By Rick Riozza
Hold the Presses! Hold those wine bottle gifts! The news is out: California’s Napa County’s 2018 vintage happens to be one of the best in recent years! Perhaps one of the best in recent history! Hyberbole—you contend!? Hey—I’ve been around the California’s wine scene for over 40 years now and I have to say these ‘18 vintage Cabs remind me of the 1974s, 85s, and the 97s as to quality, taste profile and enjoyment.
There you go! You new wine lovers can catch up quick with the stellar capability of California Cabernet Sauvignon. And especially the stuff that comes out of Napa Valley. Cheers to you!
Okay—I’ve been so impressed with a new Cabernet Sauv in my wine bin, and, the wonderful California wine history that surrounds the winery that I wish to make it my top story for the new month:
“The story of Ehlers Estate is one of passion, patience, and hard work, intertwined like the tendrils of robust vines that have been part of the landscape here since the mid-1800s.” That’s how this California wine story begins:
“It was the lure of winemaking that tempted Bernard Ehlers to buy a small, dying vineyard in the late 1800s and embark on a quest to create the winery that continues to bear his name. He replanted his newly-acquired 10-acre vineyard, established the olive grove that still thrives today and in 1886 completed construction of the stone barn that is now our beautiful winery building. His original Bale Mill Winery continued to operate long after his death, run by his wife until the 1920s and then by successive new owners who took advantage of its prime location and unique terroir.
“A century later, another husband and wife team discovered the lure of this idyllic spot in the heart of the Napa Valley. French entrepreneurs and philanthropists Jean and Sylviane Leducq saw the potential for this region to produce wines with the power, balance and structure of the finest Bordeaux bottlings they knew and loved. Over several decades they patiently built a contiguous wine estate – common for French chateaux but increasingly rare in California.
“With the help of renowned enologist, Jacques Boissenot, they gradually acquired individual local vineyards as they came up for sale and replanted with the most suitable clones and rootstock. By the turn of the century, they had created the 42-acre estate we farm today, with Bernard Ehlers’ original stone barn and vineyard at its heart and the Ehlers name once again poised to grace wine labels. The 21st century began with the release of the very first vintage from the Leducqs’ new Ehlers Estate.”
For those of you wine enthusiasts who appreciate a good background story to assist in the complete enjoyment of the juice—there you go. I particularly bring this up because Ehlers wine and story was not on my radar. But after enjoying their 2018 Napa Cab and their 2016 Portrait Red Blend, I now realize this winery is one to follow, get to know, visit—when things get visiting again, and to enjoy their portfolio of wine. You serious wine collectors and Cab lovers should have this producer on their radar.
What was especially impressive in the flavor profile of the 2018 Ehlers’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($72), is that it brought back to me the very similar profile that we enjoyed with the classic 1974 Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cab Sauv. Back in the day, I was privileged to have a full case of the stuff—along with a magnum whose label was signed by Joe Heitz. I had come across the case & magnum in the late 80s from a wine auction.
Anyway, the stunning panoply of harvest dark fruits, complexities and over-all feel was something no one forgets. If I possess any particular wine gift, it’s my weird memory of vintage wine flavors of the past. When we recently poured the 2018 Ehlers’ Cab—the taste and spirit ‘74 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard came rushing back, flooding my mind and soul. As one can tell, we really had a fun and enlightening time enjoying the wine.
Often times we wine columnists need to re-address the winery notes of a particular wine, in this case, they are totally right on: “The 2018 Ehlers’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is our only non-Estate wine. Approximately 18% of the grapes for this wine were sourced from vineyards in Oakville and Yountville. The wine exhibits dusty aromas of dark and red berries, dry herbs, and spices in deep dark garnet; black pepper and cedar, with hints of cherries, round out the nose. The first sip is earthy, mineral with pencil shaving and dust. Blueberries and dark chocolate accompany the long after taste. It’s medium to full-bodied with spices and cedar, boysenberries and dry herbs like thyme and rosemary. Good tannins and structure. Enjoyable now, it will open up with decanting and will age well for 15-20 more years.”
And it’s nice to see that the Ehlers’ winery agrees on the vintage: “2018 was a perfect vintage from a weather standpoint. Cooler nights and mild daytime temperatures in August helped to retain the beautiful natural acidity and delicate flavors and aromas of the fruit. The excellent weather conditions allowed for less irrigation and longer hang time for the grapes. This helped gain more concentration of fruit character in the wine during fermentation. We were able to pick at the perfect time in sugar, flavor, color, and tannin ripeness without losing acidity. Varietal: 86% Cabernet Sauvignon (18% non Estate) and 14% Cabernet Franc. 61% New French Oak, 39% used French oak for 22 months.
Looking forward to visiting the Ehlers Estate Winery. 3222 Ehlers Lane, St. Helena, CA 94574 707.963.5972 info@ehlersestate.
We’ll continue to cover red wines next time. Cheers!