My personal history leading into this story
I remember driving along Route 12 to the town of Sonoma from Santa Rosa years ago, and seeing what looked like a Gothic castle being constructed in the distance. Once it’s 16,000 square foot massive outer shell was set into place, drivers (including yours truly) would just have to pull over and stare at it.
“It just has to be a new winery that would be coming in Kenwood,” I thought to myself, but there was no sign telling of anything coming soon.
There was a sign by one of the two massive gates leading onto the property. It read, “Don’t even think of stopping here.” It always made me laugh; and, yes, I still had to stop and stare. It was too magnificent to just go whizzing by. I had to gape, so I could simply get it out of my system; that way I wouldn’t have an accident, as I was driving with my eyes fixed on the castle and not on the road.
Then, it went silent for years….and years… Just this enormously gorgeous structure off in the distance with no sign of anything to come.
Could it be someone’s home? Rumors began that it was.
I had even heard that there was a movie theater in the home, but I now had more to do than concern myself with someone else’s property. I had indulged in “the look,” and now I had to move on. Years later, it opened its gates to the public as Ledson Winery & Vineyards, and then I knew that it was – after all – another winery in Kenwood. Jose and I did stop by one day, when an event was going on outside in a tent, but I never made it inside of the building.
The actual story: In late 1989, Ledson Construction was about to break ground on a house and vineyard property in Kenwood, when a partner in the project pulled out. Convinced that the 21-acre property had the potential to be a perfect spot for his dream home and vineyard, Steve Ledson took it over, deciding to make it his own. He planted a vineyard and designed the imposing French-Normandy structure. Because there was so much public interest, coupled with the quality of their first harvest, Steve decided to transform the house into a winery and tasting room, and built his family home elsewhere. That change of plans was followed by four years of acquiring commercial permits, and then two more years of re-construction before the winery’s completion.
Fast forward to today
I’ve recently enjoyed a BBQ in the home of Chris and Linda Kinsey, who are clients of my company, named Diaz Communications. The Kinseys own Custom Wine Concierge and Custom Tour Concierge, and we were with them meeting the rest of their team. Chris pulled a bottle of wine from his wine rack to show and tell, and it had Orlando Cepeda etched into the glass. Chris explained that the bottle of wine was from Ledson Winery.
Mention Orlando Cepeda, and you get people’s attention, right? Well, it got mine and I wanted to know more…
I made time to go to the source, and finally enjoy the inside of that fabulous structure. I called and made an appointment to meet Steve Ledson, and off I went to meet the man behind the project.
As I pulled into the perfectly manicured property, I had to pull over and take a picture from inside of the gates, since I had already taken ones from outside of the fenced gate, during those infamous gawking days.
This day, though, the gates and doors were wide open and welcoming. Times have changed. When I mentioned that sign to Steve, he told me that they had to put the sign up, because so many people were stopping to look at what he was creating, and that created terrible traffic nightmares. Where he’s situated is a narrow, dangerous strip along Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley.
Now it all made sense.
I took a lot of images, as I approached the building. I didn’t know which one would be the ultimate money shot, so I freely snapped. In fact, I don’t know if you could take a bad picture of this winery. It’s seemingly so perfectly constructed from every angle.
After I announced that I had an appointment with Steve Ledson, I had a few minutes to continue shooting images inside the winery. It has the feel of a modern take on splendor of days gone by. The rich use of wood, from the floors with their intriguing inlaid designs, right up the walls to the wainscoting ceiling panels… rich, opulent wood, more on the blonde side of oak, rather than on the side of dark mahogany, allowing more light to flow in the rooms… polished to perfection. Only a master carpenter could have crafted something so magnificent. I didn’t familiarize myself with the Ledson story before arriving, because I enjoy hearing stories for the first time, and from the original source. I did come to learn that construction was part of his history, as were a lot of other entrepreneurial endeavors of the family, which deeply integrated them into the culture of Sonoma’s Kenwood area.
…And then, I heard Steve’s footsteps in the distance, approaching in the hallway to the right. He came around the curve of the hallway, his stature very erect and sturdy, bearing the aura of the master carpenter that he is. It now all made sense… the building, the man, the myth behind the legend… We were face-to-face and shaking each other’s hands.
I’m going to write another story about this winery for Custom Wine Concierge, that takes into account the importance of family and history, that have carved out this intriguing individual.
In this story you’re reading right now, I’m going to tell you about that bottle that I wanted to know more about. What’s ironic is that I toured his stately mansion-gone-winery, took it all in, finding myself most at home in the room that he had built for his mother, but loving it all… A bit enraptured with it all.
What was to be his mother’s room: A room with the softness befitting a man’s love for the woman who gave birth from the fruit of her loins, to a man who would later dedicate a space for her in his own, new home… A room that would be sweetly feminine with soft colors, and yet match the masculinity for most of the rest of the home-turned-winery.
But I never asked the question. I got lost in the exploration and lost my train of thought; so, I sent Steve an Email, asking, once I got back to my office:
How did you come about making that etched bottles wine for Orlando Cepeda?
Steve Ledson replied:
Our family has a foundation, the Harmony Foundation for Children, where we try to raise a few hundred thousand dollars each year for children. We’ve been lucky to be able to work with people like Michael McDonald, Jeff Bridges, Dwight Clark, and Orlando Cepeda.
How we met Orlando is that he was the dear friend of a friend ~ Randy Fuerst. Randy is also one of our club members, and has been a friend of Orlando’s for quite some time. Randy brought Orlando to the Dwight Clark event. When Orlando walked in, Dwight Clark stood up and said, “Hi, Orlando, how have you been?”
Come to find out, they had known each other for sometime.
Immediately, Orlando wanted to work with us in raising money for children. Orlando and his family have become great friends with my wife and me. He’s a very kind man, and we’ve spent a fair amount of time together going to dinner, Giants games, and just socializing. He took me to the All Star game a few years ago, and gave me the opportunity to meet most all of the Hall of Fame ball players who are still alive.
Amy and I feel very blessed to be able to work with people like this. It’s nice to see that there are people out there, and very busy people, that will take time out of their lives for children.
In a very short amount of time, I really came to appreciate this fifth generation farmer, who also serves as winemaker… the solid man behind the castle along Highway 12, known as Ledson Winery & Vineyards.
Please enjoy this short video of his family property, as I did photographing it.