Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ehlers Estate – St. Helena, California

Founders and History

The Ehlers Estate Winery is another piece of the Napa Valley’s forgotten winery history. Like many other historic sites, it was originally established before the Prohibition, the Phylloxera plague, the Great Depression and the two World Wars that devastated California’s wine culture.

It was originally founded in 1886 by Bernard Ehlers who built the stone winery and etched his name in the stone above the doorway. Ehlers purchased the estate for $7,000 in gold coins (equivalent to $176,143 in 2013) from a winemaker who went bankrupt fighting the Phylloxera plague that devastated many of the Napa Valley vineyards in the late 1800s to early 1900s. 

In 1901 Bernard died and left the winery to his wife, Anna, who maintained the property for the next 15 years. Over the next few decades the vineyard changed hands but it remained in production, even through the Prohibition. In 1923, Alfred Domingos purchased the land and then began selling bootleg wine and brandy for thirsty travelers from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Then during the California wine renaissance of the early 1970s the Estate became home to a number of small new wineries including Conn Creek Winery, Saintsbury, and Stratford Winery.

In 1982, Jean and Sylviane Leducq established the Prince Michel Vineyards and Winery in Virginia.[1] Jean Leducq made his money as a French entrepreneur who built a successful international business involving the supply and care of linens and uniforms in Europe and North America.[2]

Then in 1987, under the direction of French enologist Jacques Boissenot, they purchased 7 acres of vineyard in St. Helena that were part of the original land tract belonging to W.W. Lyman.[3] In May 2001 they then purchased the original stone winery and estate home built by Bernard Ehlers in St. Helena, and its adjacent land reunifying the original 14-acre Ehlers Estate property with contiguous vineyard parcels to create a 43-acre estate.

Ehlers Estate’s inaugural wine was the 2000 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon. The following year, they produced their first Merlot (2002 vintage) and added its flagship wine, the estate-grown “1886” Cabernet Sauvignon.  

A Non-Profit Winery With A Heart

Shortly before the sale of the linens and uniforms business they created the Leducq Foundation, which was officially recognized by the French government in November 1996. Since Jean Leducq’s death in 2002, Sylviane Leducq has carried on the work of the foundation. She currently serves as President of the foundation’s board of directors. In 2009, Sylviane Leducq was awarded the French Légion d’Honneur in recognition of her generosity and leadership of the foundation. The strategic development of the foundation is guided by a 14-member Scientific Advisory Committee composed of international experts in cardiology, cardiac surgery, and neurovascular medicine.[4] The stewardship of Ehlers Estate is now in the hands of the Leducq Foundation, making it a non-profit winery.

If you look at the “E” in the Ehler’s logo sidewise you can see the shape of a heart and the One Twenty Over Eighty Cabernet Sauvignon (120/80 is the ideal blood pressure for the heart) are an homage to the Leducq Foundation’s devotion to advancing cardiovascular medicine.

The Winemaker

Ehlers Estate’s winemaker is Kevin Morrisey whose career began in 1998 when he started working for Stags’ Leap Winery after earning his MA. in enology from U.C. Davis. Over the next five years he became the estate’s associate winemaker. In 2003 he left to serve as the winemaker and director of operations at Etude Wines. In 2005, Kevin returned to Stags’ Leap Winery to take over as winemaker and general manager but then he re-joined Ehlers Estate in 2009.

The Vineyards

The historic and diverse vineyards of Ehlers Estate are planted on rocky, loamy, northern St. Helena benchland. Guided by Winemaker Kevin Morrisey, the Ehlers Estate viticulture program embraced organic farming in 2004 and adopted biodynamic farming practices in early 2005. Beginning with the 2005 red wine vintage and the 2007 white wine vintage, all Ehlers Estate wines have been crafted exclusively from certified organic, estate-grown grapes.

The Wines

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

The first wine was the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is clean water-white with a tint of green. The nose exemplifies a warmer climate Sauvignon Blanc with pronounced aromas of tropical fruits, apricots, grapefruit and subtle floral notes. On the palate it is medium- in body with medium+ acidity and a long finish with lingering notes of grapefruit-zest, lemon and a chalky minerality. If you like Sauvignon Blancs that aren’t grassy, herbal or have a whiff of cat-pee then this one is for you. This wine sells for $28 per bottle.

The second pour was the 2010 Merlot, a blend of 97% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. On the nose this wine has intense aromas of dusty black cherries, black licorice, dark chocolate and a hint of mint. On the palate this wine is BIG with chewy medium+ tannins, medium+ body and a prolonged finish. It is well balanced with good structure and a well pleasing overall mouth feel. In a blind taste test this wine could easily be mistaken for a Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine sells for $45 per bottle and I brought one home.

The third wine was the 2010 One Twenty Over Eighty Cabernet Sauvignon - a blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. This wine is black at the core to dark ruby at the rim with intense aromas of black currants, cassis, anise, damp earth, pipe tobacco, a hint of smoke and mint. On the palate it is fruit forward, medium bodied with medium+ tannins that are supple and refined, it has a medium+ complexity and a long finish. A great wine for $45 per bottle and if my cellar wasn’t already fully stocked with Napa Cabs I would have brought one home.

The fourth and final wine was the 2010 “1886” Cabernet Sauvignon - a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cab Franc, 7% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. On the nose this wine has pronounced aromas of cassis, smoky meat, mocha, and chocolate covered cherries. On the palate it is fruit forward, juicy and full bodied with medium+ tannins, medium+ acidity and a prolonged finish. This is a very delicious wine that would beat many $125+ Napa Valley Cabs in a blind tasting competition. This wine sells for $95 per bottle.

To see more pictures of Ehlers Estate, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography:

To visit or for more information:

Ehlers Estate

3222 Ehlers Lane

St Helena, CA 94574

Phone: 1-707-963-5972

[3] William Whittingham Lyman (July 28, 1850 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – 1921) was the son of Theodore Benedict Lyman. He built the Lyman winery, now known as the El Molino winery. At one point owned what has now become Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park.


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