Monday, July 20, 2015

Health and Happiness: 2 Napa Wineries (With Great Wines) Devoted to Funding Medical Research

I spent a long time in the health and medical field - at least 15 years in health information - and I often find that people interested in what I am doing - highlighting organic vineyards and wines from organic grapes - are nurses and doctors (and organic gardeners).

A number of doctors have started wineries (Bob Sinskey, the late ophthalmologist and founder of Robert Sinskey Vineyards, comes to mind as does the Novak family in Spottswoode) in which their heirs converted to organic in the vineyards.

But two wineries in Napa, both of whom farm organically, should be recognized for their dedicated pursuit of both pleasure and philanthropy devoted to medical advances: Ehlers Estate and Staglin Family Vineyards. Both are 100% estate and both are farmed 100% organically.

Both are also the product of small, contiguous estates - not far flung collections of vineyards marketed under one umbrella. All the wines come from one site, one place, one vineyard manager, one winemaker. And both produce outstanding wines, vintage after vintage.

Ehlers Estate: Heart Research

"One of the gems of Napa Valley" - Los Angeles Times

Owned by a French foundation, Ehlers is one of the wineries named for its 1880's founder Bernard Ehlers, a Sacramento grocer. who made a fortune selling tools to miners. (Many grocers owned wineries back then.)

Today it's ever so ably managed by Kevin Morrissey, who spent his internship at Petrus (Merlot country in Bordeaux), where he developed not only his winemaking skills but also his fluent command of the French language. Both of these stood him in good steed when a recruiter came a calling to spirit him away from Stags Leap Winery (where he made 80,000 cases of wine a year) to the boutique and artisanal environs of Ehlers Estate (8,000 cases a year).

With 39 acres in vine, the old stone winery sits amid the vines, smack dab in the middle of Napa Valley just north of the town of St. Helena. It's an area where volcanic soils dribbled down from the Vaca mountains (the range that borders Napa Valley's eastern edges).

There's a small knoll on the property, from which a few blocks of wine are made into the Cabernet Sauvignon named J. Leducq ($75) in honor of the man who restored it in the 1980's and subsequent decades.

Sylviane Leducq and Kevin Morrissey
Jean Leducq made a fortune in the linens and uniforms business. In the 1970s he suffered from a heart attack, an affliction which had killed both his father and grandfather in their 50s. He sought treatment at the Mayo Clinic where he received the relatively new treatment of heart bypass surgery. After the surgery he lived into his 80s.

In 1987, Jean and his wife Sylviane bought 7 acres of the original Ehlers holdings. Gradually over time they reassembled the original, contiguous estate, rather than buying vineyards elsewhere in Napa Valley.

In 1996, grateful for what medical advances had done to extend Jean's life, Jean and Sylviane Leducq founded the Fondation Leducq in France in 1996, to give money for heart research.

The winery's profits go to the foundation's work.

In 2000, the Leducq's started making wine on their Napa property under the Ehlers Estate winery name.

Sadly, just two years after the Ehlers Estate launched its first wine, Jean Leducq died, leaving Sylviane to run the foundation. In 2009 she was awarded the French Legion of Honor for their medical philanthropy.

Sylviane died in 2013, but the work of the foundation continues. Since it started in 1996, it has donated more than $300 million to cardiovascular research.

The Wines

You don't have to know the incredible back story of the Leducq's to appreciate Ehlers Estate wines.

The wines very ably stand on their own two feet.

I am an unabashed fan - and I am not alone.

The Merlot ($55) is exceptional, prompting both Alder Yarrow and Robert Parker to comment on its outstanding qualities over various vintages. Is it inspired by winemaker Morrissey's Petrus internship? Who can say.

The Cabernet Sauvignon (both a regular bottling, $55, and a reserve one, $110) are both very good, and the Cabernet Franc ($60) is another great find.

Tours to Ehlers are by appointment only and are well worth the effort. The seated tastings take place in the historic stone building.

Wine Club Recommendation

I don't recommend that many wine clubs as I can't say that the wines across the board are universally wonderful or that the wines aren't available elsewhere for less than club prices.

But Ehlers is one that I do recommend. Their wines are consistently great - vintage to vintage and varietal to varietal. The club parties look fantastic (judging from the pictures - I can't say I've attended one) and one can visit the winery gratis with friends, and enjoy the club grounds (wonderful picnicking) and bocce ball court. For Ehlers wine club members, life is good.


Staglin Family Vineyard

This Rutherford winery is very much worthy of its own, separate post, so look for more about it in Part 2 of this series.

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