Ledson Winery & Vineyards Review
Address: 7335 Sonoma Highway Kenwood Kenwood,California 95452.
Phone Number: 707-833-2330
Tasting Hours: 10:00-5:00
Region: Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley AVA, California
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Review Date: 1/13/2017
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
The Ledson Winery in Sonoma is about people. I didnt yet realize that the first time my wife, Sonja, and I visited the grand estate on our honeymoon many years ago. At the time, it seemed like just another grandiose winery in the Sonoma Valley, producing fantastic wines because, well, because that was what it was there for. Over the years, and many return visits, however, both Sonja and I came to understand that Ledson wasnt like some of the other wineries we had visited. There is something that makes it special, unique even, and far more personal in how it feels when you are there. This past spring, we had the chance to spend some time with the winerys founder and winemaker, Steve Noble Ledson, and almost immediately, we understood what made this winery different from so many others.
The week before Sonja and my wedding, our driver from the limousine company had called. As part of our honeymoon, we had splurged on transportation for a day, reasoning that we didnt know our way around and, in all honesty, planning on having more than a few glasses of wine. I was begrudgingly at a shopping mall, searching for shoes to wear on our wedding day, after refusing to wear or make my groomsmen wear, those horrible glossy plastic sneakers that typically accompany a tuxedo rental. Sonja and I were both a bit jittery, the reality of forever setting in with both of us. My phone began to buzz in my pocket. Grateful for any distraction, I took the call from the 707 area code thoughtlessly.
Hullo, I muttered, stepping into yet another store. (God, I hate shopping.)
Greetings! came an overly enthusiastic male voice. This is Don and Im calling to discuss your upcoming tour of wine country!
Er, sure, what do you need? I asked, hoping not to sound as distracted as I felt.
Well, for starters, lets figure out where to go. What sort of wine do you like?
A shoe salesman approached me, asking me questions with no regard for the call. My bride-to-be looked anxiously at me. My mom beeped in on the other line. Defeated, I gave up on courtesy.
Im sorry, I said. I just cant do this right now. You pick the places. Ill trust you.
Uh, well, sir came the reply, but I hung up before I could hear more.
One week later, newly married and far more relaxed, the call occurred to me again. Id given the man free reign of our time with virtually no instruction. This had the potential to end badly, but it was clearly too late to do anything about it. The following morning, we stood in front of our hotel in the cool morning air. Sonja looked so excited as the limousine made its wide turn and Don stepped out to greet us. I shook his hand and helped my wife into the back seat of the black stretch. I popped the cork on the complimentary bubbles, lounged against the black leather seat, and silently hoped for the best.
Not long after, we were pulling up at one of the most singularly impressive structures I had ever seen, our introduction to the Ledson winery. And the rest, as they say, is history. Within the hour, we fell in love with the place as well as the wines, joined the wine club, and were Sonoma County converts for life. Standing at that tasting bar, our love of wine was ignited, and shortly after we started a blog that would eventually ignite a career in wine writing and viticulture, which is what brought me there that day. Sometimes, youve just got to trust people.
I relayed this story to Steve Ledson this past January, standing in Noble, the tasting room from our honeymoon, and one of three named for family members, this one for Steves father. I gestured at the bar where we had tasted, and fallen in love, with Steves wine. So you see, I said, turning to Steve and pulling my wife, now pregnant with our second child in closer to me, We owe you quite a debt of gratitude.
A warm smile spread across Steves weather-hardened features. Thats a good story, he replied, and I was glad to have shared it with him after all these years.
Steve Noble Ledson, in cowboy boots and blue denim jeans, led us through his winery with his dog, Pistol, at his side. The Ledson Castle, which serves as a tasting room for guests, is among the most elaborate structures in all of the Sonoma Valley. Just as impressive as the towering brick chateau itself, however, is the fact that the man who makes the wine there also built the castle. God-knows-how-many square feet, almost all of it deep red brick and ornate woodwork, it stands as evidence that Steve Noble Ledson is not only a fine vintner but an accomplished builder as well. And yet, the mighty castle may be among the least impressive things about the estate to those who know it best. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to get a better look, an inside look perhaps, if only briefly, into the place that for me holds such fond memories. When I did, I found quickly that Ledson is about people, just as much as it is about wine. Maybe even more.
One of the things that simply cant be missed during a visit to the Ledson Castle are the photographs. All over the walls are photographs, mostly black and white, of Ledson Family members and their various pursuits and interests. In some, they are resting, or on a picnic. In others, they are hard at work. Steve knows the name of every person in every one of them, but more than knowing their names, he knows their stories.
Steves great-great grandfather was a gold miner who arrived in California in 1862, putting down roots that would dig deep into the fertile soils of the Sonoma Valley, and be a foundation for the Ledson family lineage for centuries to come. Steve spoke of him fondly, as though he held vivid memories of the long-passed pioneer.
As we walked, Steve would stop at various photographs to point out this family member or that one, telling a humorous or sometimes a serious anecdote about each one. A different great-great grandfather, Joseph Ambrose Ledson, owned a brewery in England, and tragically drowned in a vat of his own beer. Of his Uncle Winslow, for whom another of the tasting rooms is named, Steve recalled He was the most charismatic man you ever met, telling stories about staying up all hours playing cards or talking out on the lawn, people gathered around him, hanging on his every word. It seems evident, spending time with Steve, that some of that charisma is genetic in nature.
What was perhaps the most remarkable thing of all, and which only donned on me later, was that we spent the better part of an hour walking around one of the best wineries in California, in an immaculate mansion of a tasting room, without drinking any wine. Both the wine and the mansion are the products of Steves efforts, are impressive visible monuments to his tremendous work ethic and subsequent success, and yet the vast majority of our conversation had little to do with any of that. Almost the entire dialogue was about people, those in the photographs hanging on the walls, and those we met in passing. There was no tasting room attendant, no receptionist, no groundskeeper that Steve didnt know by name. While most wineries are about wine (and there happen to be people at them), this one was clearly about people (and there happens to be wine at it).
After an hour or so of touring that I would gladly have extended to two or three were the various stomachs in our party not audibly beginning to call for sustenance, Steve, as well as Scott, Charene, and Aaron, climbed into their cars, as did Sonja and I, and we drove south down Highway 12 to a little diner to get some lunch. The place was packed when we walked in, but Steve was so enthusiastic about the food that there was no discussion about looking for a quieter venue. While we ordered at the counter, Steve and Scott noticed a party of eight getting up after paying their check and immediately began busing the table. I followed their lead, and together we successfully had the table cleared and our party seated by the time the wait staff realized we were there. We pulled the cork on a bottle of Steves Sauvignon Blanc and a bottle of his Merlot and picked up where we left off with our conversation.
Youve been here for 37 years, I said to Scott, as if this were a casual observation and not a statement of stunning achievement. Why?
This guy, said Scott, gesturing casually towards Steve, who was focused at the moment on a half a chicken. He looked up and smiled, humbly. After washing it down with a splash of his own Sauvignon Blanc, he explained:
I like to start every employee off with this; this is not a job nor a career, it is your life and I want every person I touch to have a good life, a happy life. If you think about it, the majority of the hours your eyes are open, you are at work, if youre not happy at work, youre not happy with your life. Therefore, my first goal is for every employee to have a good and happy life.
The more time we spent with him, the more we came to conclude that Steve is somewhat enigmatic, ineffable even. He is a combination of so many things, from a rancher to a vintner, a construction foreman, successful businessman, and family man. The juxtaposition leads to an unpredictable nature that is uncommon in men. I recently turned down a wedding at the castle, Steve mentioned over lunch. This rich couple, they offered us a hundred thousand dollars to host their wedding, and, you know, we do weddings sometimes. But I met them, and they were so tense and so uptight, I didnt want to put my staff through that. I dont want to be a part of negativity at all; life is short.
This story, like so many others, offered yet one more glimpse into a man who marches to the beat of a drum many of us seem unable to hear. I couldnt help but admire him, and lately Ive started trying to listen for that drumbeat myself.
Time passed quickly, as it does when the company is wonderful, the conversation effortless, and the wine superb. At one point, Sonja realized she was going to be late for the appointment she had booked at a spa in Sonoma, and though I could tell she didnt want to go, she made her goodbyes before taking our rental car and stranding me at the diner. Dont worry, Scott told me, Ill get you back to her when were done. He did, though we ended up taking the scenic route. The very scenic route. That, however, is a story for another time.
Steve Noble Ledson is one of the visionaries of the California wine industry today, a man whos almost constantly in overdrive, whose unslakable thirst for life manifests itself in all that he does. He runs his business the way he feels a business should be run, putting people first and letting the team work any issues out together. As a young man growing up on the ranch my family and I chose for me not to attend college, however, I had what I feel was a great professor in my dad. He taught me a lot about life, the honest day-to-day life, the important things that I feel as a nation are lost in so many ways in companies today. The evidence that Steves father was indeed a fine professor are everywhere in the Ledson winery.
For those of us who love wine, we stand to benefit greatly from the passion-bordering-on-zealotry with which Steve has approached the industry, as well as his life, never settling, striving for perfection and, often, damn near getting there. The Ledson winery in Sonoma will forever hold a special place in my heart, and in my wifes, for the terrific memories we have of the place over a marriage full of visits.
Ledson Winery in Sonoma was built for people, by someone who loves people, and I would encourage you to go there yourself and to make your own memories as you do. If you have the chance to meet Steve, dont miss it, but even if he isnt there when you visit, the time youll spend around the terrific people whom he simultaneously loves and employs, and the chance to taste so many excellent wines, is an opportunity that no wine lover no person at all, really, should miss out on. After all, the Ledson winery in Sonoma is about people, and that includes us all.