Steve was born and raised in picturesque rural Santa Cruz county on a 68 acre farm while Leslie spent her wonder years in the Southern California’s suburbia Inland Empire aka San Bernardino County. Who would have thought that decades later they discovered that their love of the wine industry and dark humor would lead them off the beaten path to Murder Ridge?
Steve, a graduate of San Jose State University with a degree in photojournalism worked summers for Newsday in New York and National Geographic Society in Washington DC. After graduation, he traveled around the country freelancing, married a hometown girl and settled in Santa Cruz, California. By the early 90’s Steve found himself spending more and more time developing and managing his families’ 2000 acre timber ranch in Coastal Mendocino until 1994 when he and his wife moved to Healdsburg, California. As he transitioned to a full time rancher and father, Steve immersed himself in viticulture and establishing Perli Vineyards on the Mendocino Coast. Today, you can find Steve — a hands on farmer, driving his dusty Chevy truck with his dog Pepper in the back making his way around the ranch, checking vineyards and occasionally photographing some of the beautiful vineyard and wilderness scenery you see on this website.
Leslie chose a traditional educational path by attending UC San Diego, then transferring to UC Davis and graduating with Plant Science, Viticulture degree. After partaking in a thirteen month global agricultural work program she continued her pursuit of a fulfilled life by getting married, starting a family and working at various large wineries including Chateau St. Jean and Rodney Strong. She eventually stumbled onto a family operation known as Kendall Jackson where she welcomed the challenge of this dynamic, growing, business and worked her way up from lab tech to Pinot Noir Princess during her thirteen harvests. After spending most of her 20 year career working for large wineries, she was ready for the new role as a winemaking consultant. Since 2005, she has helped to establish several premium wine brands ranging from the vast Sonoma Coast to Russian River Valley to Mendocino County.
So how did these two individuals meandering on seemingly different paths finally meet?
It was an uncomfortable muggy late night at Vinwood Cellars in Geyserville, at the close of an extremely long harvest in 2001. When the air conditioner routinely shut down at 10pm everyone seemed to morph into their hostile harvest alter egos. The unending wait for that last, very last, truckload of merlot from Perli Vineyard was causing Leslie, nicknamed Snappy, more angst as the minutes turned into hours. What could have been an ugly encounter between a prickly winemaker and a happy-go-lucky grower turned out to be a start of a long-lasting friendship. Despite the circumstances, the grapes were the best looking fruit of the 16,000 tons processed that year. They also produced one of the best lots of wines. Throughout the years Steve has sold grapes to premium wineries such as Drew Family, Donkey and Goat , Edmeades and Donelan to name a few. Leslie has made wine from Perli Vineyards since 2007 for various clients including Arista and Oakwild Ranch. With two minds always on but slightly off, it was a no brainer for Steve and Leslie to join forces and unleash the force de noir behind the coastal wilderness of Murder Ridge.
Why Murder Ridge is off the Grid
So often when winemakers and growers try to work together, their worlds collide. With a combined experience of half a century and a lot of bottles of wine behind them Wine grower, Steve Alden and Winemaker, Leslie Sisneros have found a way to make it work. Their friendship and experience is the backbone of Murder Ridge – a collaboration between two friends who love what they do.
Your brand seems a bit dark. What is your intention?
Yes, the actual story behind Murder Ridge is quite disturbing. We find it exciting that we can channel the darker sides of our personalities into our brand. Images of puppies and rainbows have a broader appeal but mystery and intrigue are more in our comfort zone.
What are the influences on your packaging and the genre you chose?
Steve: Authenticity is important to me – our name, Murder Ridge comes from a true story about events on our ranch. The label reflects my love of old grainy, mysterious black and white photography.
Leslie: I’m a big fan of Hitchcock, The Twilight Zone and horror movies in general. Seeing a murder of crows on the label to me, is setting the scene for a ominous tale full of strange happenings.
The Murder Ridge story seems like it came right out of a Stephen King book. What if there was no story? Would you still make the wine from that location and would the label have the same feeling?
The wine quality always comes first. So yes, we would make the same product and take the same approach on packaging. If you look hard enough, everything and everybody has a “dark” side. We both have a fascination with the macabre and that’s what makes this project so fun. Having a nice murderous tale to unravel is a lucky break.