A visit to Cliff Lede Vineyards, Napa Valley

Tasting Room at Cliff Lede

Hearts in the garden at Cliff Lede

In the vineyard at Cliff Lede

View of the winery at Cliff Lede

Vineyards at Cliff Lede

Tasting Room at Cliff Lede

Vineyard blocks are named after rock songs at Cliff Lede

In the vineyard at Cliff Lede

The courtyard at Cliff Lede

Canadian & American flags outside Cliff Lede

Bordeaux blend at Cliff Lede

"Amplifier" fridge in Cliff Lede's VIP room

Beyond the tasting room and sculpture garden, what I found really unique and interesting at Cliff Lede was the rock and roll theme that starts in the vineyard.  With plots named after rock classics like “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Born to be Wild” and “Layla”, it certainly makes it easy to remember which parts of the vineyard the grapes are from. I liked this fun spin to naming the plots and learned from wine consultant Brad Bianchini, that the wines themselves, take on blends of their rock song names, such “Cinnamon Rhapsody”, “Lonely Wizard” and “Moon Sympathy”, among others in Lede’s Rock Block Series.

With the rock and roll theme seeping through the wine production here, it’s no surprise that Cliff Lede himself is a rock fanatic.  Brad reeled off a list of rock musicians that have “stopped by”, obviously also attracted by this theme.  Here, wine and music just seem to go together so well.  Bordeaux wines, and creating Bordeaux-style blends out of Napa Valley grapes is of course Lede’s other passion.

Like so many Napa vintners, he started his career outside of the wine business, as a contractor in Edmonton, Canada.  Today you’ll see the Canadian flag flying high on Yountville Cross Road.

Bordeaux lovers will appreciate the quality of these blends.  And like some of the more advanced chateaus I visited in Bordeaux, Lede has implemented a gravity flow winery and employed egg-shaped concrete “vats” instead of stainless steel or square concrete fermentation vats you’ll find at most wineries.  These apparently bring out the minerality in the wines, and are certainly growing in popularity.

Aside from the Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown on the estate, 25 percent of Lede’s business comes from their Anderson Valley winery, Breggo Cellars.  Located in a much cooler appellation, Breggo is known for its Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewürtztraminer.

Having tasted Cliff Lede Cabernet before, I knew it would be good.  A couple of years ago I visited their luxurious accommodations at The Poetry Inn, and it certainly set my expectations high.  On this visit I have to say I was wowed by the Sauvignon Blanc.  Brad was quick to share a recent mention by wine writer Jon Bonné in the San Francisco Chronicle article “A Note to Napa: Step up on the Sauvignon Blanc”.

You won’t find bus tours here.  This is the kind of place that is best seen by couples or small groups.  During my tasting I was impressed at Brad’s knowledge and appreciated the overview of the entire Napa Valley growing region.  Don’t expect a tour of the actual winery unless you make reservations for the Estate Tour which only happens on certain days of the week.  High flyers and wine club members can access their new VIP lounge and gallery.

The focus at Cliff Lede is more on the wines than on the tour or a grander “experience”.  It’s a great place to take friends, sit on the veranda and enjoy some great wines.

Expert tip:

Cliff Lede Vineyards is located close to Yountville, which has a plethora of great restaurants.  Make a lunch reservation in Yountville and do a tasting at the winery just prior to lunch.  For a better look into Cliff Lede, pre-book the Estate tour. If you are looking for a luxurious place to stay or celebrating a special occasion the Poetry Inn is perfect.

WineryCritic Review Grades

8/10 Overall visitor experience

9/10 Knowledge of guide

8/10 Location

8/10 Architecture and design, landscaping

8/10 Other experiences: Accommodation, Tours, Private tastings

9/10 Knowledge of tasting room staff

9/10 Friendliness of staff

8/10 Signage & ease of access

10/10 Quality of the wines poured

Appointment required: Only required for groups of 6 or more.

Address:  1473 Yountville Cross Road, Yountville, CA 94599

cliffledevineyards.com

Tasting room hours: 10am – 4pm

Tasting fee: (per person)

  • $25 for 4-6 wines
  • $45 “Backstage tour” (Thursdays – Sundays) – Appointment only, for wine club members.  VIP tasting room. Featuring rotating art exhibits, food pairings, library selections & large format.s
  • $75 “Estate Tour & Tasting” (Tuesdays – Saturdays) – Appointment only

Good for: Bordeaux lovers, music lovers

Wines produced:  Sauvignon Blanc (with Semillon & Sauvignon Vert), Claret & Red wine blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot), known for its famous “Poetry” Cabernet Sauvignon, which is notoriously hard to find.

What’s nearby: Yountville, Silverado Trail

Appellation/District: Stags Leap District

Contact for appointments: 1-800-428-2259 or info@cliffledevineyards.com

Date of visit: July 15, 2013

E-mail: mindy@winerycritic.com