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Grape Escapes: Poetry Inn

Bruce Wallin

The Cliff Lede Estate in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District is a patchwork of vineyard plots on either side of the Silverado Trail. Planted with Bordelaise varietals and named for classic rock songs, the parcels stretch across the flat valley floor to the west of the road and climb a steep incline toward the Stags Leap Palisades to the east. The hillside vineyards are the source for Cliff Lede’s Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the setting for the winery’s Poetry Inn, a five-room retreat located next door to "Hotel California" and at the top of "Stairway to Heaven."

Canadian businessman Cliff Lede acquired this 55-acre estate, formerly S. Anderson Vineyard, in 2002. He soon replanted the property to suit his taste for Bordeaux, renamed the plots after his favorite songs, and rechristened the winery after himself. By summer 2004, Cliff Lede Vineyards had released its first vintages and opened a tasting room in a 1913 building restored by Backen Gillam Architects, the designers of the nearby Meadowood resort.

Lede also enlisted Backen Gillam to help him build a home on the estate’s eastern fringe, on the site of an old bed-and-breakfast that he planned to raze. But after discovering that the hotel held the only permit for lodging in the Stags Leap District—and that zoning restrictions in Napa prevented the construction of any new guest accommodations in the area—Lede decided to reopen the inn, albeit in a state that would bear little resemblance to the shag-carpeted B and B. "We gutted the inside but didn’t take it completely down because we might have lost the permit," says Lede. "This is the only place in Stags Leap forever. You could never do this again."

Completed in spring 2005, the inn indeed stands alone in Napa Valley. A long, steep driveway leads from the Silverado Trail to a Craftsman-style structure with five distinct and airy guest rooms. Minibars in the rooms proffer bottles of Château Latour, while a cellar downstairs is stocked with nearly 500 selections from the proprietor’s wine collection. "It doesn’t feel like a hotel, and it doesn’t feel like a bed-and-breakfast," says Lede. "We wanted a place where, after people spent the day tasting wines, they could feel like they were a winery owner coming back to their hillside home."

From certain vantage points, Poetry Inn feels more like a penthouse apartment than a gentleman farmer’s abode. The precipitous climb from the road to the lodge results in vertigo-inducing views of the vineyards and valley from each of the guest rooms. The vistas from the rooms’ terraces are enough to inspire verse, or, at least, to recall a favorite tune.

Poetry Inn, 707.944.0646, www­.poetryinn.com

($440–$1,320)

Location: Atop a hillside vineyard at the Cliff Lede estate in Napa, Calif.

Accommodations: Five guest rooms including the 1,450-square-foot Robert Louis Stevenson Suite, which occupies the entire top floor and features a wraparound deck.

Dining: The inn does not have a full-service restaurant, but the staff serves three-course breakfasts daily and, upon request, will arrange private dinners hosted by prominent chefs. The $60,000 Ultimate Birthday Bash package includes two nights’ accommodations plus dinner at the inn for 10, prepared by Thomas Keller of the nearby French Laundry.

Wine: Cliff Lede’s Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic Stags Leap red made with grapes grown directly below the inn. The winery also produces a delectable Sauvignon Blanc and several other red and white wines, all of which can be sampled in a private room at the estate’s historic hospitality center. Cliff Lede’s neighbors in the Stags Leap District include Shafer Vineyards, Quixote, Pine Ridge, and Clos du Val.

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