Welcome to Part Two from my visit to Ehlers Estate in Napa Valley. If you missed the first post about this experience, you would find it here.
Today, I am continuing the Tasting portion of the visit, followed by a chat with the new winemaker and after that, the bonus. But you are going to need to keep reading to find out what it is.
Ehlers Estate * Tasting of the Reds
Cabernet Franc, Say what?
Cabernet Franc is a grape variety that the casual wine drinker may not be familiar. It is an old grape variety and is a parent to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carménère.
If you drink Bordeaux blends, you have consumed Cabernet Franc. It is also blended in smaller amounts with Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots, and you are none the wiser. It is done by many winemakers to enhance flavors and aromas, increase tannic structure and or lighten the body of these wine. Additionally, if you have ever drunk a French wine from Chinon, you have had Cabernet Franc as well. It is everywhere, and you never knew.
Today, winemakers around the world are making wine with Cabernet Franc as the star versus a supporting character. At Ehlers Estate, they make two wines using 100% Cabernet Franc fruit, a red wine, and a rosé.
2015 Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa Valley
The 2015 Cabernet Franc was the first of the red wines that we tasted. This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc. My first impression
The aromas of red berries and black cherries are intense. I am not sure I can forget this nose. I Then comes the mouthwatering acidity, the berries, the herb bouquet and a hint of leather. The tannins are mature and mellow as you drink. The finish is lingering with a pop of acidity hanging in the back corners of your mouth.
A bottle of this elegant wine found a slot in my wine carrier. Hmmm, now when shall we drink it.
Sold direct to consumer from Ehlers Estate for $65.00
2015 “Portrait” Red Blend, St. Helena, Napa Valley
The fruit in this wine hit every corner of the estate to make up this wine including 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Because no single variety reaches the 75% threshold; it must be labeled a blend. As with the Cabernet Franc above and the Cabernet Sauvignon below, this wine spent 24 months in barrel.
The berries were small making for wines with intense, concentrated flavors. The nose is a powerhouse of cherry, cedar, and spice. The flavors are layered and complex with blackberry compote, blueberry and other generic black fruits with back notes of leather, dried herbs, and dark chocolate. The tannins are soft-ish, and the finish is long.
This is a big, full-bodied wine.
Sold directly to the consumer from Ehlers Estate for $75.00
2015 “1886” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa Valley
1886 is the flagship wine for the estate. This Cabernet Sauvignon is named for the completion date of the stone farmhouse that now is the Welcome Center, Tasting Room, and winery offices.
The composition of this wine is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. The pour of this wine shows a deep, dark scarlet that is almost black. Aromas of black plums and stewed red berries waft upward from the glass. Adjusting your glass forward pulls in the earth and spice notes. The palate offers firm acidity and a complex and demanding mix of dark stewed fruit, fat luscious tannins, and a dark chocolate and spiced espresso finish that hangs on and on.
This is a classic and bold Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. You can lay it down for years and years and watch it improve.
Sold directly to the consumer from Ehlers Estate for $125.00
A Chat with The New Winemaker Laura Díaz Muñoz
Since my visit, Ehlers Estate hired a new winemaker to take over for Kevin Morrisey. Kevin made some fantastic wines for Ehlers, so Laura has big shoes to fill. She took the time to answer a few questions for me that I wanted to share with you. I hope this will give you insight into what is coming as she takes the helm.
Rick: What are you most looking forward to about working at Ehlers Estate?
Laura: I’m very excited about working organically and having my own vineyard crew (no contractors). I feel I have the people to nail every single need in the vineyard whenever I want and a lot of freedom in the cellar to make the wine I want.
Rick: Why is it so valuable for you to have control over the entire Ehlers Estate, from farming to winemaking?
Laura: Everything starts in the vineyards. The size of Ehlers is small enough that I can spend the right time in the vineyards, that I can almost know every vine. Controlling the full potential of the vines will help me to get better fruit. Best ingredients for the best wine possible I can make. I always say that working with great fruit makes winemaker’s life easier in the cellar. And I feel I can get that control in Ehlers.
Rick: How did your background and expertise prepare you for your work at Ehlers?
Laura: I’ve worked with fruit coming almost from each single appellation in Napa in the past 11 years. I know the Valley and the different terroirs, microclimates, and potential of sites. I’ve worked with winemakers who have taught me how to achieve the best expression of Bordeaux varietals. I’m confident that my winemaking will be respectful with the concept of what’s expected for a wine from Napa. But having worked in different countries and my European background brings an interesting mix of sensibility towards making wine. I like to bring a little bit of that old world flavor and style into my wines.
Rick: What is your goal for your resulting wines—from flavor to texture?
Laura: I hope to accomplish wines with a remarkable expression of fruit, with some minerality coming from the terroir but with long finishes and nice texture that can make them difficult to forget in the palate. My wine memory resides in my palate. Red Napa wines should have a long powerful finish, but food friendly at the same time, which is normally accomplished by a good balanced acidity and freshness.
Rick: How will you define success at the winery?
Happy customers, proud employees.
Rick: Thanks Laura, I look forward to your wines in the coming vintages.
BONUS: And the Angels Sang!
Not long after my return to Charleston, I was sending images that I shot to Charlotte (our hostess at Ehlers). In the correspondence, she mentions that she “found” a few bottles of the rosé and wanted to know if she should add them to my order. Ummm… YES!
Ehlers Estate 2017 “Sylvaine,” St. Helena, Napa Valley
I now understand why this wine is ranked so highly by so many with wine writers. I also understand why it sells out a month after it goes on sale.
This wine, this vintage, this rosé ranks as one of my all-time favorite wines in my life. How do I describe my reaction to the first sip? Is it the goosebumps? Is it the angel’s voices I heard in my head? Or is it the look of ecstasy on my face? Yes, it is all those things. And it is also the gorgeous ripe watermelon color in the glass, the bright and bold acidity that cleanses and refreshes your palate. It is the early, slightly green strawberry fruit and mandarin orange flavors that sing in your mouth. The tartness lingers into the finish and readys you for the next bite or sip whichever is your pleasure.
This wine is sold out. But the 2018 vintage will be available in the early spring. The 2017 vintage sold for $36.00. I would guess the 2018 vintage will be in that same zone.
You can bet I will be making an order for the 2018 vintage as soon as its available.
That is all for now.