My 1/2 Day Vacation: Napa Valley via Elyse Winery
It’s hard to believe, and I’m somewhat reluctant to admit, I have never been to Napa Valley. Escapism to this land of fine wine happens solely through the sampling of wine that is sent to me for review. When I try wine that is as outstanding as the Elyse Winery 2009 Morisoli Vineyard Zinfandel and 2008 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a road trip to my neighboring state of California becomes high priority – Napa Valley is calling my name, and a visit to Elyse Winery is at the top of my list.
Elyse Winery, named after the daughter of founders Ray and Nancy Coursen, crushed its first 4.5 tons of Zinfandel off of Napa’s Morisoli Vineyard back in 1987 to produce their first 286 cases of wine. Since then, Morisoli remains a cornerstone vineyard for the Elyse Zinfandel, crafted by winemaker Ray Coursen, as well as, the Elyse Cabernet Sauvignon.
1987 was the same year that the Coursen’s met the owners of Morisoli Vineyard, Gary and Melody Morisoli – Ray saw Gary driving a tractor on a hot summer day and offered him something to drink. Soon after, one of the homes on the Morisoli property became vacant and Ray and Nancy Coursen moved in and remained living there for the next 15 years. This house overlooked the vines that were used to make (and continue to make) the first and many wines under the Elyse label. Both families had children around the same ages, and they formed a solid friendship that remains the foundation of their business relationship today.
Morisoli Vineyard has been in the Morisoli family since at least 1902, when Gary’s grandfather was born in one of the houses on the property. Having grown up on the property, Gary learned how to farm alongside his hard working father and grandfather. He cares for the vineyards meticulously, and some of the Zinfandel vines are over 100 years old. When asked how the vineyards survived prohibition when so many others were ripped out and planted to fruit and nut trees, Gary says they sold grapes for “sacramental” winemaking purposes both in California and on the East Coast.
As a winemaker, Ray’s skills are highly regarded throughout Napa Valley, but he likes to attribute his stellar wine to the grapes and his long standing relationships with the growers. When informed about Ray’s complements for the wine, Gary gives credit to the soil for his consistent high quality crop, saying “I’m just doing the same stuff we’ve been doing forever.” The humble nature of both Ray and Gary reflect in the incredible Elyse wines where elegant and polished characteristics come to life to create beautiful terroir driven wines. Both the 2009 Zinfandel and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon swept me off my feet – they were absolutely stunning.
Elyse Winery 2009 Morisoli Vineyard Zinfandel ($37): Aromas and flavors of raspberries, fall spices and white pepper are highlighted by alluring woodsy characteristics. Layers of flavors roll in lush waves from the front of the palate to the finish, and the mouthfeel is lush, round and incredibly well balanced.
Elyse Winery 2008 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($70): Alive, deep and rich, this Cab is a spectacular treat for the senses. Bursting aromas and flavors of blackberries, black cherries and cedar are highlighted by subtle hints of warm spice, tobacco and vanilla. The mouthfeel is silky, rich and full-bodied with fine, well-integrated, velvety tannins. The oak is subtle, which creates a very nuanced and elegant Cabernet, yet the flavors are complex enough to give it a powerful nobility.
Napa, here I come.