My Cousin Julia Bertetta: A Century Celebration of an Incredible Woman

I want to share a special story with you about my dear friend and cousin, Julia Bertetta. I have to say that she’s an amazing lady and someone I’ve admired all my life. I’m inspired not only by Julia, but also by the extreme fondness that my father Noble and uncles Winslow and Whitby had for her.

In fact, Winslow told me on numerous occasions that he had a crush on Julia. Winslow and I used to talk until the wee hours of the morning while we played liar’s dice, cards and talked about the good old times in Kenwood. Julia’s name came up often.

She’s always been the life of the party and has an amazing, charismatic way about her. Back in the day, when the “Ledson boys” were ready to head to town, the first person they asked to go with them was Julia.

And now, at age 100, everyone still takes notice when she walks into a room. There’s something extraordinary about the way she carries herself.

Julia’s family has been in Sonoma County since the turn of the century; they ran the quarry at Annadel State Park. Back then they used the stones from that quarry to build cobblestone streets in San Francisco.  Julia was born at the quarry in a small cabin!

JULIA-BABY-AND-STEVEwpWe were so honored to throw a birthday party for Julia, and I was more than excited that my one-month-old daughter, Taylor Lynn, was there. I’ll never forget the experience. Julia put her loving hand on Taylor’s chest and said to her, “You’re going to be a very wise young lady.” And later she shook her finger at her and added, “You better pay attention to your dad, young lady!”

Julia has been taking a bus up to Reno once a month to gamble and she plays bingo every Thursday night. She’s living life to its fullest, which is what I try to do every day. One thing I learned from Julia is to make the best out of every moment.

Throughout my life I’ve looked up to and admired a lot of people, but this woman has and continues to inspire me so much that I recently named a vineyard after her – one of my favorite spots to have lunch on our family ranch in Anderson Valley. This Pinot Noir ‘Julia’s Vineyard’ is just breathtaking. No doubt it will produce wines with the utmost character, hopefully as fabulous and lively as Julia herself!

Some people in life are just born with the kind of personality that can charm everyone from the President of the United States to some who are just down on their luck; Julia makes everyone smile.

And when it comes to telling a joke, there is no one better. I can’t count the times she has made me laugh.

I love this lady. She makes me smile every time I see her. Isn’t that the way we all want to live our lives? Always with a smile.

I just have a feeling Taylor Lynn will have that same positive, charismatic personality – living her live to the fullest.

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New Additions to our Winemaking Team!

You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. I think of my employees as family, and when it comes to the winemaking team, there has to be a real passion and energy among us. On that note, I’m thrilled to introduce you to our newest members of the Ledson winemaking team!

David Ramey (left) and Andrew Bilenkij (right) join Winemaker Steve Ledson.

David Ramey, known around the world as one of the top winemakers in the industry, has joined the Ledson family as consulting winemaker. Ramey is widely known as one of the prominent pioneers who helped bring California wines to the forefront of the international wine world.

I’ve been friends with David for a long time, and I’ve always admired and been inspired by his innovative winemaking style. In February of 2012, Robert Parker said, “David Ramey is one of the few California winemakers who think in terms of structure, not just flavor, something that sets him apart from many of his peers.” Amen!

I’m a big believer that every time you do something, you should do it better. My dad always said, “Two minds are better than one!” So David and I put our heads together and went on the search for one of the best winemakers in the world.

We did a lot of research and poured over 150 resumes. One name really stood out: Andrew Belenkij.

Formerly winemaker at Cumulus Wines in South Wales, Australia, Andrew trained under one of the most acclaimed winemakers in the world, Philip Shaw, winner of the coveted “Winemaker of the Year” at the London International Wine and Spirits Competition in both 1986 and 2000. Andrew added to his expertise by working at some of the most prestigious wineries in France.

As we continue to add vineyards and source the best fruit, I always think of another one of my dad’s sayings. “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” That saying always comes to mind when I’m thinking about vineyards and grapes. You just can’t cut corners! For the last five years, I’ve been working with the highly esteemed viticulturist, Dr. Daniel Roberts. Roberts has consulted all over the world and has planted vineyards for some very well known wineries. His experience is unparalleled, and his addition to the Ledson team has done nothing but improve all of our vineyard operations!

Combined with our continued growing and sourcing of the best grapes available, I expect even greater wines to come out of our cellar. And that is saying a lot, considering the numerous awards we’ve been receiving on our recent and current releases. I’m always striving to improve!

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?

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.

Futures, Friends and the Team: An Evening to Remember

A few Saturdays ago we had our annual “Wine Club Only” barrel tasting event.  It had to have been one of the most incredible evenings of my life. There were close to 500 people at The Castle from all over the United States. I even heard that someone flew in from Canada. The weather was picture perfect. It was the kind of magical Sonoma Valley spring evening when the sun is warm as it descends and the breeze is mild and refreshing. An incredible energy hung in the air.

It was amazing! I went from one conversation to the next. I must have talked to 200 people myself! Everybody was raving about the wines, about the staff, about the building, the food, the evening.  Everything.

Words can’t describe what it’s like to work in an industry like this, where so many different facets are involved in the finished product:  Finding the right piece of property to plant grapes, going through all the soil tests and weather checks and getting the right root stocks with the right clone with the right trellis system, planting the rows in the right direction. And then you have a good four years of growing the vines before you get any grapes!  Once you finally have grapes, there’s another two or three years for the winemaking process.

From the time the root goes into the ground to the moment the wine crosses our customers’ lips, it’s been six or seven years, and in some cases, eight!

That only gets the wine into the bottle, then it needs at least six months to a year to evolve.  Once it has passed over the palates of our most expert tasting panel, then it is time for our wine consultants to contact our valued customers to receive their wine. A lot of hard work from so many people, vineyard workers, winemaking team, wine consultants, Marketplace staff, wine club department, shipping, runners, admin, and janitorial.  A total of 122 people on our little team at Ledson all working seamlessly over seven to eight years to bring our product to our loyal customers.

And so that’s why, on Saturday night, when couple after couple , one after the other, came up and  shook my hand and saying things like, “This is one of the best events I have ever been to.  Your staff is absolutely incredible, you can see they love what they do here. The wine is impeccable and so is the food.” It was music to my ears.

As the sun set behind the mountains and the building became lit, and with the warmth of the night spring air, the castle could not have looked and felt better – there was no place I would rather have been that evening. It was such a high, an evening like that, not only for me, but for my entire team. They get up early and put in long hours with so much passion and drive for what they do, and always with a smile.

I was so moved throughout the event that I couldn’t sleep when I got home. I kept thinking about the event and all the positive things people said. I was thinking about all the people who have worked so hard for so many years. You know this did not come to fruition overnight – it took a lot of people with positive perspectives years to put it together. I am so proud of all my staff and so happy to be part of it. I don’t know how life can get any better.

A Performance You Won’t Forget

I love live music and I get particularly excited when I discover a rare talent. Luna Itzel is just that. I can tell you from first-hand experience that she sings with heart and soul. She lights up a room and always leaves you wanting more.

Her beautiful and expressive voice has put her at the top of Mexico’s contemporary music scene. She brings her passion for living and shares her traditional spiritual values through her music. She’s been singing for 14 years and has produced seven discs. She is always interpreting different musical styles, but traditional Mexican music is what drives her.

On Friday, May 4, Itzel will perform live at Centre du Vin at the Ledson Hotel from 6:30-9:30 in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. This is a rare opportunity to experience one of the most talented performers in all of Mexico, in an intimate and cozy environment. Itzel doesn’t perform in the United States often, so this is going to be a treat!

Word is getting out, so it’s a good idea to make reservations (707-996-9779)! And to top it off, Chef Justin Bruckert has come up with some great Cinco de Mayo specials to celebrate the weekend.

On the Road: An Extraordinary Wine Tasting and Winemaker Dinner

My wife Amy and I were invited to do a wine tasting, followed by a winemaker dinner, a couple of weekends ago in San Diego at the private estate of long-time wine club members Russ and Cyndi Thurman. They asked us to bring some of our most sought-after wines, some bottled and some futures right out of the barrels that we could pour for their guests – a mixture of family, friends, and important business associates. In order to accommodate everyone, they held events on both Friday and Saturday, with about 40 people each night. Everybody had a blast! The excitement and energy was incredible and we met some really great people.

Russ loves to tell the story about how he discovered Ledson Winery. He came to wine country “not to taste, but to buy.” He said every winery had maybe one or two good wines, but nothing really special. Then he visited Ledson. Laughing, he said he cleared his whole schedule of wine tastings for the rest of the day because he enjoyed our wines so much- and was surprised that with such a vast selection of wine it was “all so good.” Music to a winemaker’s ear!

We gave the wines a lot of thought, and ended up bringing nine of our most exquisite wines, some as limited as 30 cases!

  • 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Best of Class and Double Gold, American Fine Wine Competition
  • 2010 Carneros Chardonnay Reserve
  • 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Reserve

We also brought futures from the 2009 vintage (we’ll be bottling those soon). This was the first time the futures were tasted outside of the cellar and everyone was blown away.

  • 2009 Knights Valley Sangiovese
  • 2009 Russian River Valley Merlot
  • 2010 Dry Creek Valley Malbec
  • 2009 Sonoma Valley ‘Ancient Vine’ Zinfandel Reserve
  • 2010 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
  • 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

One of the guests told me later, “The wine was, without exception, exceptional. A true rarity.”

The fun began with a two-hour wine tasting and cheese pairing, which was amazing. Following the tastings, we enjoyed fantastic dinners prepared by Cyndi. Once again, the wines complemented the food to everyone’s great, mouthwatering pleasure. Cyndi is an amazing chef.

We had the most memorable time. Russ and Cyndi are such gracious hosts and we cannot thank them enough for inviting us to be part of this awesome experience. Another guest summed it up well: “What a fabulous event – great people, food, and wine!”

It made me realize how much I love going on the road to share my passion for winemaking with new acquaintances and old friends. I’m ready to get out there more!

Amy and I are already looking forward to next year at the Thurman’s. . .