Generous Wines

Grapes aren’t the only things Ehlers Estate cultivates in the heart of Napa

Wine and philanthropy naturally go hand in hand. Wine connects us with the earth and the past. Supporting charitable causes—in any way—connects us to ourselves, each other and to the future. Not to mention that both make us feel wonderful. Throughout the year I donate time, resources and money to a number of worthy causes. But it never occurred to me that I could also do some good in this world just by drinking certain wines! I was confronted with that exceedingly pleasant and convenient fact the day I toured Ehlers Estate in Napa Valley, Calif.

After experiencing some of the valley’s larger producers, it was a charming change of scenery to turn off the St. Helena Highway and travel down the path to Ehlers Estate, a small-production property occupying 43 contiguous acres of rolling valley floor just north of downtown St. Helena. Grapes have been cultivated on this site since the mid-1800s; today’s certified organic and biodynamic winery is Jean and Sylviane Leducq’s revitalization of the original Bernard Ehlers estate built in 1886. Since Jean’s 2002 passing, the couple’s not-for-profit Leducq Foundation has operated the estate, which, amazingly, donates 100 percent of the proceeds to cardiovascular research.

About the wine that drives that research: Don’t let winemaker Kevin Morrisey’s humbleness fool you—it’s really great stuff! Morrisey passionately crafts voluptuous, generous, site-specific, terroir-driven wines that don’t hold much back. Neither did I, as I tried everything they would let me. Less than 7 percent of Ehlers Estate’s nearly 40 cultivated acres of small vineyard blocks is dedicated to white-wine grapes. So I started with the 2011 sauvignon blanc and 2011 Sylviane cabernet franc rosé, then went straight for the full-bodied reds for which Ehlers is renown.

The 2009 cabernet franc, 2009 petit verdot and 2009 J. Leducq single-vineyard cabernet sauvignon all impressed, but short of ordering online (or coming to my house), you’re not likely to see much of them in Las Vegas. The ones to keep an eye out for here are the 2009 merlot, 2009 “One Twenty Over Eighty” cabernet sauvignon (healthy adult blood pressure—get it?; $32 at Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits) and especially the 2008 “1886” cabernet sauvignon ($100 at Khoury’s) that is highly regarded by Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate. They all make me want to head straight for the grill.

I didn’t have to look far to find other wineries that donate to good causes. Just up the way, in Calistoga, proceeds from the sale of Schramsberg Querencia brut rosé go to the Jack L. Davies Fund, which supports agricultural preservation and education efforts in Napa County. Appropriately, the wine’s name is Spanish for “the deep and abiding affection one has for the place one calls home.”

But there are so many more! Just in the NoCal area: Curvature Wines ( donates proceeds to breast-cancer research; for each bottle sold, Lookout Ridge ( donates a wheelchair to someone in need; Canine Wines ( donates $5 from each bottle sold and at least 10 percent of its annual profits to animal-rescue organizations. And Humanitas Wines ( lets you decide where the donated proceeds of your purchase go.

It adds a little depth to that notion of “generous” wines.

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