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.

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!

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.

Friday Morning Tasting Panel

Each Friday morning, on the third story of The Castle, 15 places are set on a long dining table with wine glasses, napkins, crackers, and carafes of water.

When I first started making wine for the family in 1993, my goal was to produce a portfolio of wines from Northern California with the diversity to satisfy every palate and everyone’s pocket book. As you might imagine, it’s no small feat.  

We produce about 80 different wines every year, from more than 20 varietals, sourced from 20 appellations throughout Northern California.

I decided I needed a tasting panel, so I assembled “The Friday Morning Tasting Panel” to help me routinely evaluate and re-evaluate each wine.  Because as we all know in the wine world, every bottle is forever evolving.

My father always said two minds are better than one, so I figured that would apply to palates as well. I assembled 15 of my best palates who have an incredible passion for wine and love their jobs.  It doesn’t get any better than this!

First, I had to set parameters and give the panel tools to work with. I developed a spreadsheet for note-taking and an intricate grading system.  We were ready!

“The Panel” is made up of longtime Ledson employees including assistant winemakers, managers, sommeliers, and tasting room staff. Every Friday, without fail, we taste five or six wines. We rely on our experienced palates, knowledge of the wines, and the vineyards of origin. We each mark scores and make notes on our spreadsheets. Then we go around the table and everyone weighs in on each wine.

Sometimes we share wine stories. It’s a serious business, but it is so much fun and so rewarding to taste how our hard work has paid off in the bottle. It’s such an amazing feeling for me to look up at my staff as they taste a wine and see big smiles on their faces. I love my job.

As a wine matures in the bottle, it should get better and better with time. It’s not a perfect science, that’s for sure. We get together every Friday because we want to know how each wine is developing at all times and be able to suggest the best wine for each customer’s palate.

We receive phone calls daily asking for recommendations. We ship our club monthly and have literally thousands of people walk through our door every year. Our customers depend on us to bring them those impeccable wines every time. We pride ourselves on the fact that we have so many different wines to choose from. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t hear someone say, “We have tasted an incredible wine at every tasting room we’ve visited today, however, all your wines are incredible.” Music to our ears!