Ledson buys Mountain Terraces Vineyard
STEVE LEDSON purchased Mountain Terraces Vineyard from the Schaefer family for an undisclosed amount in a deal that closed in early January.
Vintner and developer Steve Ledson purchased Mountain Terraces Vineyard from the Schaefer family for an undisclosed amount in a deal that closed in early January.
The vineyard and winery at Mountain Terraces, at 1,800 feet on the southwestern face of the Mayacamas, had previously been home to Audelssa Wines (which moved just next door to neighboring Moon Mountain Vineyard) and will soon host a new wine brand Ledson is developing in partnership with Dan Schaefer.
“We’re trying to come up with a name for it,” said Ledson. “I want it to have its own identity. I really do think it’s a world-renowned piece of property.”
Approximately 80-acres on the 125-acre mountain property are planted to vine, much of it cabernet, but there are also small amounts planted to other Bordeaux — merlot, cab franc, petit verdot, malbec — and Rhône varieties — mourvedre, grenache, syrah.
The vineyard would be part of the proposed Moon Mountain AVA, which would also include neighbors such as the famed, historic Monte Rosso Vineyards. “Monte Rosso almost touches the property,” said Ledson.
Although Ledson has not been involved with the petition for the Moon Mountain AVA, he said, “I think that area really deserves it. It’s a phenomenal wine-growing region. I think it stands out above a lot of other regions.”
Ledson has been making wine from the vineyard’s fruit since 2003, and even made wine with Schaefer in 2010, ’11 and ’12. Though Ledson, Schaefer and others speak highly of the fruit, they say the full potential of the vineyard has yet to be reached. “We think we can increase the quality drastically,” Ledson said.
“Our plans are to replant the whole ranch over the next seven years. We’re going to replant different rootstocks, different clones, different spacing different row direction, different everything,” Ledson said. “A lot of the rows are 10 and 12 feet wide and the vines are 6 and 8 feet apart. It’s just not the best use of the land.”
Ledson says he plans to maintain the mix of varieties that are currently planted, though, “We might stick a little zin up there. I think that zinfandel would be phenomenal on that mountain.”
Ledson’s crews will do the replanting and manage the vineyard with the help of a consultant. “I hired this guy named Daniel Roberts – they call him Dr. Dirt.” Roberts has a Ph.D. in soil science from the University of New Hampshire.
“Our family’s been doing this 150 years,” said Ledson, “but my dad used to say, ‘Always hire somebody smarter than you.’”
While Roberts is bullish on the vineyard (which he has worked on in various capacities for a few years – first with winemaker David Ramey), he’s not too enthused about making the daunting drive up Cavedale Road to the site regularly, though he says, “It’s probably one of the best views I’ve ever seen” in 35 years of working in vineyards.
“The potential of a mountain vineyard at that elevation in Sonoma County is to grow world-class wine,” said Roberts. “The combination of that soil – which is derived from volcanic ash – and that climate, which has cooler days and warmer nights than the valley floor, is going to grow some fantastic wines.”
Because the soils are very well drained, the team can better control the size of the vines, and will keep them smaller, planting to a higher density than currently is the case. The replanting, which will begin with soils work this spring and will be done in phases so that the winery stays in production, is estimated to take about seven years.
Schaefer founded Ygrene, a clean energy fund, in 2009, “And I guess it’s doing really, really well,” said Ledson. Ledson said Schafer, wanting to spend less time managing the vineyard operation, approached him with the idea of buying the vineyard sometime in mid-2012.
Ledson believes the property was never actually on the open market and that he was the only potential suitor.
“I’ve known Dan Schaefer for years now,” Ledson said. And with Ygrene taking off, “he’s travelling all the time, he’s on the road. Just going everywhere,” and Schaefer indicated to Ledson that managing the vineyard was more than he could handle.
“If you’re ever interested in selling it, a piece of it or whatever, we should talk sometime,” Ledson told Schaefer. “That’s how it came about. I’m not sure if anybody else even knew anything about it.”
Schaefer characterized the deal as a “partnership,” and said, “We’re going to be working together to continue producing great wines from the site.” With the next release, the 2010 vintage, Akóma Zoúme, the Schaefer family’s label will be phased out and replaced with the new as-yet-unnamed. label.
According to Schaefer production should be between 4,000 and 6,000 cases, and he estimates the price-point between $45 and $95.
“It’s going to grow some of the better grapes in the country,” Ledson said of the vineyard. “I’m really ecstatic.”