Since the time the original Ehlers Winery in Saint Helena was founded in 1886, the property had been divided up and operated by various owners over the years. A full century later, a French wine lover Jean Leducq and his wife Silviane began acquiring plots of the original Ehlers’ property – including the historic winery – until they had re-joined the original 14-acre estate. Acquisitions of adjacent vineyards has enlarged the estate to the current 44 acres of vineyards dedicated to cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet france, petit verdot and sauvignon blanc. The winery was named Ehlers Estate in acknowledgment of the history of winemaking at the property and its first release was the 2000 vintage.
In 1996, the Leducqs established a non-profit foundation to fund international cardiovascular research and placed the winery and 100% of its profits to the foundation. The first grants were given in 2000, prior to Jean Leducq’s passing in 2002, and in 2008-2009, grants were given to research centers around the world including in the U.S., John Hopkins, Yale, University of Michigan and the University of South Carolina.
As part of the Leducq’s commitment to social responsibility, the estate began farming organically in 2004, biodynamically in 2005, and received organic certification of its estate vineyards in 2008. Wines are made with native yeasts, expressing the full personality and purity of fruit of the all-estate vineyards. Winemaker and General Manager Kevin Morrisey, who joined Ehlers from Stags Leap Winery earlier this year, continues the winemaking style and organic/biodynamic practices of the winery. According to Morrisey, production will be maintained at the small 5,000 to 8,000 case level to ensure quality.
The 2007 Ehlers Estate Merlot Saint Helena is a full-bodied, round and supple merlot with black cherry and cassis fruit and a hint of licorice. The Ehlers Estate 120/80 Cabernet Sauvignon Saint Helena has lifted aromas of violets, wild berries, raspberry liqueur and spicy oak with full body and balanced acidity. Ehlers’ flagship wine, the 1886 cabernet sauvignon, is sourced from the best plots on the estate. The 2007 Ehlers Estate 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon Saint Helena is a classic cabernet sauvignon, with pronounced black currant and blackberry fruit, big but ripe tannins, integrated oak and long finish. One should also try Ehlers’ outstanding varietal cabernet franc wines and fruit-driven sauvignon blanc.
Since arriving, Morrisey has made small but noticeable changes to the winery to make it more inviting and to reveal the beauty of the original historic stone building. Barrels were moved and lighting installed to create a more warm and spacious environment for guests to experience their premium wines. Tastings and tours are by appointment, and is worthwhile doing given the table service and beautiful grounds to walk including an old olive tree grove with views over the vineyards.
Ehlers Estate is not in itself a charity which is important given the labor-intensive practices of biodynamic farming and quality winemaking. At the heart of it, crafting beautiful wines is the greatest tribute to Jean Leducq, a life-long wine lover, and to the cause.