As Cliff Lede Vineyards’ Winemaker, Chris Tynan lets the grapes speak for themselves.
The soft-spoken Tynan estimates he spends about 90 percent of every work-week in the vineyard, getting to know the 60 acres that comprise Cliff Lede. His goal: To preserve the character of each vineyard, each block, each section, and to allow that character to come out in each and every bottle he makes.
“I like to let the grapes tell me what they want to tell me without forcing them or manipulating them into something they’re not,” he says. “If I’m doing my job right, it’s about them, not me.”
Tynan has always been open to this type of “conversation” with good fruit. More than a decade ago, after downing a number of well-cellared 1974 Napa Cabernets on a tasting in Texas, he was inspired to pack his bags for California and experience the Valley for himself.
He didn’t know anybody. Outside of a few years as a wine buyer for a restaurant, he had no direct experience with making wine.
Nevertheless, he persevered.
“I remember thinking, ‘I have to go to Napa and learn how to make this at the highest level,’” he recalls. One month later, he was living that dream.
Like most wine country newbies, Tynan started slowly. He spent his first summers in Napa doing cellar internships at Cain Vineyards and Blankiet Estate, and doing irrigation management for vineyards all over Napa and Sonoma. In 2006, Tynan was hired as assistant winemaker at Colgin Cellars; during his 5 year tenure there, Colgin received seven perfect 100 point ratings from renowned wine critic Robert Parker, Jr.
Looking back, Tynan says the philosophy at Colgin hinged on two main concepts: low-yield farming and no-compromise winemaking. These are the same ideas and ideals that led him to Cliff Lede Vineyards.
In his current role, Tynan is in charge of every aspect of winemaking, from fruit selection to fermentation, lab-work to blending. In particular, largely because of his affinity for those grapes, Tynan says he’s excited about getting to know the land—some of the best soil he’s ever had to work with. Three highlights of the bunch: Oakvilles’ To Kalon and viticulturist David Abreu-managed vineyards Madrona Ranch and Thorevilos, vineyards that Tynan considers three of the greatest vineyards in the Napa Valley.
“Most winemakers spend careers fantasizing about the chance to work with vineyards like these,” says the former English major at Texas State University. “I’ve got them all right here.”
“When Cliff asked me to join the team, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. He’s got that same passion to make the greatest wine in the world."