I’ve been to Napa and Sonoma enough times to have hit most of the majors, so I love it when I run across a new winery to visit. The latest to make my list? Cliff Lede Vineyards in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley.
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The operation’s wines are well-known as rock stars in the Napa Cab world, but they are also producing some up-and-coming Anderson Valley wines under the label FEL.
As the story goes, Canadian Cliff Lede (pronounce LAY-dee) fell in love with Napa on a business trip in the 1990s. By 2002, he had purchased a 60-acre estate vineyard on the Silverado Trail and added a boutique hotel to the winemaking operations. Today, Cliff Lede Vineyards produces outstanding Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons and red blends with winemaker Christopher Tynan, who cut his teeth on 100-pt beauties at Colgin Cellars.
In 2009, Lede, who started his wine-life as a Bordeaux fan, purchased Mendicino’s Breggo Vineyards, followed in 2011 by the renowned Savoy vineyard in Anderson Valley. Savoy is a 44-acre vineyard planted with 30-year-old vines producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes for some of the area’s best producers like Littorai, Radio Coteau, Auteur, and Peay.
From these Anderson Valley properties, Lede and winemaker Ryan Hodgins make FEL Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. The name FEL is a tribute to Lede’s mother, Florence Elise Lede, who Cliff credits with his early love of wine.
FEL’s tasting room is located at the Cliff Lede property in Napa Valley, so if you stop in, you’ll get a two-for-one treat tasting great wines from two makers and two classic locations.
FEL Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2019 ($40)
One of four pinots FEL makes from Sonoma, this wine features fruit from each of their holdings in Savoy, Ferrington, and Donnelly Creek vineyards. My notes say “great ripe fruit with the potential to develop with a little time.” Many Anderson Valley winemakers are taking a lighter touch with these wines and it shows. This one is restrained and balanced. Drinkable now, but could easily hold for a few years.
FEL Anderson Valley Chard 2019 ($32)
While they also make a Savoy single vineyard Chardonnay, this Anderson Valley wine was a bright, fruity classic. Great white flowers on the nose with just a hint of vanilla (but not too much) yields a lighter version of a classic Cali chard. (Their website says they use no new oak.) Great fruit, and a light hand with wood, means this wine is crisp enough to start the evening but with enough fruit to hold up to bigger food.
FEL Anderson Valley Pinot Gris 2020 ($28)
I love wines like these from California producers. Under a skilled winemaker’s hand, they nearly always give us a delicious treat true to both the grape and the terroir. This Pinot Gris is lovely, dry on the nose, followed by a hint of green apple and the dry fruit pop of an Italian-style Pinot Gris. The minerality shines through leaving me thinking this stony wine wants oysters.