The tasting room at Ehlers Estate in Napa just a few miles north of St. Helena.
The tasting room at Ehlers Estate in Napa just a few miles north of St. Helena.

On weekends, tasting rooms in Napa wine country can become overwhelming as it is a popular spot for a long weekend getaway for those in the Bay Area. When I’m looking for a break from the bustle and excitement in the tasting rooms of many of the larger wineries, I enjoy seeking refuge in some of the smaller ones.

One such gem is Ehlers Estate which I have visited on several occasions. My latest visit was to pick up my annual wine club shipment which I had forgotten to do early in the year. Several email reminders were sent by Maurice (Mo) the wine club coordinator. However, amidst the peak of theater season, I had little capacity to react.

Fortunately, I finally found myself in front of Ehlers Estate’s tasting room one Saturday morning.

The vineyard land at Ehlers Estate dates back to the 1800’s when it was the home of the historic vineyards of Bernard Ehlers. The land was purchased by French entrepreneur and philanthropist Jean Leducq in the 1980’s with the aspiration of producing classic French-style wines in the Napa region. The entire estate today consists of about 58 acres which is used in the production of all their wines.

A unique aspect of this winery is that all proceeds from the sale of their wines is donated to Leducq Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to funding international cardiovascular research. The winery’s connection of cardiovascular research shows up even in its wine labels. The “E” in Ehlers forms a heart turned on its side. How endearing is that?

Usually for tastings at Ehlers, you need to make an appointment. This is to make sure that each of their patrons receives the appropriate amount of attention from the tasting room personnel.

I was fortunate to arrive when they were not too busy. Mo was able to accommodate Clint and I for a Salon Tasting which includes a selection of their current releases (2009 Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 Merlot, 2007 Cabernet Franc and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon 1886) paired with nuts and cheese. The tasting is $25 which is waived if you are a wine club member.

Of the series we tasted, my favorites were the Merlot and the 1886.

Besides the wines, what I enjoyed most was the company. While we were tasting the wines, winemaker and GM Kevin Morrisey dropped by and we were able to discuss his wine-making style.

Kevin joined Ehlers recently and the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is the first wine released which has been completely under his stewardship. Prior to Ehlers, Kevin has worked with Stags’ Leap Winery and Etude Wines. His philosophy is to really showcase the land from which the grapes were grown.

Near the end of our salon tasting, I asked Mo about the 2007 1886. Word is out that 2007 has been an exceptional year in Napa for Cabernet Sauvignon. Several wineries I had visited this season have been holding back their 2007 vintage, trying to figure out allocation methods on a small and poignant 2007 release.

Mo was able to pull a bottle from the back and offer us a tasting of the 2007 1886 which I think is superbly velvety with notes of red cherries. About 800 cases are produced and retails for $95. If you are in Ehlers Estate, make sure Mo gives you a little test drive of the 2007.

As for the pairings, I thought the Sauvignon Blanc paired well with the cheese. For the 2007 1886, I was really craving some steak or dark chocolate.

The by-appointment tastings are a serene way to really sit down for an hour or more and truly appreciate the work of those that make the wine and work in the vineyards. The cool tasting room with the grand stone walls, majestic rustic wood beams and modern bistro table and chairs provides such an environment.


Ehlers Estate

3222 Ehlers Lane
St. Helena, California 94574

fax: 707.963.7512


Loni Stark is an artist at Atelier Stark, self-professed foodie, and adventure travel seeker who has a lifelong passion for technology’s impact on business and creativity. She collaborates with Clinton Stark on video projects for Atelier Stark Films. It’s been said her laugh can be heard from San Jose all the way up to the Golden Gate Bridge. She makes no claims to super powers, although sushi is definitely her Kryptonite.