Winemaker Laura Díaz Muñoz’s lush, subtly powerful Napa Valley wines are ready to drink now but made to age.
In the mid-1880s, Bernard Ehlers, a Sacramento grocer, purchased a St. Helena winery that had fallen on hard times. By 1886 he’d completed construction on the first floor of what became a two-story stone barn. The original Ehlers operation prospered for a few decades, and the winery even survived Prohibition under new owners, if by sometimes shady means. The mid-20th century saw the winery again in decline, but a second revival began in the late 1980s, when a French couple, the late Jean Leducq and his late wife, Sylviane, purchased 7 acres Bernard Ehlers formerly owned and began planting Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux red grapes.
The Leducqs, whose foundation dedicated to combating cardiovascular disease owns Ehlers Estate, added several adjoining parcels, one with the barn. Currently 40 acres, the estate occupies the Napa Valley’s narrowest portion – what locals describe as “the pinch” – between Spring Mountain to the west and Glass Mountain to the east. The combination of loamy, rocky, well-drained soils and briefer sunlight exposure because of the hillsides, which channel cooling breezes through the pinch most evenings, has proven particularly hospitable to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
One of the Napa Valley’s most respected viticulturists, Michael Wolf, tends the organically farmed vineyards at Ehlers Estate. From this carefully nurtured fruit (supplemented in a few instances with purchased grapes), winemaker Laura Díaz Muñoz crafts lush, subtly powerful wines ready to drink now but made to age. The Jean Leducq Cabernet Sauvignon is made entirely of the grape; the flagship red blend, 1886, is sometimes all Cabernet as well. There are also Cabernet Sauvignon–dominant blends (Portrait and the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon), along with individual bottlings of Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. In a few years, Malbec planted in 2020 will likely find its way into the blends and perhaps a single-varietal wine. On the lighter side are a Sauvignon Blanc and the Sylviane Rosé (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Cabernet Franc and occasionally Merlot).
Tastings at Ehlers Estate, which opens and closes earlier than most of its counterparts, are by appointment only. Because they’re individually hosted (mostly in the stone barn), the feel is casual yet intimate. The Estate Tasting surveys the current releases. If you’re an early riser (or your body clock’s on East Coast time), you may find the Start Your Day session just the ticket; it begins at 9:30 am with Model Bakery croissants. All visits include a brief property tour.
Why go: organic farming practices; property’s history; winery profits benefit heart research.
Ehlers Estate appears in 3 St. Helena Wineries with a Personal Touch.
3222 Ehlers Ln., St. Helena 94574
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