A visit to Cliff Lede Vineyards

Thursday, April 16, 2009


10-Second Summary:
Cliff Lede Vineyards (pronounced "Lay-dee") in Napa, CA is an elegant yet quick and easy stop for a taste of Sauvignon Blanc and their highly rated Cabernet Sauvignon. For $20, you taste 3 wines ranging in price from $20 to $60. More expensive tastings and tours are also available.

Earlier this week, I wrote a review of a highly rated wine from Cliff Lede Vineyards that I wasn't particularly fond of. In spite of my so-so experience with that particular bottle, and because so many people have said good things about this wine and the winery, I decided to visit them during a recent trip to Napa.

Their tasting room is located in Yountville between Route 29 and the Silverado Trail. Also included at the location is the Poetry Inn. I thought it was a beautiful place.


Since they don't require appointments, it was a good place to begin our day given that our arrival time to the area was uncertain. It was Monday just before noon, and there were just a few other groups in the elegantly appointed tasting room when we arrived. We bellied up to the bar and were presented with menus offering a choice of still wines from Cliff Lede -or- sparkilng wines from the S. Anderson label (a category I understand Cliff Lede is exiting in the next year or two). We chose the $20 Cliff Lede flight that included:

  • $22 2007 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc
  • $50 2006 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena
  • $60 2006 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stag's Leap District
The gentleman pouring the wine informed me that Sauvignon Blanc is one of the primary grape varieties used in white Bordeaux (more info from Wikipedia here), along with a more extensive run-down of other grape facts from France (Pinot Noir/Red Burgundy and Chardonnay/White Burgundy references, along with a full listing of all the red grapes allowed in red Bordeaux). I asked what typically differentiates California Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and the answer was that they were pretty similar stylistically. He noted that the grapes were fermented in stainless steel and then concrete tanks to impart some minerality into the wine- I thought that was interesting.

The Sauvignon Blanc was OK. Nothing in particular was too memorable about it. Typical Sauvignon Blanc- grapefruit and a bit of minerality with a clean finish. Not too tart. I thought it was a good wine, but not one I'd seek out north of $20.

Next up were the Cabernet Sauvignons. One was from the benchlands of St. Helena and the other from more hilly terrain in Stag's Leap District. The St. Helena was said to be a mellower, smoother wine (given its easy going upbringing in the flat valley floor) whereas the Stag's Leap was going to be more tannic and denser given that it was grown in rougher terrain.

I thought both wines were quite nice, showing characteristics of classic Napa Cabs. Fruit forward, yet serious. Full bodied yet restrained. The St. Helena was, for me, more approachable and rounder. The Stag's Leap was a bit more tannic, but not overly so. Neither of the wines displayed the excessive alcohol I noted in the 2005 I tried previously.

While we were enjoying these wines we had some light conversation with the two gentlemen pouring that day (jokes about Rutherford dust in the glasses and such). We got a little bit of the backstory of Cliff Lede, but I don't really remember too much of it. There's some tie-in to rock music and the vineyards are named after famous rock songs. The tranquil surroundings seemed a bit disjoint to the Fender Telecaster on top of the wine bar. I didn't get it.

One thing I always enjoy during a visit to a winery tasting room is the "secret bottle being poured *today only* just for you". It's as sure a thing as an encore at a rock concert (and this place was all about Rock 'n Roll, right?) A typical maneuver, and one that I enjoy very much, is to bust out the ultra-low production single vineyard designation wine available only at the winery and occasionally shared with wine club members. However, no such thing was offered to us. $20 each for the tasting fee and we were done. Perhaps this treatment is offered up to those willing to spend $50 or $70 on a tasting and tour as part of a tasting of their higher end "Poetry" line.

I can't say that I was left feeling a special connection to Cliff Lede, and I don't think I'll be counting myself as a brand ambassador based on that experience. But that's okay- they've got plenty of fans and I do believe they make some very good wines. The $20 tasting fee is reasonable I guess and the fact that they offer tastings without appointment makes it a low-risk addition to a Napa itinerary.

Check 'em out:
Cliff Lede Vineyards
1473 Yountville Cross Road
Yountville, CA 94599

For more information on what I think constitutes a perfect wine tasting room visit (and a nod to my personal favorite winery visit to date) you might be interested in this piece on The Best Wine Tasting Rooms Anyone Can Visit.

Question of the Day: Have you visited Cliff Lede? What did you think?

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