A bit of history on the Cliff House Estate, originally designed and built by the inventor Royal N. Riblet in 1924, now headquarters for Arbor Crest Wine Cellars.
Perched 450 feet above the Spokane River valley, Royal Newton Riblet established this now historic Spokane landmark in 1924. An inventor and mechanical innovator, Riblet not only developed a variety of patented devices, including a square-wheel tractor, pattern sprinkler system and mechanical parking garage, he was also the chief engineer and designer of his beautiful home and estate. At the time of its construction in the early 1920s, it was among the most “wired” homes in the nation.
Visitors to the Estate were welcomed through an arched basalt Gatehouse that led to the three-story Florentine-style mansion. Riblet's imaginative landscape architecture and grounds include a life-size checkerboard, four acres of terraced gardens, a unique pool carved into the basalt, an enclosed croquet court, and the "Eagle's Nest," a red-roofed stone gazebo with an epic view.
Over the years, Riblet and his wife, Mildred, welcomed friends, family and other guests to their estate, with approximately 7,000 visitors touring the grounds in the first eight years alone. Guests would reach the estate via a five passenger tram (a precursor to the Riblet Tramway Co.) which spanned the Spokane River, gathering for ice cream socials in the open air stone gazebo, or to play croquet on the paved court which juts out over the river valley below.
Riblet’s first wife had died in 1903 after just 8 years of marriage, leaving him a single father with three young children. In search of companionship and help, he married and divorced five more times before partnering with Mildred, his seventh wife. They lived together on the estate until his death in 1960. She continued living in the mansion until she died in 1978 (she was 32 years younger than her husband).
In the early 1980s, Harold and Marcia Mielke began a venture that would transform the inventor’s estate into our region’s premier destination winery. After purchasing a winery in California, they relocated operations to Spokane Valley to take advantage of the budding Washington wine industry, establishing Arbor Crest Wine Cellars as the state’s 29th winery (a number that has since grown to over 900). To serve as the winery’s new headquarters, they acquired the idyllic Riblet Estate, which had been designated as a national historic landmark in 1979. The inventor's former workshop now accommodates the Winery's administrative offices.
By 1999, the family business was being expanded to the next generation as the Mielke’s daughter, Kristina Mielke van Löben Sels, departed her position as associate winemaker at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards in Sonoma County, California, to take over as head winemaker for Arbor Crest.
Together with her husband Jim van Löben Sels, Arbor Crest’s General Manager and Viticulturalist, Kristina now celebrates over 16 years of handcrafting elegant, award-winning varietals for Arbor Crest. They remain committed to producing exceptional wines, using Washington’s best fruit, sourced from some of the most well established and respected vines in the state.
The legacy of a creative inventor lives on as Kristina and Jim continue to grow the winery from a strong foundation of family values and a keen sense of stewardship for their community gem. The Cliff House Estate has become the Inland Northwest's premier destination for exceptional wine experiences, private gatherings, business events, art festivals, year-round music and outdoor concerts, anniversary celebrations, weddings and more — welcoming close to 35,000 visitors to the Estate annually, from all over the world.
For some interesting, in-depth environmental and legal history on Royal Riblet and his estate, be sure to read this essay from the People's History Collection at historylink.org.