Second Chances at Ehlers Estate

#MWWC, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge
#MWWC, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

A second chance can happen every day, in every moment that one chooses to change direction or be someone or something different.

In #MWWC18, I wrote about my crisis, which turned out to be a second chance. I was a community college professor living in Virginia who, after the end of long teaching career, moved to Napa, California to begin again in the wine business.

Welcome to Ehlers Estate
Welcome to Ehlers Estate

After a few months of living and working here, I realized that my career was not what I wanted. While I will always be appreciative of the opportunity and open door that allowed me to follow this path, I knew early on that I had landed in the wrong place. I would have to tread water for a while to get the experience I needed to move forward. After a year, I began to look for new employment. I didn’t realize that it would take me seven months to find a fit. Finally, in September 2015, I started my journey at Ehlers Estate, my second, second-chance career.

The original stone barn winery built by Bernard and Anne Ehlers in 1886
The original stone barn winery built by Bernard and Anna Ehlers in 1886

Ehlers Estate, like me, has had its fair share of second chances. Founded in 1886 by Sacramento grocer Bernard Ehlers, the winery flourished under the leadership of Bernard and his wife, Anna, until the early 1920s, when it fell into the hands of a variety of owners, including bootleggers Fred and Manny Domingos, who operated the winery until 1958, through the repeal of prohibition when they could legally operate as Bale Mill Winery. In 1987, French philanthropists Jean and Sylviane Leducq, longtime wine lovers and enthusiasts, gave the winery its current-day, second chance. It took the Leducqs 14 years, until 2001, to cull vineyard parcels to include the stone barn winery built by Bernard and Anna Ehlers in 1886, the original 10-acre property, and the historic olive grove.

The organic vineyards at Ehlers Estate
The organic vineyards at Ehlers Estate

In 2009, Ehlers Estate underwent another second chance, the hiring of winemaker and general manager Kevin Morrisey, who himself had faced second chances throughout his life as a cameraman turned winemaker. His internship at Château Pétrus in Bordeaux and his talent and leadership at other Napa Valley wineries such as Stags’ Leap Winery and Etude made him the ideal candidate to take Ehlers Estate into the future.

Ehlers Estate '1886' Cabernet Sauvignon
Ehlers Estate ‘1886’ Cabernet Sauvignon

Ehlers Estate produces 100% estate wines from 100% California certified organic vineyards, managed year around by our full-time vineyard and cellar team headed by winemaker Kevin Morrisey and vineyard and cellar manager Francisco Vega. Ehlers Estate crafts only Bordeaux varietal wines: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and sauvignon blanc. The winery produces one 100% cabernet sauvignon wine, the J. Leducq Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as two other cabernet sauvignons, the ‘1886’ Cabernet Sauvignon and Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which both include blending amounts of merlot, cabernet franc, and/or petit verdot. The remaining merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot grapes are given a second chance to shine on their own as single-varietal wines: the Ehlers Estate Merlot (with a touch of cabernet franc), Cabernet Franc, Sylviane Rosé of Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The only white wine is the Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc.

Autumn in the vineyards at Ehlers Estate
Autumn in the vineyards at Ehlers Estate

Each new vintage at Ehlers Estate is a second chance, a new opportunity to showcase the unique terroir of its vineyards located in Napa Valley’s narrowest point between the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountains, as well as Kevin Morrisey’s expression of this terroir and fruit through his hands-on, personal approach to winemaking. The resulting wines are elegant, well balanced, polished, and distinctly Ehlers Estate. As Morrisey says,

Making wines that express our terroir is the goal,” he says. “You can’t always articulate it exactly. But when you taste it, you know it. Just like hearing the accent of someone who grew up within a few miles of you. It’s distinct and recognizable, and it’s the sound of home. It strikes you and cuts through the mix, singular and individual, and intensely and familiar. And there’s no possible way to mimic it. It’s either there, real and recognizable, or it’s not. (

Inside the stone barn winery at Ehlers Estate
Inside the stone barn winery at Ehlers Estate

Every bottle of Ehlers Estate wine is replete with second chances. The liquid inside is ever-changing and evolving. When opened, each bottle will provide a second chance to be more delicious than before. With each sip, one tastes the progression of second chances across time, from 1886 through today, from Bernard and Anna Ehlers, to the Domingos, to Jean and Sylviane Leducq, to winemaker Kevin Morrisey, and the footprints they have left on this enduring 42-acre estate in St. Helena, Napa Valley.

*This review is an entry for #MWWC22: Second Chance, as described at this link. Voting has been extended through January 29, 2016 due to a first-time-ever, three-way tie. Vote HERE.


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