Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Elyse Winery and Jacob Franklin

Elyse Winery is a small family winery that offers some exceptionally good, carefully crafted wines at very reasonable prices.  Although they are well known for their wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, they also offer some outstanding Sirahs, Petite Sirahs and Rhone style blends.  An appointment is required prior to any visit.

Elyse Wines began in 1987 when Ray and Nancy Coursen produced 286 cases of Zinfandel from the Morisoli Vineyard, naming the wine, Elyse, after  their daughter.  After ten years of producing wine at custom crush facilities, they purchased a small winery and vineyard on Hoffman Lane in 1997, their current home.  In 1998 they started another label named after their son Jacob Franklin.  Because of the very small production, the Jacob Franklin wines are available only at the winery. We were informed by our wine host that total production at the facility for both labels is around 8500 cases a year.

Entry sign

Elyse's and Jacob Franklin's own estates wines are from Hoffman Lane Vineyard, but they also source grapes from Morisoli and Tietjen Vineyards in Rutherford Bench, Black Sears on Howell Mountain, Hudson in Carneros, Chavez-Leeds in northern Rutherford, Hayne and Korte Ranch in St. Helena, Smith in Sonoma and Naggiar in the Sierra foothills.  As with most small, family wineries, reservations are required but easily obtained by phone.  There is a sign in front of the winery alerting visitors to this and this is clearly stated on their web page.  The winery is on Hoffman Lane, about a half mile West of Highway 29 just South of the Yountville Veterans Home. The winery is still technically in Napa, although only a few yards from Yountville, but their vineyard is considered to be in the Yountville District.

Elyse tasting building

Elyse Winery has made as many as 27 different wines with 16 being currently available on their website, 12 Elyse and 4 Jacob Franklin.  Surprisingly for such a small winery, they do actually offer their own baseball cap, logo glass and corkscrew, but the lovely decanter with their name on it, from which you will be served some wine, is not for sale, so you need not ask.  Prices for their wines are very reasonable for Napa Valley, ranging from $28 to $70, with nine of them under $40.

Elyse tasting bar

Our tasting included seven wines, beginning with the Elyse 2010 Chardonnay Sonoma Valley (Dry Creek)  ($32).  This was aged in 100% French oak, with 30% being new oak, all sur lie with no malolatic conversion.  It was crisp and very dry, with more minerality than usual for a Napa Valley Chardonnay.  Medium bodied with mostly apple and white peach on the palate, it was quite nice for the price and should pair well with seafood and other dishes.

Next was the Elyse 2007 Hudson Vineyard  Le Corbeau ($37), a 90% Grenache 10% Syrah blend.  'Le Corbeau" means the raven.  20% was in new French oak for 22 months.  581 cases were produced. It had a very pleasant nose of cherry and plum.  On the palate it was drier and less overtly fruity than some Grenaches, offering more complexity, good acid, pepper and spice with a medium plus length finish.  It is more French like than most California Grenaches and was very nice alone but should also pair well with food. 

This was followed by the Elyse 2008 Napa Valley Syrah ($32). It is 90% Syrah with the addition of 10% Petite Sirah.  Only 444 cases were produced. Although full bodied with plenty of nice fruit, this is not one of those Sirah (Shiraz) fruit bombs.  After a pleasant raspberry and red cherry nose, I got some raspberry, spices and pepper on the palate.  An interesting and well balanced Syrah, it should pair very well with a variety of dishes, including barbeques and pastas.

Next in line was the Elyse 2008 Zinfandel Morisoli Vineyard ($37) which is 87% Zinfandel with the other 13% coming from Alicante, Bouschet, Carignane, Durif, Grand Noir, Muscat Hamburg, Negrette, Syran and Valdiguie.  This saw 10 1/2 months in American oak with 25% of it new oak. 2,077 cases were produced. The Zinfandel grapes are from older vines in Rutherford.  It was more subtle than most Zinfandels, definitely not high octane or overly fruit forward as some Zins can be.  I got a some pepper and spices on the nose, which I always welcome in a Zin, with mostly plum, blackberry and black pepper on the palate.  The fruit was more interesting than overbearing and the wine was remarkably dry for having so much fruit.  Finish was moderate length.  This is more complex and interesting than most Zins and I'd love to sit down with a bottle for more careful tasting.  Highly recommended!

Cabs were up next, beginning with the Jacob Franklin 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Hoffman Lane ($64) from their own estate vineyard and then proceeding to the Elyse 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard .  ($70)  The Jacob Franklin is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and was aged for 22 months in French oak with 70% being new oak.  Only 320 cases were produced. The Elyse Morisoli is 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot and was aged for 30 months in French oak with 60% of this new oak. 1,190 cases were produced. The Jacob Franklin was lighter in color, more of a deep red than dark purple, with good nose of plum, cherry and baking spices. On the palate it was very smooth with soft tannins and plenty of fruit, all well balanced with mostly cherry, toast and spices followed by a medium plus length finish. It was a lovely Cab that is quite drinkable now, but I slightly preferred the more intense Elyse Cab with its deep, dark purple color, even more pronounced nose and very full bodied, but balanced, black cherry, blackberry and black currant on the palate.  The finish on the Elyse was long and complex. This was a powerful, highly structured but beautifully balanced Cab that should be decanted prior to tasting.  It will cellar very well.  The Elyse Cab was my favorite of the wines we sampled, although I enjoyed all of them as did my friend.

The tasting ended with the Jacob Franklin 2009 Petite Sirah Chavez-Leeds Vineyard  ($45).  Chavez-Leeds Vineyard is in Rutherford. It is 100% Petite Sirah and saw 10 1/2 months in American oak with 66% of this new oak.  Only 286 cases were produced. Very dark purple with a light aroma. I got mostly red plum, cherry and pepper on the palate, along with nicely integrated tannins and a medium length finish. This was not one of those big, tannic, overpowering rustic Petite Sirahs, but was more mannerly, despite still being full bodied. If you don't usually like Petite Sirahs, you should try this one. Both of us really liked it. Although it is very drinkable right now it should age well.

Elyse grounds

We enjoyed all the wines we tasted at Elyse Winery and were delighted at some of the prices.  Our host was friendly and helpful while the setting was quiet and quaint.  If you like Rutherford Cabs, Zins, Petite Sirahs, or Rhone style reds that are reasonably priced for the quality, you will certainly want to visit this small family winery.  We are glad that we did and we look forward to a return visit. 

2100 Hoffman Lane
Napa, CA 94558
Date of visit: December 5, 2012

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