What is really a vintner to complete when Frenchman Francois Pinault and his storied Ch^ateau Latour wine estate come calling in a purchase package proposal for your historic vineyard? If you are Daphne and Bart Araujo, you accept the generous offer out of this particularly esteemed buyer, by having an acknowledgement that certain never truly owns land of this uncommon legacy, and that you merely served as a steward of the coveted 162-acre Calistoga, CA property and it is acclaimed 38-acre Eisele Vineyard. And then, you hand over the keys, and you move on.
Of course it wasn't quite that easy for that Araujos. For 23 years, they lovingly and organically tended their land as well as their vines, building their Araujo Estate Winery to five-star cult status. “But in line with the Pinault family's track record at Ch^ateau Latour, we felt we wanted to own overture serious consideration,” says Bart. “And we made a decision to view the sale being an opportunity to create new things.”
That new things is Wheeler Farms, an 11.5 -acre parcel at the southern end of the town of St. Helena within the Even romantic cruises. Originally established in 1880 and of the Wheeler family until 2006, the property was acquired by the Araujos in 2020. The locale is beautifully framed by Mount St. Helena, the Mayacamas mountain range, and also the Silverado Trail. Wheeler Farms, or “Version 2.0” as Daphne playfully refers to the venture, features a natural and biodynamic farm with re-planted vineyards, orchards, gardens, bees, chickens, and state-of-the-art custom crush winemaking machinery.
After many years of construction, the stunning new facility features a fermentation cellar with barrel storage, and temperature and humidity controlled white and red secondary barrel fermentation rooms below ground. The winery's eco-design reduces wine loss, cuts normal wastewater in two, and can eventually run entirely by solar energy. By-appointment-only guests enjoy wine tasting within the elegant and inviting Hospitality House as well as on its patio that overlooks Mount St. Helena. An open chef's kitchen takes center stage, where chef and garden curator Elisabeth Russell can be found whipping up nibbles created with ingredients from the organic garden.
Featured wines include those in the Wheeler Farms proprietary label, as well as other wines produced on property via the Araujo’s unique business model – a collaborative of 'top of their game' wine makers who produce small lot, ultra-premium wines using the Araujo's cutting-edge facility and winemaking team led by consulting winemaker Nigel Kinsman and production manager Sarah Donley. This on-site winery staff performs all the labor for making the wines, following detailed instructions supplied by each winemaker. In choosing partners, the Araujos sought common values of integrity, excellence, professionalism, and and dedication towards the production of great wines. Current partners include Accendo, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc produced by the Araujos as well as their children Jaime and Greg, Arrow&Branch, Booth Bella Oaks, Kinsman Wines, Tor, and Vice Versa. The variety of both producers and available wine types allows for customization of tasting experiences according to guest preferences. Tours and tastings start at $125 per person.
“Leaving Araujo Estate was not a simple decision,” says Bart. “But Daphne and that i are extraordinarily pleased with what we've created at Wheeler Farms. We're honoring the Valley's iconic past, just as we did at the Eisele Vineyard and Araujo Estate, and we feel fortunate to once more use another historic property in providing a stellar environment for unique visitor experiences as well as for winemakers to produce and sell superior wines.”