Volker Eisele Family Estate Review
Address: 3080 Lower Chiles Valley Rd. St. Helena,California 94574.
Phone Number: 707-965-9485
Tasting Hours: By appt.
Region: Napa Valley AVA, Chiles Valley AVA, California
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Review Date: 3/8/2016
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
There was a time in history, no doubt, when the valley carved by the Napa River was truly an image of Eden, pure and unspoiled, a place genuinely and fully worthy of being likened to the garden of Biblical lore. Today, though still an undeniably special and, to many, enticing place, one cannot help but notice that steel, diesel-fueled Caterpillars outnumber the insects significantly on the drive up Highway 29, and the inquisitive will soon discover that the once family-driven enterprise of commercial viticulture that made the valley famous has in many instances transitioned to a corporate enterprise. Names like Mondavi and Beringer still exist, but their storied family wineries are no longer their own, having been taken over by massive conglomerates.
But a patient traveler with a bit of free time and a desire to experience the Napa Valley in something that resembles the prelapsarian state of its volcanic birth, its undeniably more simplistic and Edenic past, could reach out ahead of time to the Volker Eisele Family Estate and, with a little bit of luck, schedule an appointment to visit one of the few remaining places in the Napa Valley that seems all but immune to the passage of time.
Following the directions closely as the signal bar on our cellular phone plummeted rapidly until no service at all remained, we fortunate endeaverors maneuvered our way along the tree-lined, serpentine road that traces the winding Chiles Pope Creek, upward and east of the Silverado Trail, until we arrived at last at one of the areas most historic wineries. Originally part of a land grant when the valley, like most of California at that time, was still the property of Mexico, the original facility, Lomitas Vineyard and Winery, was founded nearly a hundred and fifty years ago by a German immigrant, Francis Sievers, before being throttled by prohibition in 1919, only to be resurrected in 1974 by a second German immigrant, the late Volker Eisele.
Upon stepping outside the vehicle, we were immediately greeted with the sounds of running water, the mournful coo of a lone turtledove, and the rustle of wind through the vineyard-covered mountains that towered around us. We stretched our muscles slowly and approached the entrance of the rustic wooden white barn, the paint beginning to fade and chip in a way that only enhanced the its charm. Before I got close enough to the massive sliding door to test my strength against it, Alexander, Volkers son, stuck his head out of the opening and greeted us as old friends, though in fact we were meeting for the first time, before introducing us to Halla, the family dog, equally friendly if somewhat less talkative.
Before even allowing us to set foot inside the tasting room, Alexander escorted us down the hill into the vineyard that sits at the base of a mammoth tree, perhaps five hundred years old, perhaps twice that figure, perhaps older still, a remnant of a time when the rich magma of the valley was still cooling off under the gentle Pacific breeze. Alexander spoke humbly yet knowledgably, as he gestured from one patch of grapes to the next, explaining that the merlot in front of us would, on any given night, be a full five degrees cooler in temperature than the Cabernet Sauvignon growing up the rocky hillside in the distance. The vineyards of the estate sit high above the Napa Valleys floor, extending their growing season substantially, Alexander explained. Hes one of the few in the industry we have encountered who knows his vineyards this well, the son of a man who farmed organically before the word could be slapped on a label to command higher prices, simply because he felt it was the best way to take care of the precious section of earth that was in his charge. Thoughtful, skilled, and meticulous, as Alexander described the family business now a two person operation run solely by himself and his wife, Catherine, it was impossible to mistake the reality that something very special is taking place here, a labor of two parts: legacy, and love.
Stepping in out of the chilly mountain air into the massive wooden barn with an ancient wine press just inside the door to greet visitors, we were escorted to the left, into a small white room where several crystal glasses and a small arrangement of cheeses awaited us under the gaze of the most ornate upright piano either of us had ever seen. The room was small, quaint, and rather perfect for our purposes, feeling far more like the living room of a family friend than the tasting room of a Napa Valley winery.
Together in that room, several hours passed quickly, as we shared some of the most extraordinary wines being made in the Napa Valley today. Alexander spoke thoughtfully, sometimes candidly, about conservation and the industry, responding to our questions with a genuine desire that we should not simply know, but rather, like he, that we should truly understand. A kindred dreamer, he was open about his ambition to restore the ancient winery back into a fully operational production facility, and we in turn shared our dreams of moving to the valley. We spoke of travel and of his passion for Bordeaux varietals, about how the elevation of his vineyards in the Chiles Valley AVA meant harvesting his famous Cabernet grapes nearly three weeks after most of the valley floor had finished, and about how his father, the storied and recently departed eponym of the entire estate, used to say to him Theres no such thing as too good, an oft-repeated mantra from Alexanders childhood and years spent growing up amongst the vines that undoubtedly to this day drives the production of the incredible wines being poured in that cozy little room.
By the time we left, though we have visited hundreds of wineries over the past several years, many of them far more famous or far better funded, we had no doubt in our minds: The Volker Eisele Family Estate is the quintessential winery of the nations most famous wine producing region, truly emblematic of the agriculture upon which the industry is built, of more than a century of history and tradition in viticulture, and of the American dream to sustain yourself upon a plot of land you can call your own. A throwback to a simpler time, and a family operation in every way; the lover of marble bars and manufactured rocket juice, of glitz and glamor and of all that the Napa Valley has come, in its ugliest places, to resemble would do well to pass it by. But for the true enthusiast of wine, for what wine is and can be, the product of an artisan and a portal into special places and times that cannot be accessed by any other method, an appointment at the Volker Eisele Family Estate may prove to be nothing short of transformative, and an opportunity to experience the Napa Valley for what it once was, and what some of us hope quietly in our hearts that it may one day be again.