Have you ever walked into a place and instantly felt right at home; like much thought and effort had gone into making your visit the most enjoyable and relaxed ever? Most of us have, at least once or twice in our lifetime. Well, we’re here to tell you that that feeling is exactly the feeling we had when we first walked into the tasting room at Ehlers Estate. Comfort is the name of the game here, folks! In fact, that “you’re special” feeling started even before entering the tasting room. It began at the front door with a handwritten sign that made it clear that tastings were by appointment only. Well, when you are the one that has the appointment and you see that sign, it really makes you feel like the folks on the other side of the door value the time that they have to spend with you. We don’t know if that is what they were going for at Ehlers, but if so, they have succeeded.
Now that we have you all interested, let’s take a step back to the history of Ehlers, how the vineyard got started, how it changed over the years, and how it has morphed into the “warm, cozy, blanket-kinda place” that it is today.
Ehlers Estate – The Beginning
Once upon a time, in a land far, far way – depending on where you live, of course – was a German family with the last name of Ehlers. According to our most awesome, fabulous host for the morning, Bradley Ward, (boy, what energy and enthusiasm he has!), the Ehlers came to California during the gold rush era and made a fortune in manufacturing the equipment used to mine for gold. Having an interest in making wine and a passion for creating something extraordinary, the Ehlers bought a run-down 10-acre vineyard in St. Helena, California and began planting vines and olive trees. In 1886, the winery truly came to life when the final touches were placed on the original stone barn that is now the centerpiece of Ehlers Estate and functions as their current tasting room. The winery remained in the Ehlers family until 1920. For a number of years afterward, it changed hands many times, always remaining in the grape farming industry, surviving Prohibition and the Great Depression that more often than not, was the demise of many wine-related businesses. In 1986 it was purchased by Jean and Sylviane Leducq, French entrepreneurs and philanthropists, who had a vision of producing some of the finest Bordeaux varietals in the area. Over the years, the Leducqs purchased land contiguous to the original property, now forming the 42 acres farmed today continuing to bear the Ehlers name.
Ehlers Estate – Today
Standing at the front door of the tasting room and seeing the sign that said “Tastings by Prior Appointment” gave the initial impression that we were special. Then we pulled open the big, heavy door to reveal the most amazing tasting room. The multi-colored large stone walls – reminiscent of architecture from years ago, strong and indestructible – were the backdrops for the simple yet tasteful display of Ehlers art collection. The room was decorated very simply, yet elegant, in a living room-like fashion with individual sections of living arrangements, each to host patrons and their personal wine educator. The tasting area – your own personal living room – is reserved by the placement of a small sign with your name handwritten in colorful chalk. If your appointment is for the “Start Your Day” experience, you will find fresh, warm croissants laying in wait. And then to top it all off, you have your own personal wine educator that will join you, to lead you through the wines and tell you the history of the winery and the land. It is the personal touch that is so apparent here at Ehlers.
Outside the tasting room, the environment is just as alluring. If you were to walk around, you would find a semblance of a small family farm, extremely well maintained, complete with chickens and a vegetable garden. They practice organic and biological farming. Everything has a purpose. Their vegetable garden, (very impressive, by the way) not only provides a bounty for the staff to share, but also provides food for the chickens. The chickens produce eggs, again for the staff’s benefit, and their waste is used as fertilizer for the crops. A continuous circle of purpose.
Their wine is 100% estate grown and consists of the Bourdeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc. Of the 42 acres, 39 are planted and maintained by their dedicated field crew, headed by their vineyard manager, Fransisco Vega, who lives on the property and has been with Ehlers for 19 years. They produce about 8,000 cases per year.
To sum it all up, we would describe Ehlers as reminiscent of the past, with a continued loving hand at maintaining nature’s beauty and bounty.
An intimate chat with winemaker Kevin Morrisey
No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “Inquiring minds want to know”. Well, that pretty much sums up our inquisitive personalities whilst on our wine trails. We just can’t stop ourselves from asking questions about processes that we have heard about, but do not completely understand. Bottom line is, we’re not winemakers. We hear over and over again about the winemaking process, but sometimes it is hard to conceptualize it you haven’t done it yourself or seen the process in action. Another phrase that comes to mind is “See one, do one, teach one” and then you will truly understand. Well, we haven’t “seen one”, we haven’t “done one”, and we haven’t “taught one”. We have only “heard one” and that doesn’t always seem to do the trick. So what’s the first thing we do when we have the opportunity to have the undivided attention of a winemaking professional? Ask him geeky questions, of course!
Geeky Question #1: We had read in the book The Perfect Score that winemakers would take a bunch of grapes from the same vineyard lot and age them in different barrels from different cooperages. This was confusing to us. If you take a block of grapes, ferment them all together and then put some of them in French oak and some of them in American oak, let them age and then bottle them and place the same label on all the bottle, how can this make sense? The flavor of the French oak aged wine would be different than the flavor of the American oak aged wine, right? That’s why you would choose one type barrel over another, to get a different flavor profile. So how does this make sense? Well, we forgot one itty, bitty important step in the process of making wine. Watch the video below as Kevin “turns the lights on” for Tom Joe and Miki.
Geeky Question #2: Have you ever wondered exactly how the blending and aging process occurs? Okay, okay, so we’ve just proved that we are wine geeks! So here was our question. In the blending process, does the winemaker let each wine varietal or wine aged in a specific barrel type age to completion and then do the blending trials, find the perfect match and then bottle? Or do they let each wine age to a specific point in time, do the blending trials, find the perfect match, blend the wines together and then age the blend in barrels before bottling? The answer, according to Kevin, is “Yes!” Listen as Kevin explains some of the thought processes behind this decision and his cryptic answer.
Your Invitation Awaits
Like we said, “Ehlers is like coming home”. And their door is always open…with an appointment, of course. 🙂 Your sitting area will be all set awaiting your arrival and the staff will welcome you with a warm smile and a yummy glass of their creation. Have fun!
The Winer’s Experience
|AMBIANCE||GROUNDS & SCENERY||TASTING ROOM|
|Close-up and personal with individualized tasting service, a real “you’re special” feeling.||Peaceful and beautiful, on an out-of-the-way piece of property, surrounded by vineyards and their own vegetable and flower gardens. Quite impressive for self-sustainability.||Wow! Very original. Large with private tasting areas set up that look like private little living room areas. Very personal and intimate. The experience comes with your own personal tasting host!|
|WINE TASTING EXPERIENCE||CUSTOMER SERVICE||TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE|
|Extraordinary! Very unique with your own tasting host in your own private tasting area. They really want you to take the time that you individually require to experience their wine.||Pretty special…see “Wine Tasting Experience”…’nough said.||Wow! It was like our wine educator was the winemaker! He was a bookful of information. Of course, sitting with the winemaker afterward was pretty awesome also!|
Vineyard & Winery Information
|Ehlers Estate||3222 Ehlers Lane, St. Helena CA 94574|
|Daily 9 am – 3:30 pm|
|MUSIC||WINE CLUB||TASTING FEE|
|With the “Start Your Day” Tasting Experience – $50||No|