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Journal

Words do this to us. They feed us even before we see. They build expectations. They are things too. And they lead us to see other things in a certain way. Words activated like and paired with the visual are the message.

Go To Eleven

Andrea Chesney

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This is the story of how the design on the capsules over the corks in bottles of Cliff Lede Vineyards wines came to be. It’s also the story of how some Napa wine reminded us that it’s good to strive to exceed goals, even if you only do so for yourself.

In the 1984 movie This is Spinal Tap, rock band character Nigel Tufnel is giving the director of the faux documentary (that the movie pretends to be) a look at his band’s equipment. He points with pride to their Marshall guitar amps. One has been customized just for them with a knob that has 11 as the highest setting, versus the usual 10. Nigel believes this new painted-on “11” setting really makes the amp  “one louder” than the former 1 to 10 dial. It’s a classic joke in the movie and one that jumped off the screen into popular use in real life. The phrase “up to eleven” still refers to anything that’s reaching its highest capabilities, or going beyond the known “best” possible example. Real musicians loved the idea of being somehow better than the best and reaching out for a magical state of more. They liked the movie’s hopeful whim so much that they actually created a real-life demand for equipment with knobs that went up to the fabled 11 mark.

The use of this “11” story at Cliff Lede Vineyards is a nod to insider wit. Okay. But it’s also a serious statement here at the winery: it’s a promise that this wine is going to be a note better, a tone better, a finish better than what you’ve decanted elsewhere. The place may welcome you with California casual warmth, and a smile, but the wine is as serious as it gets.

Looking at that “11” dial capsule design as we savor an elegant cab during a tasting, we are reminded that impossible standards can be reached. We’re standing in a charming country-style California winery while experts guide our experience precisely because someone knew that dreams matter, that constructing a goal of this size is a worthy task. We liked that the way the place says, in essence, that you can have some fun while retaining your belief in meeting the highest standards. Why not “11” from an old cult flick as a talisman for this very modern establishment? Why not a top-flight vineyard tasting room manned by guys with a distinct roadie vibe but who nimbly educate us about the vintage (score another level 11 for service: wise, and super charming). Why not a vineyard cat, a super-cool orange tom, ambling in from the sunny terrace to make sure things are going well with the guests? Why not? It all works, so let it blossom.

Thing is, on that Monday, we realized that sometimes a glass of wine is more than a goblet of happiness on a perfect California afternoon. Sometimes it’s also proof that choosing to go beyond one’s best is a tangible art form. It’s a reminder that the desire to try harder connects so many us over time, across industries and beyond rules or logic. It’s evidence of a next act, and deciding to go for a bigger game. We could see green hillsides and the roof of the vineyard-associated five-star Poetry Inn as we sipped our five-star (to us) Cliff Lede treasure. We looked again at the 11 topping the bottles, and raised our glasses to those who keep raising the bar, nudging the dial, trying a little harder than the rest.

Note: “Established in 2002, Cliff Lede Vineyards encompasses 60 acres in the famed Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. Owner Cliff Lede, viticulturist David Abreu, winemaker Kale Anderson and consulting winemaker Philippe Melka form an unrivalled team, making the most of this remarkable property. The winery produces Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their flagship, Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, is crafted from the steep hillside portion of the estate.” Read more on the Cliff Lede Vineyards site.