The phrase “wine is bottled poetry” has never been more poignant than when sipping a chilled glass of cement and barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc by Cliff Lede in the Robert Frost room at Poetry Inn by Cliff Lede in Napa Valley. On a recent trip to the region I stayed in this sublime, serene and incredibly special spot as a guest of the winery, tasting with Cliff Lede Winemaker Chris Tynan the following day. I had a chance to discuss the Inn a bit earlier this week on D: The Broadcast when talking about some great wine country getaways. Without question, it will be difficult to find another wine country escape that will surpass this incredible experience.
Though it was several weeks ago, the awe of walking into this luxurious space set 500 feet above the valley floor just off the Silverado Trail, designed by architect Howard Bracken, stays with me. Then as a newlywed of just 10 days, my husband and I experienced a calm that is often not felt within Napa. Napa is better known for its wonderful fast pace, stopping by as many wineries as possible (or as I call it…power tasting) to make sure you experience as much great wine and tasty food your schedule allows. Around every turn there is an opportunity to create a memory that will last a lifetime.
This time, however, sitting and relaxing was all that was needed to create those memories, so much that we picked up take out from Chef/Owner Richard Reddington’s relatively new and well acclaimed Redd Wood for dinner so we could enjoy sunset looking out on Stag’s Leap, Yountville and the Poetry vineyards on our veranda, with a roaring fire blazing in the 1450 square foot room with wall to wall sliding doors connecting the indoors and the out, with the most important requirement for the night being to relax in tranquility after enjoying an alfresco shower or a bubble bath in a tub the size of a swimming pool. I do gush, but the dedication to quality, attention to detail and superiority of the service made this place a must for any visitor to the valley, both at Poetry Inn as well as a visit to their pristine, international art and music filled winery.
Owner Cliff Lede, shown here as I ran into him and captured the modest owner at Auction Napa Valley, made a name for himself in his home country of Canada in the construction and development business, though was introduced to wine at a young age while making basement wine with his mother in his Edmonton home. As he got a little older he developed a palate and a passion for good wine, particularly after tasting a bottle of Ducru Beaucaillou Bordeaux. After achieving great success in his career in construction he was able to turn his passion for wine into a profession, finding a 60 acre piece of land in 1997, developing it, and establishing Cliff Lede Vineyards in the Stag’s Leap Region of Napa Valley in 2002, with the simple goal – to create perfection. A lofty task, but walking around this pristine, highly technical and well appointed winery it is easy to see they are doing their best to get very close. Since then he has also purchased Breggo Cellars in Anderson Valley, Sonoma to add Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to the Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux blend family.
He also sought out the best team to help him achieve his goals of perfection, early on bringing in Winemaker Philippe Melka as consultant in the winery, along with with Napa icon David Abreu as vineyard consultant. Today Abrue still works directly with Director of Winemaking and Viticulture Remi Cohen,Winemaker Chris Tynan, former assistant winemaker with Colgin, and the dynamic and gracious Jack Bittner, now President of the brand, helping take the winery to the highly acclaimed level they strive for, always focusing on quality and a fantastic experience for their guests, whether in the winery, at the Inn, or sipping a glass in your home.
I first had a chance to visit the winery about 5 years ago on the recommendation of Wine Therapist owner Phillip Nikpour, who loves Stag’s Leap fruit as much as I do. Sitting in their cozy tasting room in front of a roaring fire on a November morning tasting stunning wine from stellar fruit, and walking through the vibrant art instillation they had at the time (it rotates every few months,) I could easily appreciate the creative vibe in the air, and the dedication to quality they had for their wines, mainly their premium Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon blend, grown on 20 acres surrounding the Inn on an afternoon sun facing slope.
This trip we had a chance to see a bit more, touring their gravity-flow facility, also designed by architect Howard Backen, equipped with every gadget a winemaker could want, without manipulating the fruit. The wine in the glass is the representation of the land, nothing alters that. In fact they go to great lengths to ensure it doesn’t, bringing in new techniques like optical sorting to allow the hand picked into small 30 pound boxes and then hand sorted grapes to go through a final selection process where every grape is electronically screened and any that don’t make the cut are automatically removed, and then those grapes are re-screened manually. Only the best go into each and every bottle of wine. Lede believes that if you bring in the best people, with the highest quality fruit and superior equipment, and put them into a position to succeed with all the help and support necessary, there is no way a person can’t rise to meet and often exceed every expectation…even in difficult harvest years when Mother Nature isn’t as kind as many winemakers would like her to be.
There is more than simply the mechanics of the winery at every turn in this functional space. Here, whether it be in the fermentation room, throughout the vineyards, in various tasting rooms or on patios, there is art. The peace and serenity, along with mental and spiritual awareness that comes from observing a sculpture or painting enhances the mood of both visitors as well as workers, bringing appreciation for the romantic, artistic side of winemaking, as art inspires art, and these wines are works of art in a glass.
Though potentially best known for their leathery, black fruit and licorice filled Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon and their robust, rich, elegant and smooth Poetry blend, the winery also creates a blend each year of fruit from specific vineyard blocks located within their Poetry vineyard.
Different wineries have different ways of naming their vineyard blocks, some simply calling them A, B, C, some by last names of previous owners or favorite colors. Cliff Lede names each of their estate blocks after favorite classic rock songs, like Cinnamon Girl, Pinball Wizard, and the latest blend which includes grapes from vines planted in the Landslide block and Light My Fire block, naming the wine after the two or three blocks by blending the name like the wine….in this instance, Landslide Fire is a 2010 vintage blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. Every year both the vineyard blocks used and the blend created will change based on what mother nature has given them, just a music changes through the years, but the guarantee is a very special, small production (just 322 cases for 2010) wine with structure and depth, and a bit of whimsy…like a great song.
This fall guests who are a part of their VIP wine club will be able to have an extra special winery experience, Back Stage. VIP guests will be treated to an exclusive tasting in a private tasting room, tasting the best wines from the winery current releases and library vintages while enjoying innovative food pairings, enhanced with an international rotating art exhibit. Access to the experience is granted through a special key entry obtained when you make your reservations. The introduction of Back Stage echos the dedication to quality and perfection in both the wines and the experience of Cliff Lede, adding an extra level of luxury, service and personalization to your enjoyment.