It was on a grueling 175-mile bike ride, and after eating too many unappetizing energy bars, that Gary Erickson had an epiphany – cyclists needed a better tasting energy snack. So with his grandmother’s help, he spent the next 6 months crafting the Clif Bar in his mother’s kitchen. He named it after his father, Clifford. However, it wasn’t until a few years later on a bike ride in Italy with his wife, Kit Crawford, that he fell in love with wine. This led to purchasing a home in the Napa Valley in the late 1990’s and establishing Clif Family Winery in 2004.
“Cycling is an important part of the culture at Clif Family Winery,” stated Linzi Gay, President of the 15,000 case winery, located in the small Napa Valley town of St. Helena. “Our owners, Gary and Kit, developed their love of wine while cycling in Italy’s Dolomites. During or after their cycling excursions, they would end up at a ‘Rifugio’ where they would be served wine, food and great hospitality. They wanted to bring that experience to the Napa Valley.”
Today Clif Family Winery attracts both cycling and hiking enthusiasts to the casual laid-back winery located in a small house off Highway 29. They are lured by wines called “Bici Red and The Climber,’ priced at $42 per bottle, as well as single vineyard Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignons made from organic grapes and priced at $125 and up.
“I remember we opened the Tasting Room on a rainy spring day,” reported Gay, “and our very first customers were two cyclists who had made the trip up from Napa on their bikes. We offered them an espresso to warm up.”
Clif Family Winery still offers espresso, along with more than 20 different wines, ranging from sauvignon blanc and viognier to rose, grenache, zinfandel and more. The addition of a food truck serving Italian food with organic ingredients, an outdoor patio, wine sensory garden and plenty of places to park a bike, make it even more popular.
“We partner with Calistoga Bike Shop to connect guests with bike rentals,” stated Gay. “And we host cycling groups from Backroads and Trek for lunch or a wine tasting during their Napa Valley visit. We also have what I think may be the only wine and cycling Wine Club in the world. Each year, they are invited to a bike ride and lunch with Gary and Kit.”
One long-time Clif Family wine club member and hiking/biking enthusiast, Janeen Olsen, commented, “I was one of the first people to sign up for the wine club, because I was attracted by the cycling culture of the winery. I also appreciate their organic gardens, and have invited friends to attend some of their wine club events.”
A Focus on Sustainable Winemaking at Clif Family Winery
Laura Barrett, winemaker at Clif Family, is passionate about the opportunity to craft sustainable wines, with a focus on a pure expression of the grape and land. “Clif Family has 100 acres of certified vineyard and farm land,” she stated. “I have access to these vineyards from our Howell Mountain and Oak Knoll properties, plus we purchase grapes from other sustainable certified vineyards across Napa Valley.”
Barrett produces stunning, multi-layered cabernet sauvignons, with dark fruit, velvety tannins, and well-integrated toasty oak. However, in crafting white wines, she prefers not to use any oak. “All of the whites and roses are fermented and aged in stainless steel,” commented Barrett. “I like to showcase the purity of the fruit.”
She has accomplished this well, because the wines seem to have a sense of energy and grace, with a hint of minerality dancing beneath the pure fruit flavors. The rose is so popular that it sells out every year.
Other aspects of Clif Family’s sustainable practices are focused on the community and giving back. They host a Sip & Support event each spring to raise money for the Napa Bike Coalition and the Napa Valley Vine Trail. They also host a rest stop for Bike to Work Day, and encourage their team members to cycle to work, and participate in the Tour de Cure bike ride.
Clif Family Winery was one of the first wineries to achieve the Napa Green Certification, and is currently applying for B Corp status.
Organic Food and Wine Pairings at Clif Family Winery
“For our wine tastings,” commented Barrett, “we always offer some type of food – usually made with ingredients from our 5-acre organic garden.” She described the organic savory nut mixes, chocolates, preserves, hot sauces and honey produced by the winery and sold at the tasting room.
The basic wine tasting includes nuts and chocolate. Visitors can also elect to purchase items from the food truck and picnic on the winery grounds. Popular items include bruschetta, farm fresh salads, and rotisserie chicken, made by Executive Chef, John McConnell. “The food truck has become so popular,” reported Barrett, “that many Napa Valley locals eat there too.”
For a more upscale experience, Clif Family has recently opened their Enoteca Private Tasting Salon. Here guests can relax in a private area with a view of the vineyards, and select from 3 gourmet food and wine pairing options, made with fresh seasonal ingredients. One is called ‘Presto Gusto’ and includes 5 small plates with 6 different wines. A second option is ‘Pasto e Vino’, which is a 4-course lunch paired with 6 wines. A very special tasting experience is called ‘La Cima Reserva’ with 7 small plates and 7 wines. A recent menu is illustrated below:
- Rose of Grenache with Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
- Chardonnay with Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam and Organic Meyer Lemon Marmalade
- Estate Zinfandel with Savory Gougere with Ricotta-Duxelle
- Malbec with Sonoma Lamb Kibbe with Yogurt- Tahini
- Howell Mt. Cabernet Sauvignon Cold Springs Vineyard with La Quercia Prosciutto and Organic Almond/Pistachio Crostini
- Howell Mt. Cabernet Sauvignon Croquet Vineyard with Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk Cheese and Organic Pluots
- Petite Sirah Dessert Wine with Chocolate Bundino