2009 Sonoma Valley ‘Ancient Vine’ Zin Rated “Impeccable” by Ledson Winemakers and Sommeliers

As many of you know, the 132-year-old ‘Ancient Vine’ Zinfandel estate vineyard in Sonoma is one of my favorite vineyards and produces one of my favorite wines. It’s interesting how I know the age of the vineyards; one my father’s closest friends Joe Degrassio’s sister married into the family that planted the six-acre vineyard in 1880. Although I don’t know specifics about the clone, it’s quite likely that it came from Italy in a suitcase, as so many clones did back then. If only these vines could talk! Well, I suppose they do tell their stories – in your glass.

This wine is for the serious Zinfandel enthusiast – certainly not for the timid! Everything a Zin should be and more. On the nose, a delightful spectrum of strawberry, blackberry, bittersweet chocolate, fig and hints of white pepper. The lush palate is complex and lovely, with intense chocolate, cocoa, blackberry and blueberry spice. The finish is seemingly endless, with an ocean of black fruit slowly receding from a wave of blackberry, chocolate and fig. Ruby majesty!

If you happen to have a bottle of this wine around, beef spareribs or a nice rib eye steak are incredible pairing ideas. My mouth is watering just thinking about the possibilities! It’s a gem of a Zin.


How Important is Family?

A lot of you know me very well and if you have visited The Castle you can see how important family is to me. The walls are decorated with family photos going back to the 1700s.

I’m not sure what it is that gave me this passion and drive to become the family historian. Maybe the same things that give me the motivation to succeed in life. I know how fortunate I was to have the childhood I had, raised on a ranch and having the constant love and direction from my father Noble and my mother Virginia. They gave me invaluable lessons – the kind that you don’t learn in school. And there was always family around. Family was so important to my parents. And they treated everyone that worked for them as part of the family, too. In fact, Mom shared lunch with all of our workers every day.

I like to think that all these great Ledson and Cunningham men and women who have passed are still with me, giving me the direction and dedication that’s made me the person I am. As crazy as this might sound, I actually hear their voices in my head. Things like: “Have you really thought this through?” “Is that the way you would want to be treated?” They inspire me to question my decisions all the time, and help me tap into my intuition.

There is something about the family blood – I see it in many of my family members. Take my dear friend and cousin, Geordie Ledson – he’s an A-type Ledson. Not only is he a very successful man; he also carries the same family values as so many of us Ledson folk.

You can also see it in the faces and actions of Geordie’s two sons, Nick and Cole. They are driven and determined to succeed. Whether it’s at school, at home with the family, or on a high speed performance kart racetrack, these boys always give 110%. And especially in their kindness.

But make no mistake; they’re not going to let you stand in their way. The older boy, Nick, will probably realize his dream of being a professional Nascar driver. His brother Cole has been racing Go-Karts for four years and I believe he’ll soon win the ‘junior lite’ championship.

They are committed to success!

In today’s world, the opportunities that children get are far and few between compared to when I was a kid. I literally get goose bumps every time I read about or see a young person having been given an opportunity and really doing something with it.

That’s one of the reasons I sponsor Nick and Cole’s Ledson Motorsports racing team. It’s the same kind of motivation that inspired me to start the Ledson Harmony Foundation for Children. At some point I hope to start a mentoring program; I want to try and help more kids, give them jobs working in the vineyard, teach them the common sense stuff.

Can’t we just wind back the clock and start over, and give all of our kids the direction and support they need to be successful? As a country, I think we’re lacking in that area.

On the Road Again: The Southern Experience

I always love hearing people’s life stories and of course I enjoy sharing mine as well.

A few weekends ago I was in Louisville, Kentucky doing private tastings and dinners on both Friday and Saturday nights. The events were hosted by long time wine club members and dear friends Mike and Debbie Edlin in their incredible, truly exquisite Southern mansion on a beautifully designed Arnold Palmer golf course on Arnold Palmer Drive. It doesn’t get any better.

Assistant to the Winemaker, Sam Cant

Mike and Debbie invited some of their closest friends and business associates to share these special evenings with me and my assistant, Sam Cant. We started each event with a two hour private tasting of some of our most sought-after wines, many of which are so limited in production that they’re usually sold out prior to bottling. Afterwards, Debbie cooked the most unbelievable dinners that paired absolutely beautifully with our wines. I felt like I was in a five-star Southern restaurant! She’s an amazing chef and they are truly a generous couple.

In fact, I don’t think anyone has experienced true hospitality until they’ve had dinner cooked by a ‘Southern Belle’ like Debbie and served in a Southern mansion like the Edlin’s. Nobody understands hospitality like the South!

In life, you never know who’s sitting next to you. I was quite surprised to discover that I was sitting between Al Gore’s cousin and the inventor of the gift card. But you wouldn’t have noticed anything different about them; they were just ‘one of us’. Isn’t that what truly makes people special?

Sweeping the Competition

When I found out that our 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir won a Gold Medal, Best of Class and Sweepstakes at the 2012 North of the Gate Wine Competition, I couldn’t wait to tell the world! One of the most prestigious awards a winery can win is Sweepstakes.

To win Sweepstakes means it was the best red wine out of all red wines entered, and that is quite amazing knowing that there were probably hundreds of entries and made by some of the top winemakers in Northern California.

But best of all, do you know how many people it took to make this wine, from ground to bottle? Think about it! This is what real teamwork is all about.

This lovely Pinot is bright and spicy with an almost indescribable delicacy. Like a strong-headed woman with a soft heart.

The first thing to strike you is the impressively brilliant red hue. The aroma is all about the incredible fruit. Loads of jammy black raspberries remind me of when I was a kid and we had homemade blackberry jam on buttered warm toast. Add in notes of black cherry cola and soft mineral notes, and this wine transports you through a magnificent journey of the senses. The palate is complex – elegant but robust. Bright rich gorgeous strawberry flavors coat the palate with an amazing soft velvety mouth feel. This is a winemaker’s dream wine.

I wish I could have made more than 250 cases of this wine. But as you know, to make wine like this the grapes have to be of the highest quality. Like Dad always said, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

A Class Reunion from a Different Era

Every year I host the “Class Reunion of 1930-1938” at The Castle, and open the doors to everyone who might have walked the halls with my Father, Barker “Noble” Ledson. Dad was born on July 15, 1916 and passed away in 2004. We always try and do these reunions as close to his birthday as we can.

The group is getting smaller as each year goes on, as you can imagine. It always brings tears to my eyes as I look out over the crowd, seeing fewer of the people who helped develop the person I became. It was not just my father, but that whole era of people and their philosophy on life that influenced me.

This year Al Sloat, one of my dad’s best friends and also one of my best friends, was no longer at the party. I got to spend a lot of time with Al over the years, so it was a hard loss. Another dear friend of my father’s, Stanley Denner, was not able to attend the event so I went and saw him at his house. We reminisced over old times – when I used to bale hay on his ranch and had a childhood crush on his daughter. It is men like these two that made this country the awesome place it has been.

Every year another piece of me is gone.

I have to say that those men and women were the luckiest people that ever lived on this planet, because I believe those years were some of the best for the United States of America. It was just a different time, from the upbringing of children to the real common sense issues and the tightness of families. The fishing, the hunting, the small town atmosphere. That feeling of going next door and helping your neighbor and not charging them a dime. Everybody being there for each other, counting on each other. And I was fortunate enough to be raised in that world.

So I’ll keep things positive and will continue to hold the reunions, even if it gets down to just me and one other person sitting down over dinner, reminiscing about the good old days. And I’ll know that all the great men and women who used to walk the halls of Santa Rosa High School will be looking down at us, smiling.