Making a Difference

I am inspired everyday by the people I meet in my travels, by the folks that work for me, and by the people that have grown to become my dear friends and family over the years. I am always hoping that even by having a simple conversation, I have shared a story that has changed someone’s day. Young or old, I feel that people can be constantly motivated to reach their goals. I especially feel this way towards children. Children are filled with so much laughter and potential, how could you not want all of them to be encouraged to reach their ultimate dreams?

When I see a young man or woman truly enjoying their passion, I remember what it was like to run with unrestrained abandon. The sun on my face in the vineyard, the sweet smell of grapes on a warm breeze, and a long summer afternoon spent imagining all the things that children are inspired to do. This can be different for every kid. One child may want to build a rocket, one might want to paint, one may want to read or write, and one may want to play soccer. No matter what the dream is, the possibilities of a child’s imagination should know no boundaries and their dreams should always be big.

As Americans, we have the responsibility to ensure that all our child dreamers are supported so that their ideas can become achievements. It is our obligation to become mentors to younger generations and develop these dreamers into leaders who have accomplished their ultimate goals. My wife Amy and I began the Harmony Foundation for Children because of these beliefs. We provide financial support to youth who have proven to be dedicated and inspired, but whose success might be jeopardized by situations that are out of their hands. We sponsor hardworking kids that require an extra bit of help to achieve their passion in life. Amy and I feel very fortunate to have so many blessings and know we couldn’t have reached all our dreams without help and opportunity. Amongst all of our achievements, it is our greatest triumph to help these outstanding youth. I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be a child and to not have hope. It is our goal to give the kids at the Harmony Foundation hope that the drive and hard work they put into their passions is met by unwavering support, making their biggest goals achievable.

Gianna Cianfichi

Gianna Cianfichi

I was incredibly inspired this last December by a young woman named Gianna Cianfichi who attends Santa Rosa High School, the same school I, my grandmother, father, aunts and uncles went to. Gianna, her mother and I shared a conversation at the Ledson Hotel and I was immediately impressed by the accomplishments of this young lady. While in honors classes and maintaining a 4.0 GPA, Gianna is pursuing her ultimate dream of becoming the national champion in rodeo. Her enthusiasm and drive to succeed was evident and I knew she would be the perfect fit for the Harmony Foundation. I loved meeting a young person who enjoyed their passion so much. It is a great joy to me to help her grow and develop in life. I wish every child could have the opportunity Gianna has. I believe that with some hard work and direction, everyone can have a much better life. Sometimes, they just need help realizing it.

I am a self-made man who was lucky to come from a family with the ability to support me. I was able to fulfill all of the dreams I had in the clear blue afternoons of leisurely summer days. I care so much about making a difference in these young people’s lives. I hope my experience is also something I can offer these young, capable people. I want to make sure that these exceptional kids are given, at the very least, an opportunity at realizing their ultimate dreams.

So, I would like to introduce Gianna and her blog about the journey of becoming the national champion in rodeo.  She is a brilliant young woman and I hope you enjoy reading about her endeavors as much as I do.

Gianna’s Story:

Hi! I’m Gianna Cianfichi and the Ledson Harmony Foundation has recently sponsored me for High School Rodeo. Thank you Ledson! I have been in competitive rodeo for the past 3 years and have qualified for the Junior Rodeo National Finals the past two years. Last year, my horse Boomer and I were in the national top twenty in pole bending. As a freshman at Santa Rosa High School, this is my first year competing at the high school level and I am excited to be among such strong opponents. We are about half way through the regular season of eight, two-day rodeos.  I compete in all six events for women: barrel racing, cutting, pole bending, goat tying, team roping and breakaway roping. In each event, the top five competitors qualify for the California State Finals.  California is divided into nine districts, each contributing their top five to the State finals.

My most recent rodeo was held in District 2, which is my home ground. Leading up to this rodeo I had a lot to focus on.  Besides doing well in school and staying healthy, my main concentrations in practice were to better my consistency in goats and tighten my two end poles in pole bending. I feel I did very well overall and that all the practice paid off.  I was unofficially first in both goats and pole bending for the rodeo.  These two wins improved my seasons rankings and I moved up two or three slots, placing me third overall in both. However, I know things can change quickly in rodeo and I need to stay focused and consistent.

Rodeo is my passion. I love my four horses very much, and the high expectations I hold myself to, I also hold my horses. This year I’m shooting to make it to State finals in all six events.  Even though it’s my first year at the high school level, I am setting myself up so I am a hardy challenger in the state all-around. I look forward to sharing the results of my next rodeo.  Thank you in advance for your support!

 

Every Day Is a Challenge: It’s All About How You Perceive It

Every day is another day in this world. While you’re trying to live your life to its fullest you will definitely have those challenging days, right? Well, I’d like to share with you a story about one of those challenging days.

About a week ago, my wife Amy and my six month old daughter Taylor Lynn decided to go out for breakfast at one of my favorite restaurants in Sonoma, and of course, I brought my 14-month-old McNab Shepherd Pistol with us. I take her everywhere I go. When we came out of the restaurant, Pistol had dug into a bottle of Advil which was wedged in the side of my truck door. It was almost impossible even for me to dig it out, but somehow she managed to get into the bottle and ate I don’t even know how many pills.

We drove over to the warehouse where we were scheduled to do inventory. I told my wife to go in and get started and I would keep an eye on Pistol, for as much as I knew, she might not have eaten any pills. Amy just got through the door when Pistol started throwing up all over the truck and began dry heaving. My heart froze, but I knew I couldn’t panic. I had to act now. I ran to the door and asked the girl at the desk to please get my wife, and as Amy came out the door, Pistol collapsed in my arms.

While we were rushing the dog to the hospital, she fell into a coma. We thought for sure Pistol was dying. When we got to the hospital, the doctor rushed her into the emergency room and would not let us back there. I was not very happy with them at all, and was somewhat in their face; I could not let my dog pass without me holding her in my arms. Several hours went by and they finally came to get us. When we went back, Pistol was still in a coma, and they explained she might not make it due to liver and kidney damage from the Advil. They kept questioning us on how much she ate and we kept saying we have no idea, as I had not opened that bottle for probably a year. They explained we might not know for days if she will make it. After about six hours of hanging out waiting, they came to get us again and took us back to see her. She was lying totally still, but opening one eye to let us know she knew we were there. The doctor recommended we go home and come see her the next day so that she would rest, so we did.

You never know what each day will bring us – one minute, we were having fun as a family; my little daughter Taylor and my lovely wife Amy enjoying an early morning breakfast, including having the chef prepare a special chicken dish for Pistol, and the next minute, our whole world is turned upside down. Life has its challenging moments like that, doesn’t it?

So, after spending most of the day with Pistol, we finally got home at about four o’clock in the afternoon. When I went into the house, tired but undefeated, something caught my wife’s eye.  Amy said, “Hey, there is an orange rabbit in the yard!” My heart sank a little, and I thought, what kind of strange test could it be now? “A rabbit? That’s strange, I think you’re thinking of the neighbor’s orange cat,” I said to her optimistically. “I’ve never seen a cat jump like that,” she replied. So, I went outside to watch my neighbor’s cat jump like a rabbit, but lo and behold, there were 12 domestic rabbits, all different colors, running around! They were so cute, these fury little balls hopping around the yard. They looked like they were having the time of their life. At first I thought wow, this is very cool, I love seeing these rabbits enjoying themselves running around our three- acre yard. Now, this was a week ago, when the temperatures were getting down to 26-27 degrees at night and I know from being a rancher that rabbits aren’t going to survive outside in this cold.

I should mention that our neighbor, the caretaker of our three-acre estate also has a dog. If his dog were to get one whiff of those rabbits, he’d be eating them in a heartbeat! And normally Pistol is home and she’d be eating the rabbits as well. As with Pistol’s situation, I had to think fast. So, I went straight to it and started chasing after our little guests. If you’ve ever tried to catch a rabbit, you can imagine what it’s like to chase after those quick little buggers! They were quite a bit faster than me. I had to outsmart them by opening doors and little cupboards here and there around the pool house. As I tried to get them inside, they still kept sneaking away from me.

Four hours later, I had all of the rabbits stored safely inside our laundry room, but my wife was having a fit. “They’re going to make a huge mess, Steve!” she said to me. Her kind and tired face showed deep concern. “Well, I’m not going to leave them out in the cold, you know they will all be dead in the morning,” I said taking her hand. “I have to take care of them,” I added. She nodded, giving me a gentle, understanding smile.

So we went to bed and the next morning it was time to face the next challenge. I got up and went to check on our guests. Lo and behold, my wife was right; the rabbits marked their territory inside of our laundry room. There was urine and feces everywhere, up the walls three feet! After spending four hours cleaning up the mess (thanks for our hospitality), I called around trying to find the rabbits a home. Finally, I found a granary that agreed to take them and help us adopt them out. Why would somebody dump rabbits in my yard? It must be someone who was fed up with the rabbits and knows that I love animals and would make sure they had a good home.

Some days can be a challenge. However, it’s all about how you perceive it, right? As of today, all the rabbits have a nice little home. Pistol stayed in the hospital for four days but finally came home as well. She is healthy and doesn’t seem to have any issues except sniffing around to see if she can figure out who was in her home when she was away.

I wanted to share this story with you as it is a story of overcoming life’s trials through perseverance, or a story of finding the strength in your heart to see the good in whatever the day may bring you? Would Pistol have lived if I had not saved the rabbits? We will never know that, will we? But I can tell you one thing: we all will face those challenges probably more than once in our lives, and our perceptions of what is going on will determine our actions, and those actions determine our lives.

Count Your Blessings and Live Every Day to its Fullest

Over the holidays, we think back on the great times, the not-so-great times, and make resolutions for the next year. But sometimes we forget to focus on today.

HappyHolidaysDebby and John Silliman, dear friends of Amy’s and mine and club members for years, were at The Castle in August for a private tasting, and as always, we were delighted to see them. They really appreciate good wine and everything that goes with it. After leaving Sonoma, they went to stay in a Bay Area hotel.  While lying by the pool, as it was such a hot day, John got up from his lounge chair, and suddenly without warning, fell backward onto the concrete, hit his head, and went into a coma. He was rushed by ambulance to a hospital in San Jose, where he stayed for several weeks with swelling on the brain. Nobody was sure what the outcome of this trauma to John’s head would result in and everyone wondered if he would come out of it and still be the ‘old John’ we all know and love?

The reason I’m sharing this story with you is that we recently found out that that after six long months of doctors, hospitals and wondering what his life would be like going forward, John is finally okay. In fact, he is 100% okay. Naturally, he’s been told to take it easy for a while. In fact, John and Debby just came out for a visit last week. And they’re back to enjoying wine after a six-month hiatus!  During their visit we were able to get together and enjoy a bottle of 2008 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel Reserve in celebration of John’s recovery. And life!  John makes his own maple syrup and sends it to us every year – it’s always a highlight for us, and boy is it delicious. And we know it comes with love. John probably won’t be sending any Maple syrup this year, but I’m sure next year he will be right back on it.

Just cherish every moment, every day that you have, because you never know when something’s going to happen.  You never know the outcome – sometimes we are fortunate and other times we are not. You just never know.

We are so thrilled for John’s recovery and wish John and Debby the greatest days and years going forward. And we wish you the same.

Happy Holidays, friends.  Savor every day.

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.

Reflecting on Those Special Times: Some Things Never Change

When I was a kid, I loved hiking up Hood Mountain. I tried to make it at least once a week, weather permitting. It is just breathtaking when you’re on top of the mountain – you feel like you’re miles from everyone yet you can see the world, especially from my favorite place on the mountain.  For centuries it’s been know by locals as Gunsight, a big out cropping of rock sitting 2700 feet above the valley floor. It will literally take your breath away, just standing on the edge looking down.

On a clear day, you can see San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. I was there just the other morning. I still love going up there every chance I get, which is probably about once a month. It’s best at daybreak, when no one else is ever around. It’s great thinking time.

It takes me about 50 minutes from the parking lot to the top, which I always thought was pretty fast, until my cousin Ken Lambert told me he makes it in 36 minutes!  Being twenty years younger to the day seems to help.

Gunsight-photoFBA while back, our Ledson team wanted to create a really special blend of wine. It was to be the employee wine, an everyday food-friendly wine. One day, sitting around sipping a glass after work, we were taking in the beautiful mountains around The Castle.  And there it was, right before our eyes, Gunsight Rock at the top of majestic Hood Mountain. It’s not only my favorite spot but a favorite spot for many of us at The Castle. The name of the wine came to us naturally – Gunsight.

If you get the chance to visit Gunsight yourself, make sure you stop by The Castle and pick up a bottle of the most recent vintage and a sandwich to take with you. Don’t worry about how long it takes to get up there, just enjoy the walk. (My cousin Ken runs 50-mile races through the mountains, so don’t use his time to judge how long it should take!).

I never reveal what’s in the blend; I like to say, “Everything but the kitchen sink.” I guess I got that phrase from Dad. He and I used to spend hours in the cellar when I was a kid. Dad loved to incorporate as many varieties as he could to make the perfect everyday “go to” blend. Boy, did we make some great wines. When I was growing up on the ranch, and anyone happened to stop by, we poured these blends and Mom would put out a bountiful spread of home-cooked food.

Gunsight wine reminds me of those days of sharing with friends and family. That’s just the kind of wine it is. Every time I enjoy a glass of Gunsight, it takes my mind back over years of my life. I cannot tell you how many times I have been up there or actually how many times I figured out an approach to something that seemed so hard when I was caught in the middle of the everyday hustle and bustle of life. It is nice just sitting there alone, dreaming of all the opportunities life can bring us. It seems like an opportunity can be staring you right in the face and because we are all so busy we may never see it; I guess that could be the difference between being successful and not.

We just released the 2009 vintage. It’s a seductive blend that deserves serious attention. Aromas of dark berry, violet, spice and gentle brown sugar are friendly and charming. A cavalcade of juicy black fruit gives this plush wine a resounding vitality. The finish has smoky blackberry with just the slightest hint of toasted nuts.

Just like there’s comfort food, this is a comfort wine. People seem to be drawn to it. Especially if you include the view.

2005 Orlando Cepeda Zinfandel “Baby Bull”: A Bottle Etched with Admiration

I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a kid, and have been a BIG Giants fan. I had the good fortune of producing a wine with Orlando Cepeda “Baby Bull” to raise funds for the Ledson Harmony Foundation for Children. All funds from the sale of every bottle of this wine goes directly to the foundation. With my ongoing faith that the Giants would soon return to a World Series, I held back some cases of this wine for such an occasion!

I gave away my series dugout seats to one of my valued employees for the first game of the series. As much as I would have liked to go to the game myself, I was finishing up harvest, have a new baby, and my wife was tempting me to stay home with a fabulous meal of butternut squash soup, mushroom, veal & spinach raviolis, and tri-tip as a finale.

And to top it off, I opened a very special bottle of 2005 Orlando Cepeda Zinfandel “Baby Bull.” As I was sipping away, the Giants fittingly won the game, 8-3 over the Detroit Tigers.

Throughout the evening, I was thinking a lot about our American baseball hero, Orlando Cepeda, and how he stepped up to the plate to collaborate with the Ledson Harmony Foundation. We produced this wine to support the Foundation, which strives to make a difference in the future of America, our children.

It was a great day when Orlando came to Ledson Winery for the release of this Zinfandel, signing baseballs and commemorative bottles of wine. Later that evening, we honored him with an intimate dinner among friends and family. Not only is Orlando a Hall of Fame recipient, he is a dedicated humanitarian who has donated hundreds of hours of his personal time to various charitable causes.

The “Baby Bull” wine is a soft yet mature delicate Zin. It reminds me of Orlando’s hands- reputed to be some of the softest ever in baseball. More than that, it’s a keepsake bottle for every Giants fan to proudly display. And these etched bottles will make great Christmas presents to those Giants fans out there!

In addition to the hours of pleasure “Baby Bull” #30 gave me watching him on the baseball field over the years, I’m grateful beyond words to Orlando for giving his time and lending his name to this wine that is helping to change the lives of so many children. It’s all about the kids.

And Go Giants!

‘Old Vine’ Zinfandel

I love old vines. The older, the better. When I was growing up and working with my dad, he always made me aware of the age of particular vineyards. I think he was especially proud of those that had been in the ground for 50 years or more.

I have grown to believe that old vines carry memories of all the fruit they’ve born over the years, right in the DNA. When I walk through the vineyards, I can almost hear the whispers of vintages gone by. The vines have developed powerful personalities that translate into unique wines with complexity, depth, heart and soul.

I just tasted two such wines from Russian River Valley (RRV) that are beautifully woven, powerful and intense.

The 2009 RRV ‘Old Vine’ Zinfandel ‘Amy’s Vineyard’ is special to me on many levels. The vineyard is where Amy and I shared our very first kiss. I wrote a blog about that incredible experience, if you missed it.

It’s a little vineyard; the vines were planted by a dear friend of mine, Ernie Bacigalupi, and his father, when Ernie was just a teenager. The vines are close to seventy years old.

This is a classic RRV Zin, brilliant in its complexity and depth. On the nose, discover splendid black raspberries, a hint of cocoa and pie flavors. You could almost stop there and be satisfied, but by all means, don’t! The palate offers up mom’s best berry pie along with an intriguing touch of smoke. The finish transcends into an explosion of overly ripe cherries. Amy and I like to pair it with tri-tip or a nice grilled filet. For us, opening this bottle is a romantic adventure every single time.

The 2009 RRV ‘Century Vine’ Zinfandel Reserve comes from a vineyard right next door to ‘Amy’s Vineyard.’ It was planted by a friend of my father’s, Henry Montafi. Dad said the vines were planted around the turn of the century!

This dazzling Zin has great focus and presence. Aromas of rich lush blackberries and pie crust draw you into the powerful experience. With an incredible mouth feel and textural elegance, you may conjure up images of blackberry cobbler on a summer afternoon. A long, lingering finish of more fruit and pie crust – this is what Zinfandel is all about. It’s a treat for all the senses.