We’ve all either been to or seen photos of breathtaking views of wine vineyards nestled among enchanting settings worthy of a picture postcard. So, what makes Ehret Family Winery’s Bavarian Lion Vineyards so unique? It is not only the location and dazzling views, it is also the magical grapes that grow here, the passion and love the Ehret family pours into protecting the environment, and a dedicated team focused on producing outstanding wines.
Bavarian Lion Vineyards is located in Knights Valley, an AVA in one of Northern Sonoma County’s most prestigious viticultural areas. Knights Valley earned its AVA status in 1983 and has approximately 2000 acres of vineyards. The Knights Valley AVA borders the Alexander Valley AVA to the west, Chalk Hill to the south, and Calistoga (in Napa Valley) to the east. Because of its sheltered location, Knights Valley is one of the warmest areas in Sonoma County. Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties thrive in this environment with well-drained soils, abundant sunshine, warm day temperatures, and cool nights. In addition, alluvial gravel soils and volcanic deposits have a direct impact in keeping yields low, which in turn contributes to more concentrated and flavorful grapes.
Bavarian Lion Vineyards and Ehret Family Winery
The largest estate in Knights Valley is Ehret Family Winery’s 1800-acre Bavarian Lion Vineyards. With a passion and appreciation for fine wine, entrepreneur and German-born Pierre Ehret and his wife Susan purchased 2000 acres of land here in 1978. After selling off 200 acres to a well-known winery in 1995, they were left with 1800 acres of prime land.
Not wanting to disturb the biodiversity of this dramatic nature preserve, Pierre and Susan planted wine vineyards on only 1/4 of the property, covering 500 acres in 1996, and established the Bavarian Lion Vineyards. Pierre said, “It is important that the natural environment co-exists with the vineyards, and that the birdlife, wildlife, trees, insects, and fish are allowed to prosper.” Bavarian Lion Vineyards are Certified Sustainable, and they have a certification in Fish Friendly Farming from the California Land Stewardship Institute. A minimalist approach is practiced in the vineyards. All energy is derived from installed solar panels, and only rainwater run-off is recycled and used in the vineyards, eliminating groundwater irrigation.
Since 1996, Pierre has been selling his premium grapes to prestigious wineries throughout Sonoma and Napa Valley. But in 2005, he decided to create his own label, Ehret Family Winery and took several of the best premium blocks for his wines. He continues to sell grapes to wineries at an average of 1800 – 2000+ tons per year and keeps 15-20 tons (approximately 1%) for his brand.
I asked Pierre what motivated him to create his brand.
Pierre: “I received so much positive feedback from all of our customers. I thought it would be a fun family project to make our own wine. Also, several wineries were putting our name on the back of their wine labels as the designated vineyard. And these same wines were getting high scores which I found intriguing.” In 2006 Ehret Family Winery produced their first vintage of Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon.
After harvest, grapes are transported to a custom crush facility where Erin Green, the consultant winemaker, supervises and spins her magic, producing an amazing portfolio of wines for Ehret Family Winery.
Erin has been with Ehret starting with the 2015 vintage. She is no stranger to winemaking and has an impressive background dating back to the 1990s. Erin said that she prefers consulting rather than running a winery. “I like the process from farming to production.”
When Erin first arrived at Bavarian Lion Vineyards, she searched among the blocks to find the hidden jewels. Her goal was to try and raise the quality of the wine. “My first year, I worked with nine different blocks and was able to grow Cabernet Sauvignon as a very small berry and cluster. The berries were very dark, rich, dense, and concentrated. I like lighter crop levels to obtain more intense flavor and accumulate enough sugar and maturity in the grapes.”
In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, the vineyards are planted to Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel.
I asked Erin if climate change has had an impact on the vineyards.
Erin: “It can get warm, and we’ve had some drought years, but we have three very large trap water reservoirs to help us. Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is tougher and can deal with the change.” Pierre added, “Knights Valley is known for its temperate and special climate. It is the fires that are our biggest issue, more so than climate change. The smoke from the fires can sit in the vineyards and contaminate the vines and grapes.”
Bavarian Lion Vineyards has approximately 79 blocks ranging from 400-800 feet in elevation. All of Ehret’s Cabs are a blend of selected blocks, and the Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel are produced from single blocks. Since 2015, Ehret Family Wines has been winning awards, and their wines receive high ratings every year. Here are three gems from their portfolio.
Sauvignon Blanc 2020
This 100% Sauvignon Blanc was aged in stainless steel tanks. Erin said, “The painstaking effort with which we crafted this singular expression of Knights Valley Sauvignon Blanc was worth every last second of the month-long ferment. Utilizing an extremely low-temperature tactic allowed us to enhance and concentrate the fruit expression this grape variety is so famous for.“
Nose: Citrus zest, white stone fruit, minerality, and a dash of floral
Palate: Fresh and vibrant acidity with peach, grapefruit, melon, and minerality blended in.
Production: 440 cases
Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
This wine is a blend of 75.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16.61% Cabernet Franc and 8.17% Petite Verdot. The wine was aged for 18 months in 52% new French oak barrels.
Nose: Ripe berries, cherry, baking spice, and violet
Palate: Silky tannins, dark ripe fruit, black cherry, pomegranate, dark raspberry, toasted oak, and cocoa, ending with a rich and persistent finish.
Production: 505 cases
Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine aged for 18 months in 78% new French oak barrels.
Nose: Violet, dark cherry, and blackberry
Palate: Rich and concentrated dark fruit with blackberry, blueberry, dark cherry, herbs, and dark chocolate. Oak and mineral notes dance around the palate with soft tannins and a long finish.
Production: 202 cases
Concerning the 2021 vintage, this is what Erin had to say. “The 2021 vintage was challenging because of low yields and limited water. It was 20% to 30% down in quantity. However, it is a small but powerful vintage with very tiny and flavorful berries…it is liquid gold! Nature gave us the crops, and we didn’t have to under-crop to attain low yields. It’s what the vines wanted to do this year, and we benefited.” I certainly look forward to tasting the 2021 vintage!
So, where can one find Ehret wines?
With a small production output each year, these hand-crafted wines are mainly sold online. Ehret Family Winery believes in “quality over quantity” and “passion versus mass production.” They have created an online Wine Club where members receive exclusive access, assurance of obtaining new releases, and special pricing opportunities. At present, there are about 150 members. However, one doesn’t have to be a member to order wine! Also, if you should find yourself in downtown Healdsburg, head over to the Ehret Tasting Room that they opened a few months ago. You won’t be disappointed!
And, if you feel adventurous and would like a customized and personal tour of Bavarian Lion Vineyards, in addition to a wine tasting, they are taking reservations. As Pierre said, “Experience how the natural environment co-exists with the vineyards.”
Pierre and Susan have three children, Alex, Christian, and Isabella, born in Santa Rosa, CA. The family likes to divide their time between Sonoma and Europe, instilling in their children a solid European heritage and appreciation for culture, both in the States and abroad.
I have tasted many of the Ehret Family Winery wines in the past few weeks. They are elegant, expressive, and memorable. My palate is still singing!
Until next time…
Feature photo is a drone shot of the property, courtesy of Ehret Family Winery.