After two straight solid winetasting experiences, we set out to see if we could make it a third. We headed north on Highway 29, past the town of St. Helena, past Beringer Vineyards, the Culinary Institute of America and Trinchero Winery until we reached Ehlers Lane, where we made a right and headed east down a long driveway toward 3222 Ehlers Lane, the site of Ehlers Estate.
The winery: Ehlers Estate is a boutique winery situated on some prime real estate in St. Helena. It’s extremely unique, at least for the Napa Valley, in that it is a not-for-profit winery that donates all proceeds to international cardiovascular research through “Fondation Leducq”. That’s why, if you look closely, you’ll see the sideways heart a couple times in the winery’s logo.
Ehlers Estate only produces 8,000 cases of wine annually, focusing primarily on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc. The winery is solar powered and it practices biodynamic farming, which among a multitude of other things, means it follows the constellations and the lunar calendar closely to determine optimum farming times.
The winery has a rich and far-reaching history behind it, which you can read all about on the website.
The tasting room: Upon exiting our car, we were immediately greeted by “Ripley”, the friendly vineyard dog who eagerly showed us to the tasting room’s front entrance. The tasting room is inside a large stone structure (see photo to the left).
Despite Ripley’s urgings, we stayed outside for a bit to survey the grounds, noticing a large tree-lined area off to the right of the tasting room with multiple picnic tables and benches–again for use during warmer, drier times. Standing in front of the double glass doors that mark the tasting room entrance and looking back to the west, we saw rows upon rows of what we would later learn are the estate’s merlot vineyards.
Once inside the tasting room, we noted the tall ceiling, the various windows letting in tons of natural light and the combination of stone and wooden walls. It’s a beautiful room that’s got the tasting bar on the left as you enter, and to the right and around the rest of the room are various books for sale and old, historical pieces for you to examine. In one corner of the room sits an original grape press that was once used on-site from the 1800′s. After a short wait (we were there relatively early in the morning) we were greeted by our first human staffer, who kindly welcomed us to the bar.
Ehlers also had a nice feature at the tasting room bar. Along with the listing and tasting notes of the wines being poured that day, there was also a great map of the property circa 2005 (which is when all the wines we would taste were grown). This allowed us to see exactly where on the property the grapes grew for each wine and that, for us at least, added a nice little touch to the overall experience. We wish more wineries would do something like this.
The staff: We mentioned a relatively short wait before, when we arrived the lone staffer was on the phone talking to someone about ordering large format bottles (aka magnums). It was fine with us as this gave us ample time to browse around the tasting room and look at the various historical artifacts and other merchandise for sale.
Once our tasting started, we found the gentleman to be very knowledgeable about the wines and the history of the winery and he gave us ample time to taste and make notes about each wine without pressuring us to move along to the next one. When another couple came in and started to taste we saw absolutely no drop-off in the level of service we were receiving and we were quite impressed with the recommendations he made for other local wineries to visit.
The wines: For $10 per person you get a three flight tasting of wines chosen by the winery. On this particular day, the winery was pouring all red wines, which was certainly not going to get any complaints from us!
Our first flight was the Ehlers Estate 2005 Napa Valley Merlot ($45 per 750 ml bottle), which is described by the winery as a ‘cabernet drinkers Merlot.’ Being cabernet drinkers, we were quite intrigued–the ’05 Merlot is a blend of 81% merlot, 15% cabernet sauvignon and 4% cabernet franc. At 14.9% alcohol by volume, the wine showed deep, dark red in the glass, with floral notes on the nose. On the palate it was quite complex, with strong berry flavors and a bit of spice coming through. We were told this merlot would be fine to be put down for 5-7 years, but not much longer. Overall, we were quite impressed.
Up next was the Ehlers Estate 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which also retails for $45 per 750 ml bottle. This wine is also a blend, made up of 78% cabernet sauvignon, 15% merlot, 5% cabernet franc and 2% petit verdot and it was also 14.9% alcohol by volume. On the nose we got strong hints of chocolate, on the palate the wine was slightly spicy, peppery and had a very lively finish. On the glass in between sips we noticed it had great legs. After tasting it, we can certainly say we’re quite excited to pop the bottle of this wine we received as a holiday gift!
For our final tasting, we had the Ehlers Estate 2004 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon “1886″, which features a distinct bottle in the shape of a medicine bottle from back in the 1800′s (see photo to the right). At $75 per 750 ml bottle, the “1886″ is the winery’s flagship wine, and for good reason. To ensure quality, Ehlers utilized double hand-sorting as well as gravity-flow winemaking techniques for this particular vintage. At 14.7% alcohol by volume, the ’04 “1886″ first showed strong earthy tones on the nose, followed quickly by hints of cherry. On the palate it was a robust, fruit-forward wine that had a meaty body to it and mild tannins and acidity. This one was by far and away our favorite of the day.
The Cork Board rating: 4 corks (out of 5 possible). A winery with a rich history that’s not out to make a massive profit for some big corporation is just the tip of the iceberg. Combine that with gorgeous grounds and a beautiful tasting room with a few extra touches, and a collection of very strong wines and it’s easy to see why the Ehlers Estate winetasting experience is one we highly recommend.
Have you visited Ehlers Estate lately? Leave us a comment and tell us what you thought of the experience. Also, be sure to check out our previous winetasting reviews.