Cima Wine Club, A Love Story
Blog Post By Brien O’Brien
It was a perfect 85-degree July day in St. Helena, three years ago.I was a 34-year-old culinary student at the renowned Culinary Institute of America at Greystone living my dream and pursuing a new career in the food industry. I’d already had a challenging morning which started with a written exam in Culinary Fundamentals and finished with a lecture in Introduction to Food Systems. It was about 2:00pm and I was looking forward to the 3-day weekend ahead. Having just finished my favorite lunch of Truite Amandine (sautéed rainbow trout) at Chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, I felt it was only appropriate to spend the rest of the afternoon wine tasting (because when in Rome).
I decided to finally try out this kooky local winery that had a great reputation among not only local Napa residents but also culinary students and faculty alike. The wine from Clif Family Winery was foreign to me at that time, but because I’d been eating CLIF Bars since I was a kid, the company felt familiar. I’d scheduled a tasting appointment several days in advance to ensure I’d get the tasting experience I’d heard so much about.
I pulled up to the yellow and turquoise tasting room on Main Street in St. Helena having no idea the impact this experience would have on both my passion for wine, and ultimately, my career. I entered the tasting room and was greeted by one of Clif Family engaging Wine Educators. They were expecting me and had already set up my tasting experience at the bar. Of the two tasting experiences offered on the menu, I chose the “King of the Mountain” flight as I saw it highlighted the Estate Cabernet program offered by Clif Family.
We started with a side-by-side comparison of the 2013 and 2014 Kit’s Killer Cab. This wine is a blend of the Cabernet Sauvignon from each of the single-vineyard estate properties owned by Clif Family. It also just so happens to be the only bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the famed Howell Mountain Appellation with a price point under $100 a bottle. Doing a side-by-side comparison of the two different vintages really told the story of the weather Howell Mountain had during those two years. I was also told the story of how this wine got its catchy name. The story goes that the first time Kit tried this wine, she exclaimed “wow, that’s a killer cab” and the name stuck. Kit’s Killer Cab. And let me tell you, it definitely lives up to its name.
Next up, it was time to try the signature estate wines Clif Family is known for. First up was the 2014 “Cold Springs Cabernet” from the Cold Springs Estate Vineyard. The Cold Springs property is the lower elevation of the two estate properties owned by Clif Family and has a more volcanic soil when compared to their other property. This wine had a beautiful dark red color, aromas of black fruits like blackberries and black cherries, and flavors similar to wines from the Bordeaux region of France. This wine was right up my alley and had me begging to try the other single-vineyard cab they had to offer.
Finally, I was poured what turned out to be my favorite wine of the day, the 2014 “Croquet Cabernet” from Clif Family’s Croquet Estate Vineyard. The Croquet property sits at a higher elevation than the Cold Springs property which brings a more “fruit-forward” or “new-world” like flavor when compared to the Cold Springs Cabernet. The Croquet property has much more of a clay-like soil when compared to the volcanic ash soil from the Cold Springs property which brings out those brighter and more fruit-forward flavors. The Croquet Cabernet absolutely spoke to me with its new world flavors and elegant finish and helped solidify my love for this winery.
At the end of the tasting, it was time to make my wine purchases. Deciding which wines to take home was difficult because I loved all of the wines I tasted, but wanted to keep my budget in mind as buying any estate Cabernet from the Napa Valley can get very pricey very quickly. When asked if I was interested in joining their wine club, I mentioned that I was a member at another winery already so I was hesitant to join a second. But with a little further persuasion, the wine club that really jumped out to me was the Cima club.
The Cima club gets its name from the Italian word Cima, which means “top.” This made sense because this was Clif Family’s estate wine club. This was the highest tier of the clubs they offered which also offered the highest percentage discount off of their other wines. It was also the smallest commitment of bottles per year (i.e. fewer shipments). I signed up for the Cima-6 Club, which is two shipments per year of 6 bottles per shipment consisting only of Clif Family’s estate wine. Every year I get 3 bottles of Cold Springs Cabernet, 3 bottles of Croquet Cabernet, 3 bottles of a block designate cabernet (which is exclusive to the Cima club), and 3 bottles of Estate Zinfandel. That’s only 12-bottles total and only 2-shipments total every year. Joining that club also got me a 20% discount on all of their non-estate wine as well as free wine tastings at their tasting room for up to 4-people four times per year.
That day I signed up for the Cima-6 wine club and took home a bottle of the ’14 Cold Springs, a bottle of the ’14 Croquet, 2 bottles of the ’15 Cold Springs, and a bottle of the ’15 Croquet, all with my newly earned wine club discount. I went home that night, popped open one of the bottles of ’15 Cold Springs, and had absolutely ZERO buyer’s remorse.
About two months later, I myself became an employee of Clif Family. It’s been over two years since that day, and I can honestly say that my love for Clif Family has only grown. I am still a member of the Cima club today as the wines Clif Family make continue improving year over year because of their brilliant winemaker, Laura Barrett. I’ve also fallen in love with the food products curated by Clif Family’s Executive Chef John McConnell. Chef John is not only the Chef of the retail food products Clif Family offers but also the Chef of the Bruschetteria Food Truck owned by the winery which is regularly parked in the parking lot of the Tasting Room. (If you come for a visit, don’t miss the Nashville Hot Chicken Bruschetta)
So, I know what you’re thinking… Why call this a love story? This just sounds like Brien bragging about having a really good day. While that may be correct, I think of that day as the day I met someone who would be a huge part of my life both personally and professionally. At this point, I feel like I have an emotional connection to Clif Family’s “Estate” or “Cima” wines as well as the winery as a whole and everyone they employ.
While the conclusion of this story has yet to be written, I’d say it’s pretty safe to say a love story of this nature typically ends happily ever after…