Every decision at Clif Family Winery must answer a question of betterment of planet, people, and the community. Whether it’s a big decision, something smaller, or anything that impacts the 45 people that work for the winery, there are five aspirations that guide the company.
I had the chance to have a conversation with Laura Barrett, Winemaker, for Clif Family Winery who talked about what those aspirations were – sustaining people, community, planet, brands, and the business.
“We strive to support a healthier, more sustainable world through the enjoyment of wine, food and connection” she said. And that do that throughout the business. From organically farming the grapes, olives, fruit, and vegetables for both its wine and line of artisan food products to working with suppliers to source organic ingredients, it a dedication to sustainability bridging farm to table. She continued to say, “People walk into our winery and notice the team is happy. We carry forth values that makes it great to come to work every day.”
She started by talking about the vineyards – the 40-acres in the Oak Knoll district and the Howell Mountain estate vineyards as well as the sourced vineyards in Napa Valley and Mendocino appellations where they work with growers practicing sustainable growing.
There is also a CCOF-certified organic farm dedicated to growing a variety of fruits and vegetables that are used in Clif Family’s Bruschetteria Food Truck, led by Executive Chef John McConnell, and reserved fruit and vegetable products. The purpose is to take the wine experience to the next level by combining food and wine with learning and education in a relaxed, fun atmosphere.
Kit Crawford and Gary Erickson’s story began on a bike and bridged into a passion for cycling, adventure, food, and wine. In 1992, they started Clif Bar & Company, to create convenient, portable, and better tasting energy bars. In 1997, they moved to the Napa Valley and launched Clif Family Winery in 2003 conveniently near one of the best cycling trails in Napa Valley with a goal of replicating the great wine and food experiences they had in Italy. It is typical to find cyclists in the tasting room after a 100-mile ride and if you look closely at the logo, you’ll see a sprocket and chain integrated.
Clif Family sustainably farms 90 acres of CCOF and Napa Green Certified estate vineyards in the Howell Mountain and Oak Knoll District AVAs. There is minimal intervention in the winery, and they harvest lots from each vineyard, differentiated by varietal, clone, harvest date, pressing techniques and barrel selection. From there, the blends are crafted. More than 70 crops include fruit, citrus, olives, blueberries, peppers, tomatoes, beans, corn, and lettuce.
Laura never had an “a ha” moment that led to her drive to make wine. It was more of a love of science and chemistry and encouragement of a high school AP teacher that took her on the path. After getting her B.S in chemistry, where she became interested in fermentation science, she pursued a master’s degree at UC Davis in viniculture and enology.
After several internships spanning New Zealand, Napa, and Australia, Laura Barrett made a list of top ten women winemakers that she hoped to work with and was hired by Mia Klein at Fisher Vineyards. After working as Assistant Winemaker at Fisher, she was the winemaker at Casey Flat Ranch before coming to Clif Family Winery in 2014 as its first full-time winemaker.
We talked a little about breaking the barriers for females to get the winemaking experience needed. The challenge, she said, was how you become experienced as most wineries don’t instinctively fill cellar positions with women. Clif Family currently has women filling half of its 45 positions. We talked the positive shifts going on the industry, about Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI), and the how the company is working on full staff training and being conscious about improving.
Let me say that I loved the diversity of what I tasted. Laura’s goal is to have different varietals express the uniqueness of each vineyard and to not be known for one wine or style. I’d say mission accomplished.
- 2021 Clif Family Winery Rosé of Grenache – This light and playful rosé has notes of watermelon, tart apple, citrus, pear, and herbs.
- 2021 Clif Family Winery Rte Blanc Sauvignon Blanc – Notes of stone fruit, grapefruit, green apple, and lemon.
- 2019 Clif Family Winery “The Climber” Red Wine – this 77 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 11 percent Petite Verdot, 6 percent Merlot, 5 percent Malbec and 1 percent Cabernet Franc has notes of raspberry, cedar, tapenade, black fruit, spice, and herbs.
- 2019 Clif Family Winery Malbec – This inaugural vintage is this blend of 85 percent Malbec and 15 percent Petite Verdot is a savory wine. I tasted notes of black and red fruit, spices, and Bing cherries.
- 2019 Clif Family Winery Grenache – This is a wine that kept evolving. I tasted notes of dried strawberry, cherry, cassis, earth, and spice.
I talked to Laura about what happens next with the winery’s future efforts. We talked about their current effort to look at how to reduce bottle weight. They currently have a trial going where they don’t use foils and have several screwcaps on their wines. To save packing and processing effort, they print all labels at once. She talked about their open mind when it comes to sustainability.
She wrapped up our discussion by saying, “the five tenants tie back to everything we do and it guides our business on a clear path.” It’s the continuation of the founders’ sense of adventure, doing things to make the planet better and wines that have their own distinctive personality and character.