It used to be that the word “organic” was associated with wines that didn’t taste so great. But at Heller Vineyards, organic and delicious are not contradictory terms.
Heller Estate Organic Vineyards was one of the last wineries I visited during my trip to California’s Central Coast. It’s located in the Cachagua region of Carmel Valley, inland from Carmel and Monterey. Heller’s wines are produced from certified organically grown grapes, grown without pesticides or herbicides.
At Heller you can indulge your sense of smell, taste and sight. Toby Heller is a sculptor and displays her work inside the tasting room and outside in a sculpture garden. Her sculpture “Dances on Your Palate,” a 15 foot high bronze sculpture that overlooks the vineyards, is the inspiration for the wine labels.
Though Heller mainly produces red wine, they do have Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. The 2007 Chardonnay is 100% Chardonnay, with light and zippy citrus flavors that end in a crisp finish. A bottle is $23. The 2007 Chenin Blanc is 89% Chenin Blanc and 11% Johannesburg Riesling. Notes of tart green apple are balanced out with a gripping acidity. A bottle costs $25.
Heller’s red wines range from $24 to $60, with the exception of the 2003 Meritage “Celebration,” which costs $100 a bottle.
Among all their red wines, Heller excels with Cabernet Sauvignon. I enjoyed the 2006 Cachaugua Cabernet, which costs $25 a bottle. It’s 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. On the lighter side of the full-bodied spectrum, this wine has nice flavors of cherry, blackberry, dried herbs and earth. Well-balanced tannins give the wine an easy drinkability.
Had my budget been bigger I would have loved to buy a bottle of the 2004 or 2003 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (which cost $40 and $60 respectively). They were my favorite wines from my visit to the tasting room. Both are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and have layered notes of black fruits, spice and vanilla.
After the Cabernet Sauvignon I had a tough time picking my next favorite varietal — so I ended up buying a bottle of three different ones.
The 2006 Petit Verdot shows just how tasty this often-blended varietal can be on its own. It’s 100% Petit Verdot, with ripe flavors of blackberry and black plum that linger after each sip. The wine is enhanced by lively acidity and well integrated oak and tannins. A bottle costs $37.
The 2006 Malbec is another single varietal wine. It’s a big red that you’ll want to decant so you can enjoy it better. Silky in structure, the wine has delicious notes of blackberry, black cherry, cedar and toasted nuts. A bottle costs $37.
Last but certainly not least is the 2003 Cabernet Franc. It’s 75% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon. Juicy flavors of plum and blackberry are complemented by youthful tannins that give the wine a lush mouthfeel. It’s great to drink now or in a year or two. A bottle of the 2003 Cabernet Franc costs $38.
Here’s a tip if you plan to visit Heller Estate Organic Vineyards and are driving from the coast: stop at the Earthbound Farm Organic Farm Stand on Carmel Valley Road. It’s the hub of the 30-acre farm that you’ve likely bought produce from (I buy their lettuce all the time at my local supermarket). My advice is to buy a salad or sandwich at the farm stand and enjoy it outside in Heller’s sculpture garden.
For more information on Heller Estate Organic Vineyards visit www.hellerestate.com.