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Ledson Winery owner urges long-term thinking

Steve Ledson, owner of Ledson Winery and Vineyards, has plans to build a winemaking facility and plant vineyards on family-owned property along Highway 12, at Lawndale Road, near Kenwood. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

DAN TAYLOR,

Steve Ledson, an ambitious developer and fifth-generation winemaker, has long proposed to build a new winery on family property off Highway 12 on Frey Road. He sees himself as both a protector of Sonoma Valley’s culture and history and as a visionary influence on its future.

“I’ve been here all my life. I’ve seen a lot of changes — some great and some not so great,” said Ledson, who will turn 65 next month.

“I drive down the highway and some of the recent projects that have been built don’t look like the Sonoma Valley that I’m used to. They’re not in keeping with our heritage.”

As an example of a newer building that stayed true to the area’s traditions, he offers his own Ledson Hotel project in Sonoma, designed to be compatible with the historic look of its surroundings.

“People think that’s been there forever — I built that in 2000. It fits into the town,” he said.

This is the same man who built a 16,000-square-foot, French Normandy-style castle, inspired partly by his European travels, at his Ledson Winery on Highway 12 in the early ‘90s.

“I designed that castle in my sleep, from my dreams,” Ledson said. “Some people call it Frankenstein’s Castle, but that’s all right. Everyone in life has an opinion.”

He opposes neither experimentation nor careful expansion. And while he has staged concerts at the Ledson Winery in the past and wouldn’t rule out hosting a wedding for family or friends, he ardently believes that the traffic generated by too many events threatens the beauty and character of Sonoma Valley.

“We should keep focused on the business we’re in. We should be making wine and selling wine, not selling weddings. Most of Ledson Winery’s business is done on the internet and through our wine club. You can build your business and not depend on traffic up and down the valley.”

Whether others agree with Ledson or not, his credentials as a member of longtime local agricultural family can’t be denied. In 1993, he took over the family winemaking operation, which dates back to 1862.

“I’ve been working for my father since I was born in 1952, and grew up farming prunes and walnuts and grapes, and making wine,” he said.

While Ledson remains critical of some new development that he thinks clashes with Sonoma Valley’s historical look, he is optimistic about the future and confident that visitors will always want to come to the valley.

“We need to analyze what we’re doing in Sonoma Valley. We need to think more about the long-term and the bigger picture. At the same time, we can’t stop the growth, but let’s put more thought into what we’re doing,” he said.

“What matters is how you make people feel. Let’s have a Sonoma Valley that makes everybody feel good.”