You can talk to Cliff Lede for a long time and never hear the word “I.” He doesn’t like it. He prefers “we.” It’s less grandiose, more inclusive. It’s more indicative of cooperation and teamwork, central tenets of his efforts to date at Cliff Lede Vineyards.
Cliff Lede has spent a career building great things.
Years ago, in his homeland of Canada, his focus was on buildings; as head of a construction company, he put together plans for skyscrapers and more. Today, as owner and founder of the eponymous Cliff Lede Vineyards, Lede (pronounced lay-dee) is the man behind a portfolio of stellar wines, and a winemaking philosophy that takes its cues from the land itself.
Wine has always been a big part of life for Lede. He was born in Edmonton, and grew up making “basement wine” with his mother. In his late 20s he began hanging around a local wine store and talking with its owner, who gave Cliff his first taste of Bordeaux, a Ducru Beaucaillou.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is pretty good wine,’” he says, looking back. “That one bottle changed everything.”
What was born as a preference for Bordeaux blends matured into zealotry, and Lede became a huge fan of the style of wine. He collected it. He read everything about it. He bought futures of it. He looked for deals on it. On one trip to the Bordeaux region, he remembers thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a little bit of this for my own?”
In 2002, he made that happen, purchasing the quiet and strikingly beautiful, 60-acre property in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley.
It wasn’t a coincidence that the parcel was planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot—the very same red varietals that comprise the Bordeaux-style blends that Lede likes so much.
Considering his passions, the mission was clear: to take Bordeaux varietals in Napa Valley to a whole new level.
To accomplish this goal, Lede has assembled an unrivaled team of winemakers, winemaking consultants and others to run the show. Today’s talented team includes, Vineyard Architect David Abreu, Director of Winemaking and Viticulture Remi Cohen, Winemaker Chris Tynan, and Master Sommelier Jennifer Huether.
Lede’s 2009 acquisition of a small Anderson Valley winery and subsequent addition of the 44 acre premiere Savoy Vineyard expanded Lede Family Wines to include Pinot Noir and aromatic whites bottled under FEL Wines. Ryan Hodgins, who is known for his gentle, site specific winemaking style, heads up winemaking for FEL.
“The idea has been to bring in great people who do great work and value great product, then put them into positions to succeed,” Lede says, noting that fun is a big part of the equation as well. “You’ve heard the saying that two heads are better than one? When you have five or six people in your senior management team and everybody is working toward a common goal, it’s even better than that.”
For Lede, this teamwork is a differentiator; it’s what sets Lede Family Wines apart from every other in the Napa Valley.
Naturally, it’s also a source of great pride.
“Anyone can build a house, but not everyone can build Falling Water,” Lede says, harkening back to his roots in construction with a reference to the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece. “The way I see it, anyone can plant a vineyard, but not everyone can work the land to get the very best. That, more than anything, is what our wines are all about.”
"We want to take Bordeaux varietals to a whole new level here, and we’re doing what it takes to achieve that.”