Second, Eckert Estates doesn’t occupy a high profile historic site or lavishly appointed, high tech winery building with manicured grounds. The tasting room is tucked down a gravel driveway in what was once a small two bedroom house across from a century old barn.
But what shouldn’t be kept secret are the Eckert Estate wines. “We make about 3,000 cases a year,” says owner/winemaker Michael Eckert. “However,” Michael continues, “we make fairly small lots (50-300 cases) of several different wines. We currently have 11 releases in the tasting room and I have several other wines still in barrel.”
Michael started as a home winemaker in the early 1990’s and enjoyed playing around with different grape varieties. Now that he has transitioned to a commercial winemaker, Michael still likes to buy a wide variety of fruit from the best growers in the Livermore, Lodi and the North Coast regions.
“I’m mainly a red wine guy,” Michael says, “but I’m very pleased with our 2003 Semillon. I was very fortunate to get the grapes from a one acre, 40 year-old parcel in Sonoma’s Dry Creek.” The wine is rich with tropical fruit aromas and flavors of ripe mellon. The delicate vanilla character is a result of 10 months aging in used French oak barrels.
Michael is particularly proud of his 2001 Port he calls Reunion. The blend of Livermore Syrah and Lodi Petite Sirah won Double Gold and Best of Show at the 2005 Orange County Fair wine competition. “It’s a bit lower in alcohol which preserves the lavish blackberry fruitiness while the residual sweetness really enhances the flavors,” Michael said.
His roots as a home winemaker still influence Michael’s professional approach to winemaking. “I use ¾ ton, open top, insulated double wall bins for my fermentation and I hand punch the cap,” Michael related. “I use a variety of cultured yeasts and will often use different yeasts on separate lots of the same grape. The result is the most extracted wines I can get while maintaining fruitiness.” Michael uses a hydraulic basket press for slow, controlled pressing and employs used French and American oak barrels for aging.
Even with all the great wines, Michael admits that Eckert Estate is Livermore’s best kept wine secret. “One of our challenges it to get our wines into the retail stores and restaurants in the Tri Valley area,” Michael says. “As a small winery, we just don’t have the capability of doing outside sales so all our wine is sold through the tasting room or our wine club.”
The other challenge for Michael and Vickie is to provide the winery more “curb appeal”. Vicki Eckert manages the small but pleasantly appointed tasting room on weekends. Despite the unpretentious landscaping, the view from the tasting room across the olive orchard and vineyards to rolling hills is spectacular. “We have ambitious plans for a covered seating area with a nice lawn, flowers, a paved parking area, and better signage on Arroyo Road,” Vickie says.
Of course when Michael and Vickie’s plan is complete, Eckert Estates won’t be a secret anymore.