I first met Milt and Barbara Eisele in the early 1980s at a hospitality lunch they hosted at their home for one of the early Napa Valley Wine Auctions.
The couple lived south of Calistoga, where they tended their namesake vineyard. They had moved to their Pickett Lane property in 1969 and were living their retirement dream: farming grapes in Napa Valley.
I knew the Eiseles through their wines or, more precisely, their grapes, and theirs was a storied site. Their 34-acre vineyard was anchored by Cabernet Sauvignon and they sold most of their grapes. Occasionally they kept some for homemade wine, one of which I described in Monday’s blog (the 1981 French Syrah).
The first commercial Eisele Cabernet I tasted came from Ridge, made by Paul Draper, which noted the grape source on the label. Another great Eisele Cabernet was the 1974 Conn Creek, a terrific wine from a classic vintage. But most of the time the grapes went to Joseph Phelps, who used them both for his Eisele Vineyard bottling and Insignia, and in one year, the drought-plagued 1976 vintage, tonnage was so shot throughout the valley that all of the Eisele went into Insignia. Phelps made Eisele Cabernets from 1975 until the Eiseles sold the vineyard in 1989 to the present owners Bart and Daphne Araujo. In a classy gesture, the Araujos kept the Eisele Vineyard name and display it prominently on the front of their label.
Back to lunch. When I arrived, other wine-and-food editors, along with some auction bidders, joined me. Milt took us on a tour of the vineyard and then we gathered on their deck for lunch. Barbara was an excellent cook and prepared a great lunch, and naturally we drank Eisele Cabernet.
What I’ll always remember about that day, and meeting the Eiseles, was how unpretentious, kind and down-to-earth they were. When one of the food editors asked Barbara what her favorite food was to pair with Eisele Cabernet, she said she would show us. She left the table, went into the kitchen and returned about 20 minutes later, holding a huge bowl of buttered popcorn.
Barbara passed away on Sept. 30, at her home in Rutherford, peacefully at the great age of 95. She had been in excellent health even in her later years.
Tonight I’ll be toasting her and Milt with an Eisele Cabernet and a bowl of her favorite Cabernet treat.