Cliff Lede Vineyards is tucked into a small hillside down a private lane off the southeast end of Yountville Cross Road. It is named for owner Cliff Lede (“LAY-dee”), who got into the wine business after a career in construction — his family’s Canadian-based company built Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc and Bouchon Bakery, in addition to many larger projects throughout North America. Cliff traces his interest in wine back to his late 20s, when he began collecting Bordeaux. He got his first taste of Napa in the 1990s while there on business and quickly realized that it was home. Since then he has devoted himself to creating a top-tier winery.
Cliff got started in 2002, purchasing a 60-acre property in Stags Leap — now the site of his Twin Peaks Vineyard. Later on, he bought the Poetry Vineyard, which is across the Silverado Trail on some of the steepest and highest-planted elevations in the District. In 2005, his construction company built a state-of-the art winery on the original 60-acre estate. It features custom fermenters (some modeled after those at Château Latour), gravity flow design, and optical sorters, all geared towards minimal manipulation of the grapes. In addition to the winery, the estate includes a beautiful tasting room on Yountville Cross Road and a small, stunningly beautiful hotel on the hill above Poetry Vineyard, appropriately named the Poetry Inn. At the tasting room you can enjoy the Cliff Lede wines, as well as those from FEL, a new venture (named for Cliff’s mother, Florence Elsie Lede) focusing on Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
If there is one thing that all of Cliff’s projects have in common, it is an incredible attention to detail, beauty, and functionality. He has equally high standards when it comes to choosing his staff. To get the winery off to a fast start Cliff hired two superstars: David Abreu (to plant the vineyards) and Philippe Melka (to make the wines). It was Cliff’s goal to bring the viticultural and winemaking teams in-house eventually, which he did in 2012, hiring Remi Cohen as director of winemaking and vineyards and Chris Tynant as winemaker.
Remi has a top-notch background in viticulture, having worked as vineyard manager at Bouchaine and Merryvale in addition to creating her own vineyard management company. Chris was most recently at Colgin, and has also worked with Napa legends Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer among others. Both Remi and Chris share the philosophy that wines are grown in the vineyards first and foremost, and you can see the effort and attention they place not only on farming, but on coordinating it with what happens at harvest and in the cellar.
The Twin Peaks and Poetry vineyards both have individual blocks named for Cliff’s favorite rock songs, including the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey,” Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” As the story goes, Cliff couldn’t get it in his head to remember block and lot numbers, but songs, or “Rock Blocks,” as they are known around here, came easily. The Twin Peaks Vineyard is planted on the alluvial plain and gravelly loam hills that stretch along the south side of the Yountville Cross Road, around the back of the tasting room and south on both sides of the private lane, to the hills where the winery lies. It is planted mainly to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a little Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.
The Poetry Vineyard is planted on a steep, southwest-facing slope of shallow, well-drained soils over fractured shale and rhyolitic rock. There is full exposure to the sun and they often shade the rows on the steep terraces during peak heat periods. The vineyard is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, with a little Petit Verdot (in a block appropriately named “Purple Haze”) and Cabernet Franc. This superb site is where the fruit for the top-of-the-line Poetry Cabernet is sourced from.
With the great 2012, 2013, and 2014 vintages under its belt, the new team here is off to a fast start. The apt decisions made by Cliff over the winery’s first decade have allowed the team to not only aim high, but to hit the mark dead-on. These are modern, richly concentrated wines — though not over the top — that highlight the terroirs where they are grown. And as good as they are now, I think we can expect still greater things to come in the future.