Ehlers Estate Merlot, St. Helena, Napa Valley 2017

Deep ruby color; plum, cherry, raspberry, redcurrant, smoke on the nose; plum, black cherry, redcurrant, raspberry, vanilla, licorice on the palate.

Ehlers Estate Merlot, St. Helena, Napa Valley 2017

Dry; somewhat assertive tannins, especially for a merlot, but balanced with good acidity (3.55 ph) and framed by 22 months in 40% new French oak, 60% used French oak. Medium-plus body. Blend of 90% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Rich with ripe fruit flavors. Ehlers often uses cabernet franc as complement to their merlot but went with cabernet sauvignon this vintage, amping up the power of this effort. This is a blend of three different merlot clones in addition to the cab. 14.5% ABV

The Ehlers vineyard is located in the narrowest part of the Napa Valley between the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountains. The narrowing of the valley and subsequent funneling of the air flow encourages both acidity and tannins-structure, which this certainly has. The locations also dictated a harvest after a major Labor Day heat wave in 2017. By October 4, all the estate grapes were in fermentation tanks, many in barrels and starting malolactic fermentation. The terrible Napa fires started the next week, so there was no smoke taint threat with this vintage. The weird weather, especially the historically-high pre-harvest heat wave, influenced the vintage. This is really ripe and venturesome for a merlot. No mushy merlot can be found in this bottle.

Jean and Sylviane Leducq

Lured by the allure of wine and motivated by embrace of new challenges, French entrepreneurs and philanthropists Jean and Sylviane Leducq purchased land in the St. Helena area of Napa in the mid-1980s. In the manner of a French châteaux, they methodically acquired adjacent property to assemble today’s 42-acre, organically farmed estate. Bernard Ehlers, the original owner, built a stone barn in 1886 that is the heart of the operation today.

Laura Díaz Muñoz

The Leducqs passed on management of their operation to Laura Díaz Muñoz in 2018. Originally from Madrid, Spain, when Díaz took the reins at Ehlers Estate she committed to taking Ehlers into its next generation, including a continued focus on organic farming that includes some replanting. She also experiments with a variety of vessels for cellaring and aging. Kevin Morrisey was the winemaker for this effort but the next year left the winery to be an independent consultant. Laura Díaz Muñoz replaced him and participated in eventual production of this vintage.

Ehlers Estate Merlot, St. Helena, Napa Valley 2017 is rich, medium-plus bodied, assertive merlot. Winemaker Laura Díaz Muñoz typically favors subtly and sophistication over Napa strength and bigness, but she shades this more to power than other efforts of her I have tasted. No matter, this retains merlot’s smoothness and mellow notes, just with a little more attitude, perhaps influenced by the 10% of cabernet sauvignon, which gives it a right-bank Bordeaux feel rather than a pure merlot play. Pair with beef dishes; roast veal; lamb; meatloaf; beef stew; slow-cooked brisket; pork roast; hard, aged cheese; Swiss, gruyere, parmesan, gouda, gorgonzola. $50-60

Ehlers Estate website

Ehlers vineyard and winery
Ehlers tasting room
Ehlers vineyard in dormancy
Laura Díaz Muñoz virtual tasting during COVID-19 shutdown