines, a 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from the estate and a Sauvignon Blanc sourced from premium vineyards in Yountville and near the city of Napa.
The grapes for their 2010 Sauvignon blanc come from one of Napa’s sweet spots for growing this varietal – Yountville. This vintage shows pleasing notes of red apple and pear on the bouquet with underlying aromas of Meyer Lemon and other citrus. The plate is rounded with nice viscosity. Merely 200 cases were produced.
The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is dark in the glass and well extracted. The aromas are elegant, seductive and predominately about the fruit. Expressive aromas of ripe blackberry and black currant dominate along with lesser notes of red licorice and cigar box. As the wine opens, a distinct dustiness rounds out this very pleasing bouquet. The palate is soft upon entry but quickly gains in complexity; broadly dispersed tannins start early on the palate and linger for some time on the very long finish. Less than 300 cases were produced of this wine.
The wines are fairly well distributed at both wine shops and restaurants in the Napa Valley as well as in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. For more information and to join their mailing list visit: www.lieffwines.com