Another Milestone to Our Quest of Bringing Our Customers the Best Wines in the World

We constantly strive to bring our customers phenomenal wines. As you all know, we have done a lot of things over the last year at Ledson Winery to take our wines to a higher level. My team and I live in such a lush region and are driven to make a superior product by our incredible landscape. From the meticulous care of our vines, their deep saturated soil to the beautiful sun of Sonoma County, we try to capture the essence of the land in each bottle of wine we make. To me, there is nothing better than seeing the grapes on the vine, the sun setting over another beautiful day, and having a phenomenal glass of Zinfandel on the porch with my wife Amy. These are the simple things that bring me so much happiness and pleasure. I want to make sure that everyone we reach, whether it is by visiting us or following my blogs, has the opportunity to feel the same way.

My team at Ledson is constantly improving and challenging each other to produce some of the best wines out there.  I cannot stress how important it is to us that the wines we make be unsurpassed.  However, we are aware that there is always room to excel further, and that improvement is what we continue to bring to anyone who enjoys a glass of Ledson. Hiring David Ramey as our consultant was a great step in our recent changes.  Bringing on Winemaker Andrew Bilenkij, from Australia, who trained with the famous Phillip Shaw, twice winemaker of the year, was another huge, strong move for Ledson. We have our own consultant viticulturist Daniel Roberts, also known as “Dr. Dirt,” who has been with us for over five years and has replanted a lot of our vineyards.  And, for those of you who don’t know, we just purchased the famous Mountain Terraces vineyard here in Sonoma, a 125-acre site with 85 acres planted to vineyards in the Mayacamas Mountains. So, there are a lot of important transformations happening over here at Ledson.

Matt Standing

Matt Standing

What I couldn’t wait to do was express my enthusiasm to all of you about hiring our new Assistant Winemaker, Matt Standing. As you might know, my family is originally from England.  My Grandfather came over at the turn of the century and the English blood in me still enjoys some of that English humor, and believe it or not, English wine! What’s really exciting about this is that Matt is a young lad from England and is just one of those outstanding gentlemen. He worked with David Ramey for a year before heading back to England to finish school and earn his degree. Before interviewing Matt, I asked David Ramey about this young chap and he had this to say:

“Matt worked the harvest of 2011 with us and proved himself such an intrepid international student of wine that when he asked if he could spend the year with us, we didn’t hesitate.  It would be a great match, both for Matt and for Ledson.  Plus, winemaker Andrew would get to call him a ‘bloody pommie’ all the time.”

I knew this was a bloke I had to meet. In May, Matt will have completed a Bachelor of Science Honors Degree in Viticulture and Enology at Plumpton College in Sussex, England, before joining us in June. Plumpton College has been offering higher education courses in wine since 1996 and is an exceptional school.  Southern England is becoming world-renowned for making outstanding sparkling wine using the traditional method and it turns out that Matt grew up just two miles away from Ridgeview Wine Estates, specialists in English sparkling wine. In 2010 Ridgeview, up against wines from Champagne, won the highly acclaimed award for best sparkling wine at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Matt also worked two vintages at up and coming sparkling wine producer Wiston Estate in Sussex and has experience working in Australia as well. He has an outgoing personality, has so much integrity and honesty, and a true passion for winemaking. All this is complimented by a tremendous work ethic and drive. I think this new addition to our team is just going to be phenomenal.

With all these new changes taking place, I bet you can’t help but wonder, what are those chaps at Ledson going to do next? I’m not sure myself, but I know for certain there is some sparkling wine in our future… at the very least, we will open a bottle and raise a glass to welcome our new Assistant Winemaker, Matt.

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.

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.

2008 Sonoma County Cepage: A Beautiful Blend from the Vine

When I heard that the 2012 World Wine Championships awarded our 2008 Cepage a Gold Medal and 91 Points, I just had to break a bottle out of my cellar. Not that I really needed a reason! The judges called it “A bold and zesty table wine,” and after an amazing dinner with my wife and Cepage, I totally agree. I’m so happy with this wine.

Last week Amy and I savored the Cepage with duck confit and a side of slow braised red cabbage with crisp bacon and apples. The nutty flavor of the duck, along with the ridiculously delicious cabbage, enhanced the luscious black fruit and chocolate in the wine. One of the most memorable pairings I’ve had in a long time!  Having said that, this wine will complement a variety of sumptuous dishes – it’s perfect to experiment with.

This beautiful blend is from some of our best vineyards in Sonoma County and is made up of the five Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot.

And what a perfect wine for fall! This one is an elegant and dynamic beauty, beginning with blueberry, blackberry and a hint of vanilla on the nose. The palate is complex and rich, with incredible flavors of cassis, dried blackberry, bittersweet chocolate and a touch of soft leather. The finish is mouth-filling and lingers on and on, so you can savor the lovely layers of black fruit and chocolate until you’re ready to embark on that next sip.

If you come up with another mouthwatering pairing for this wine, please share! We’re always looking for new adventures in the Ledson kitchen!

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!