Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Good Life, Naturally

Suppose you owned and ran a massively successful and beloved sports-nutrition company. You live in Napa Valley where you can run and ride horses and bicycles through heaven itself in your free time. What else could you want?

That’s the funny thing about entrepreneurial sorts. For most of us, we know Clif Bar’s Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford as the people responsible for creating an energy bar that tastes like real food and for growing the company so that we can find their products as readily as Moon Pies when we’re in a 7-Eleven.

To be sure it took them both—Gary the visionary/mad scientist of the kitchen and Kit whose natural sales ability could disarm and cheer Dick Cheney. The potent combination they present is a recipe for success in any endeavor.

Those familiar with Clif’s long list of products are probably also aware of the number of organic and natural ingredients used in those products. Gary and Kit are clearly pleased to think that every time someone eats a Clif product it is a victory for sustainable farming practices and natural foods.

At their farm in Napa they raise horses, goats, turkeys and chickens in addition to a garden and grape vines they planted. To say Gary and Kit live close to the land is something of an understatement; they embody the Slow Food Movement in a way that most of us can only dream about.

To hear them tell the story, it sounds like a love for organic food and new business ventures are occupational hazards for the pair. Living in Napa has resulted in many friendships with people in the wine business. And because the wine business attracts successful entrepreneurs the way starlets attract paparazzi, the pair wondered what they might be able to bring to the table. For them, the real attraction was in the intersection point between good wine and sustainable farming. The challenge was on.

An introduction to winemaker Sarah Gott was the final ingredient needed for the new venture—Clif Bar Family Winery. Gott is known for her work with Joseph Phelps and the winery she started with her husband, Joel Gott Wines. For some years she has pursued making wines from grapes from organic or at least sustainably farmed vineyards.

Before meeting Gary and Kit for lunch, I’ll admit I struggled to get my head around the idea that the people responsible for go fast foods could also be the force behind a new winery. But they are charming, dedicated and passionate; even a short conversation reveals that. Listening to Kit talk about preparing dinner from ingredients in her garden made me feel I was missing out on one of life’s great pleasures.

She believes their drive to deal with farms that engage in sustainable techniques even if they aren’t certified organic can help those farms bridge that gap by encouraging them to complete the transition. Kit says that certified organic is less important than employing sustainable practices.

Gary spoke of how his love of wine grew as a result of cycling tours he did in Europe. After finishing a long day’s ride he would enjoy a leisurely dinner with a bottle of wine.

Clif Bar Family Winery has released four wines. As we tasted them over lunch Kit and Gary stressed that they weren’t interested in releasing another $100 bottle of Cab, but rather wines that represented a good value to be enjoyed by people who appreciate the experience of a good meal.

There are two wines titled The Climber, a red and a white. The white is a blend, mostly Sauvingnon Blanc with some Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Muscat that retails for $12.50. Its citrus and grapefruit flavors and crisp finish make it the perfect antidote to a hot afternoon. Think of it as lemonade for grownups. The Climber red is a wild blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Merlot. At $15 you’ll swear someone is getting gipped. It’s got the spice and bright fruit to stand up to any rich meal.

In lesser production are Gary’s Improv and kit’s killer cab. Gary’s Improv is mostly Zin with just a dash of Petite Sirah; it would be fun with hard cheeses, pizza or spicy sausage, but it’s best application may be at a dinner party when you want to make your guests say, “Wow!” And for those who want a great Cabernet to go with a NY Strip but don’t want the wine to cost 10 times what the meal cost, kit’s killer cab has the luxurious fruit and structure of a great Cab without having so much tannin that it will need to be laid down until electric cars are in common use. Gary’s Improv is $32 while kit’s killer cab goes for $35. It would be easy to pay twice as much for a lesser wine.

Kit and Gary have stories as rich and varied as Paul Newman’s and their drive to do good with their company while enriching the lives of their customers and living an enjoyable life is tragically rare. Given they run an impressive business, live a great life and seem to be having a positive impact on the planet, I wonder what sort of dreams you have when you can sleep that well.

Clif Bar Family Winery


Anonymous said...

I had my first glass of the Red Climber last night and can say it is delicious!

bikesgonewild said...

...a definite 'toast' to those two & the kind of business they've run for years...


Unknown said...

Not to rain on the Clif Parade, but did you know that Gu wanted to make packaging with a leash (like the Clif gel), but a threatened patent infringement lawsuit from Clif prevented them from doing so?

It is incongruous to trumpet organic/carbon credits when you prevent another company from making a more eco-friendly container.

-p said...

They support cycling, do well by doing good and make energy bars without peanuts as a primary ingredient (which can't be said for those play-dough plaques that come in foil wrappers). They've got my vote, and now my glass.

-p said...

chiefhiawatha - I'm sure that Gu (or any other energy gel company) could have paid a licensing fee to compensate Clif for the use of its invention but does not because that would cut into profits.

Anonymous said...

I've gone more "un-natural" since I found some live ones in my Clif Bar two years ago. Everyone has their set-backs, but I'am afraid to try the juice.

Unknown said...

Hmm. I didn't see the advertisement heading on this post. Did my adblock zap it?

C said...

Scott I agree with your sentiment.

This guy is losing more
credibility every second he keeps these types of posts up.

This post is not PRO.

bikesgonewild said..., did you guys get offended w/ the sean kelly foto cuz they were, after all, 'pushing' milk ???...

Anonymous said...

Kit & Gary are for real. Scott & Colton are understandably jaded, since much of what we read is paid advertising lies. But these folks really practice what they preach and eat what they sell!

C said...

Anon, I don't care if it was an advertisement for Jesus Christ. In fact, that would be missing the point.

For me, BKW has never been about disguising adverts as "real" posts, and I've been reading this blog long enough to know that it's not PRO to attempt to hoodwink readers with this crap... Hell, even Bicycling, the slummiest source of bicycling related text, makes it obvious when you're reading an advertisement.

MY gripe is that when reading this, along with other recent posts, I felt like I was being sold something and I wasn't supposed to know it. I don't care if this was a paid advertisement or not, but I am bothered by the fact that BKW has resorted to snake and oil tactics like everyone else. I thought this blog was more upfront than that.

Padraig said...

Scott and Colton: I'm sorry if this post seems like an ad. Rest assured that if a day comes when BKW accepts advertising, it will be displayed and denoted as such; there is no subterfuge here. I do respect your desire to be told when someone is selling you something. As for Gary and Kit, I've liked their products for a long time and jumped at the chance to have lunch with them. It was a delightful time and they were genuinely nice people. I believe there is an honesty in writing from a perspective of enthusiasm.

Much of what BKW does is to pass along our passion. That means in our profiles we are decidedly partisan. If I'm going to spend an hour at lunch or three hours on a ride with someone, I want it to be someone I'm eager to talk to, and invariably that means someone I think I like going in. I've said before: BKW is no investigative journalism, a la Time.

Our analysis pieces on doping the ongoing fight between ASO and the UCI, etc. are different, however. As analysis, I endeavor to keep my own feeling out of the situation and write based on the logical ramifications of what has been reported elsewhere in the media.

mr. Hackman said...

excuse me, Colton.

"even Bicycling, the slummiest source of bicycling related text, makes it obvious when you're reading an advertisement."

Every page of Bicycling is an advertisement for something whether or not it's explicit. Do you mean obvious, as in it's obvious the moment you pick up the mag with a new bike displayed on the front cover?

I really enjoyed this article, and I would not have heard about what Gary and Kit are doing otherwise. I think this article was less about going out and buying their wine, than about something special these two people are doing with their business.

Also, you pay for bicycling in one form or another, so you're paying to be advertised at. You come to BKW for free, yet you seem more demanding.

Erik said...

This is not some bigtime website. BKW is someone's blog. They write what they feel like writing. That's how blogs are. BKW just writes stuff that quite alot of other people find interesting. They are not bicycling magazine. Like all things, if you don't like the coolaid, don't drink it. For myself, I will continue to read.

Ron George said...

Great posts as always. I like the author's flair for writing. That said, I'm always intrigued by how BKW meets these people who later become subjects for blog posts. Who pays for all the travel expenses?

I read the posts more because they're interesting. If I thought they were advertising something, I'd not be here. Which is one of the reasons why I avoid blogs with "Product Reviews"...bunch of crap.

Anonymous said...

"Thanks", I was not previously aware that Cliff was now bottling adult grape juice, and now I'm going to slurping the stuff down like I stuff down the bars, on and off the bike.

I agree with the sentiment in the comments that this was not advertisment, but the type of review, in excellent prose, that we all come to BKW for.

And like many others, I enjoy doubly the taste of Cliff products but also their messages and actions towards sustainability.

Now I will just direct more (of my little) consumer dollars towards products that reflect loftier goals in business. So 'thanks' BKW.

Also, anyone suggest a pairing of bar/wine.

I'm guessing either of the reds would go well with my fav black cherry almond.