Fountaingrove District, Sonoma County
$39 (Wine Club Reorder Price: $35)
H•L•R Cellars is a small boutique winery located in Eastern Sonoma County, established in 2012 by Steve and Joan Heller. We first met Steve Heller at a charity event where he was pouring his H•L•R Cellars wines to raise funds for local college scholarships. Winemaking was not, however, his life’s Plan A. After 34 years working at General Mills in Minneapolis, Steve wondered what he would do with himself when he retired. “I wanted to do something different. This is the second chapter,” Heller said.
When Steve and Joan found their 15 acre property in Sonoma County’s Fountaingrove District in 2007, it needed some serious love and elbow grease. The property hadn’t been updated much since the 1800s. There were blackberry brambles everywhere, and the surviving grape vines were in poor shape. There was, however, the foundation for a new winery – literally just a concrete slab with rebar poking out of the ground. Luckily, the couple had the imagination necessary to envision what it could become.
They had a lot of work to do – upgrading the farming equipment, grafting new Cabernet Sauvignon clones, replanting rootstock that had rotted through, and, of course, turning that concrete slab into a fully functioning winery. Their goal was to produce estate grown and bottled wines that are delightful expressions of the vineyard’s outstanding mountain location.
When they first started collecting wines, Steve says he “cut his teeth on Bordeaux” varietals. Now with their own winery, the Heller’s focus on the wines that initially inspired them: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec. I recently asked Steve while tasting through his 2018 releases why he didn’t make any white wine. He replied, “Well, if I plant new grape vines then I’ll have to call this a real business”. I laughed, because it seems to me like he is already running a substantial (and successful!) wine business.
Hella-Nora is a blend of estate grown Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. You’ll find purple and red fruits, plums and cherries. The fruit is pure, ripe, fleshy, and tangy. It’s extremely food friendly and can be enjoyed with beef, lamb, pork, grilled sausages, and grilled veggies. This vintage of Hella-Nora is wonderfully approachable and easy to enjoy today.
Taylor Morgan – August 2021