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Ehlers Estate

St. Helena winery one up on the French paradox

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JAMES KNIGHT
  • James Knight

As he kicks back in the tasting room in the midst of a busy crush, Ehlers Estate winemaker and general manager Kevin Morrisey is in no apparent hurry to go anywhere. After all, he's got his own full-time crew, grapes that grow within a short walk from here on the 43-acre estate, and he calls the shots when it's time to pick. The winery's owners, nearly 6,000 miles away in Paris, France, trust him completely to do the right thing. It's such a plum job, it almost seems like charity. And that's exactly what it is.

You've heard this one before: Research suggests that moderate consumption of wine may lesson the risk of heart disease. Has this finding been debated? Sure it has. But this is one winery that helps to promote better cardiovascular health with every bottle sold, no question about it.

Ehlers is owned by the Leducq Foundation, established by French industrial linen services entrepreneur Jean Leducq, who had a history of heart disease in his family. Leducq passed away in 2004 (at a respectable 80-plus years—was it the wine?), but the Foundation continues to give $30 million annually (including proceeds from the winery, which are actually a drop in the bucket—the tastiest drop—in comparison to the foundation at large) to support cardiovascular research in North America and Europe.

A businessman of a different vintage, Bernard Ehlers built a stone winery here in 1886. Today it's just used for hospitality: groups are seated at tables or sofa sets while well-informed staff set them up with a tasting. Just around the corner, a crew picks over a steady stream of de-stemmed Cabernet grapes. Ehlers practices biodynamic farming in the vineyard, and grows what appear to be champion-sized gourds in the garden. The ubiquitous biodynamic chickens, they've got them, too.

The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($28) has indeterminate, soft and creamy aromas and flavors: lychee maybe; delicious, certainly. The 2010 One Twenty Over Eighty ($45), so named for an ideal blood pressure, is a Cab blend with a perfumed raspberry quality, furniture polish over charred wood and tantalizing maraschino cherry aromas. Strawberry sweetness on the attack, tannic on the back, it's a lively, alluring wine.

Like a lot of wines in the top-tier spot, the 2010 "1886" Cabernet Sauvignon ($95) is more about complexity and integration that any fruit I could name; my notes read, "finish." Now that we're sideways, look at the label. If you turn "Ehlers" on its side, you'll find a heart in the "E." Who doesn't love it now?

Ehlers Estate, 3222 Ehlers Lane, St. Helena. Daily by appointment, 10am–4pm. Tasting fee $35. 707.963.5972.

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