“We sold Eisele but we still wanted to make wine and this property came up,” says Daphne Araujo as we walk through the winery at Wheeler Farms. “It came with a permit to produce 30,000 gallons, which was much more than we needed, so we made it into a custom crush.” It’s a practical operation, with modern equipment in a warehouse on the ground level, and a barrel room underneath. Wheeler Farms was a large property, with 376 acres in 1926, but today it is just 12 acres on Zinfandel Lane. It services about 6 winemakers and 11 brands in addition to the Araujo’s own wines.
The objective at Eisele, which Daphne and Bart Araujo purchased in 1991 and sold in 2013, was to make wines in a European aesthetic, and the same objective applies at their new venture, Accendo, made at Wheeler Farms together with another label, JH Wheeler. The focus is on the same varieties as before, split between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Daphne summarizes the approach: “You make a wine with 16% alcohol and you get noticed, but that’s not what we want to do, we are more European.”
“The objective for the Sauvignon Blanc was to produce a wine in the style of white Graves. We started at Eisele using stainless steel as we found that too much oak lost freshness. Now we are sourcing grapes from farther down the valley we use more oak. The style is to have freshness, but to make a serious wine that is savory with a long finish. It has some Sémillon and Sauvignon Musqué,” Daphne says.
Accendo started with a single wine, and then Laurea was introduced with the 2018 vintage with the intention of producing a wine that is a little more juicy, a little more quaffable. It’s predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, but labeled as a proprietary red to keep blending options open. “We don’t like to call it a second wine, it’s a different wine. It has the same aging as Accendo but is released sooner. Everything is made as though it will go into Accendo until blending. We choose the lots for Accendo first and then start over.”
Accendo itself is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend from various sources including some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It’s very fine, and the current vintage seems virtually drinkable on release. How will it age? “Accendo’s first release was 2013 so we don’t have a ten year perspective yet.”
The JH Wheeler range is made by the same winemaker, Nigel Kinsman, who was the winemaker at Eisele, but it’s kept separate from Accendo. Wheeler has single-vineyard wines from grapes purchased from sources such as Beckstoffer and Vine Hill Ranch. The price point is a little lower than Accendo. The Wheeler wines are very good, but don’t have the absolute refinement of the Accendo. Accendo makes about 1000 cases of the main wine, Laurea is about 600 cases, the Sauvignon Blanc is 900 cases. There are 2000 cases of Wheeler Farms.
An updated profile will be included in the 2022 edition of the Guide to Napa.
Tasting of Accendo Cellars
2019 Sauvignon Blanc
Light golden color. Nose more inclined to stone fruits than citrus with some faint hints of oak. Smooth and fruity, in fact unusually fruity for the variety, showing good ripeness, with a sense of viscosity on the palate that gives more of an impression of breadth from maturation in oak than the aggressive character of stainless steel. 91 Drink -2024
2018 Laurea Red
Quite lifted aromatics give the impression of pure black fruits. Very fine silky texture, you hardly see the tannins except for a slight dryness on the finish. Those black fruit aromatics poke up from the palate and the wine seems virtually ready to drink already. 91 Drink -2029
2017 Cabernet Sauvignon
This is a blend with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Sterner black fruit aromatics than Laurea, deeper, blacker impression on palate, more sense of tannic structure on the finish. Texture is very fine. Great potential for aging, with elegant balance promising savory development in the direction of delicacy. 94 Drink -2040
Tasting of JH Wheeler
2018 Napa Red
Faintly spicy nose shows red and black fruits. Smoother and softer than Accendo, not as lively, tending towards a chocolaty texture on palate. Nicely balanced, already ready. 91 Drink -2029
2018 Beckstoffer George III Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford)
Very restrained nose. Silky, smooth palate, very fine texture, you can hardly see the tannins at first, then very slowly some dryness becomes evident on finish. Black fruit aromatics are just beginning to emerge. The fine, almost tight, texture reminds me a bit of St. Julien. 94 Drink -2037
2017 Missouri Hopper Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville)
Slightly spicy black fruit aromatics on nose, a bit closed at outset. Deep palate with intensity of black fruits joined by a gritty texture. Not as fine as George III. Cassis comes out on finish. Aromatics become more obvious in glass. 93 Drink -2036